6 Tips for How to Build an Online College Degree from Scratch #DLNchat

Digital Learning

6 Tips for How to Build an Online College Degree from Scratch #DLNchat

By Michael Sano     Nov 21, 2018

6 Tips for How to Build an Online College Degree from Scratch #DLNchat

Last week the #DLNchat community gathered for a thought experiment around this question: If you could design an online college degree from scratch, how would you do it? Faculty, instructional designers, administrators and entrepreneurs shared their thoughts—from first steps to long-term sustainability. The discussion is outlined below but it’s not too late to share your own ideas, just tweet them with the hashtag #DLNchat.

1. First step: Define & design for your learner

Erin Crisp, executive director of of strategic program launch at Indiana Wesleyan University, kicked things off with this thought: “the first step for online college degrees is to define your learner. For whom are you designing?” Crisp continued, “I would design for today's working adult who hasn't had opportunity to keep up with the pace of technological change. Embed tech skills and certifications in programs targeting broader education goals.” Richard Price, research associate at Clayton Christensen Institute, shared similar ideas. “In addition to offering theoretically rigorous, research-oriented courses, also offering a few highly job-oriented courses as well,” he tweeted.

The design of a program should also be adaptable to the diversity of students who may enroll. As Crisp said, “New degree programs should honor the knowledge and skill students bring to the table by eliminating lectures over content that is repetitive from other courses or life experiences.”

2. Build on open content

Instructional designer Rayane Fayed shared a simple, strong recommendation: “Build content based on existing open educational resources.” This approach improves access and learning as well when students play a role in the design of content, said some of the chat participants. As Robert Weisser recommended: “Building open educational resources into the curriculum and giving students more opportunities to access them, evaluate them as part of class discussion, and improve them if possible.”

Weisser recommends a studious approach for involving learners in the content-creation process. “There are ways students can improve sources but only after long consideration and discussion and giving of proofs. Works best maybe with students with real-world expertise that they can add to source,” he tweeted.

3. Focus on how (not how much) to blend & synchronize

Should tomorrow’s degrees move entirely online, or blend in-person learning with an online environment? And how much learning should occur synchronously or asynchronously? #DLNchat-ters had a variety of opinions. Fayed suggested a specific ratio (70 percent online, 30 percent face-to-face). She also tweeted, “Synchronous vs. asynchronous would be based on each learning outcome.” Similarly, Price recommended a percentage of synchronous learning (20 to 30 percent), but argued that 100 percent of effective learning can occur online. Several other chatters also promoted moving all learning online. “I agree that 100 percent online can be effective when video and synchronous sessions are thoughtfully employed,” Crisp argued.

Other chatters, like instructional designer Audra White, advocated for more of a mix. “In my experience, blended is best. Students get the best of both worlds where they can engage the instructor and other students but still have the flexibility of online work,” said White. Ed Garay shared, “What mix of online or face-to-face really depends on a number of factors: target audience, type of program and curriculum, faculty involved, instructional design support available, effectiveness of one course delivery modality over another, etc.”

4. Mobilize everything

For #DLNchat-ters, the future of learning is mobile. EdSurge’s Aneesa Davenport shared, “Now that I'm a mom, I'm 100 percent on the mobile-first bandwagon.” The #DLNchat community concurred. As Gonzalez said, “Mobile compatibility is a must. People deserve to choose when, where and how to study.” Garay put it this way, “Quality mobile-first eLearning program delivery is, today, a requirement. eTextbooks, multimedia learning objects, OER, all class materials, organic (social) class communications, discussion, collaborative learning assignments—everything must be mobile-perfect.” That includes student services. Crisp reminded the group, “If they're mobile-learners, they also expect to be able to register, pay, and get help using mobile too.”

5. Humanize student support

We asked #DLNchat participants how their new program would strive for better student retention and completion. Gonzalez recommended two key strategies: “Well trained online tutors and high quality and continuous participant follow-up. Here again technology is very helpful. AI helps keeping track of students’ performance, background, predictive analytics.” Others agreed that technology can best support retention efforts to identify when human intervention is useful.

Crisp was succinct. “Relationships,” she said. “It helps if it’s with faculty but it doesn't have to be. Build program strategy that forms human connections among learners and between learners and instructors. Have an app for the program, not the school, that keeps students connected after graduation.” Quinn also recommended keeping post-program development in mind. “Partner in learner success, develop them as people, not just as practitioners,” he tweeted.

6. Accessibility will bring sustainability

When asked about the long-term sustainability of online programs, there was one theme that emerged above all others: accessibility. #DLNchat partner Educause said, “Universal design for learning and digital accessibility both seek to increase learning access and reduce barriers for students.” Garay agreed but added a few more recommendations to consider for sustainability. “Designing accessible, attractive and sustainable online learning programs is no longer difficult: you need to chunk it, make it mobile-perfect, develop effective active learning student activities, and create high-end class content that does not require much updating,” he tweeted.

It takes a village

Garay might make it sound simple, but as Yin Wah Kreher reminded participants “It takes a whole village to create an effective online program and course.”

Get yours together with these tips to build your online college degree program from scratch.

Got questions for the #DLNchat community? Or want to share your ideas for a building an online program? Tweet our community with the hashtag #DLNchat! You can also RSVP for our next chat: How Can Higher Education Build a Lasting Culture of Innovation? on Tuesday, December 11 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET. For more topics, check out our summaries of past chats. #DLNchat is co-hosted by the Online Learning Consortium, WCET, Tyton Partners and EDUCAUSE.

How Can Higher Education Build a Lasting Culture of Innovation?
#DLNchat: How Can Higher Education Build a Lasting Culture of Innovation?
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