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Well Lit Course

So, in  my last post, I showed you some elements of an online “course” I’m creating on Instructional Design. Daniel Stevens asked me to expand on the idea of a “well lit course.” I’m not sure how far I can really go into it but I’ll give it a shot.

The Light of Information

Traditional learning has been happening for hundreds and hundreds of years. Most students have been shown from a young age how to learn (or at least behave) in that environment. If not it is fairly easy to figure out what you are supposed to be doing through visual and auditory clues. The desks are set up in a specific way to face the correct area of the room. The instructor speaks to you and tells you what page you should be on during the lesson. The instructor can see if you are struggling and can offer assistance. The instructor can even somtimes tell when you are sick or unable to perform to your normal standards and make arrangements accordingly.

light_bookOnline learning is new enough, even a technically savvy individual taking an online course isn’t necessarily well versed in how an online course works. It isn’t always apparent where to go first or what is expected of the student. It is up to the online instructor to light the way. Information is your light. (I’m probably going to take this metaphor a little too far, but here it goes.) A spot light needs to be shown on the place you want the students to start (by creating an announcement pointing them there or by making it big and colorful). Put some twinkle lights on the syllabus (by including instructions on what being an online student means to you and what you expect from them). And always provide ample illumination to submitted work (whether that be in the form of discussions, assessments, or assignments by giving feedback on both correct and incorrect responses).

Pretend the students have never set foot in a classroom in their lives and tell them everything they need to know, highlighting the extremely important parts in bold (never all caps, that is shouting). The idea here is if the student already knows the information they can skip over it, otherwise it is there for anyone who may be confused. This is how you provide the light for your online course. Don’t make students wander around in the dark. That is aggravating for not only them, but you as well (as soon as the questions start rolling in).

Sometimes it is hard to know what all to tell students about, especially if you are extremely comfortable in the online learning environment. It is easy to forget the little things that were confusing at first once you have mastered them. When you run into this problem, be open. Let your students know that you need their input. Ask them what they found most confusing about your course and create a Frequently Asked Questions area. You can add to this as a semester goes on and even use it from semester to semester.

I guess what I’m getting at is there is no such thing as too much information…

Focused by Organization

…as long as it is well organized. Once you start providing all this information to students you have to find a way to present it that won’t overwhelm them. Too much information in an unorganized fashion is blinding. You must develop a system that puts the information in a logical order or provides clear labeling. Providing snippets, teasers, or descriptions of the information can also be helpful because it allows the student to really see if the information is what they are looking for.

Unorganized books blue_arrow 804360_33720836_small

It is also helpful to create skimmable documents. Basically, this means utilizing header text and text formatting to break down the document into parts and highlight the really important information. Highlighting doesn’t have to be simply using bold text or a yellow highlight. You can highlight information by providing an accompanying graphic or bullet points.

Creating well organized, skimmable materials is extremely helpful to students. It allows them to find the document they need quickly and then skim through the document for the exact information they are looking for.

And Reinforced by Feedback

Once your students figure out what they are supposed to be doing and find the information they need, they will need to tell you what they have learned through discussions, assessments, and assignments. Your information flow should not stop short. You need to finish out the lighting of the way by letting them know if they have successfully navigated the road you laid before them. Many instructors simply tell students if they have not completed something successfully and what to do to fix it. It is also necessary to let them know when they have mastered what was put before them.

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