As a student of online courses, determining the quality of the course content is not always a cakewalk. Given the variety of options available on the internet, it is essential for students to set their goals straight before enrolling in an online course. Educational institutions from all over the world are designing distance learning programmes and online courses, these not only include conventional universities, but private institutions as well.
In the past couple of years, more than 800 universities have created more than a thousand online courses. In the face of these sheer numbers, it becomes crucial for e-learners to determine which course would do justice to their educational needs. So, to make it easier for students to make the right choice for an online course, the following details should be taken into consideration:
- Curriculum Design:
Curriculum design is an important factor that should be taken into account before deciding on an online course. It deals with the primary content of the course, and thus dictates the learning outcomes of an educational program. Further, the incorporation of learning outcomes into courses based on curriculum design also serves as the foundation of quality, since it addresses the interests and needs of learners.
Rhodes University, Grahamstown developed a Curriculum Quality Assurance Policy in 2004, which sets out specific criteria and process by which a programme curriculum is to be designed, reviewed, and approved. Thus, students need to make sure that the course provides a clear, complete course overview of the syllabus. Whether going for skill-upgradation or a preparatory course for competitive exams like GATE, UPSC, JEE, etc., it is crucial for students to make sure that the course curriculum caters to their needs. Course objectives that are measurable and clearly state what learners can take away from the course form the basis of good course content.
- Instructional Design:
While curriculum design deals with the core course content, instructional design defines the correlation of learning outcomes with teaching strategies, course activities, and media and technology. A good instructional design is more than just organising the course into units and lessons. It also reflects a clear understanding of the learner’s needs, and incorporates varied ways that enable students to learn. Thus, each unit should include a lesson overview, concepts and activities, assignments and assessments, and other relevant material that provide students with multiple learning opportunities to master the course.
The course content should be designed in a manner that it teaches concepts and skills that learners will retain over time, and have relevant applications in the real world. Hence, the course should also include meaningful and authentic learning experiences that will help learners to apply course concepts. This also includes the provision of alternate learning pathways that would meet the learners’ needs. A well-designed course also includes activities like critical thinking, problem-solving, developing mental models, and forming opinions. Such initiatives encourage learners to engage in higher-order thinking and develop in them a deeper understanding of the course.
- Quality and accessibility of study materials:
Before deciding on an online course, it is important to ensure that the virtual learning environment and services are available and fully functioning 24 hours a day, seven days a week over the entire duration of the learning period. While it is essential for study material to be detailed and descriptive, it is also vital for them to address students’ basic queries beforehand. In case the students are preparing for Upsc online, Gate online etc., the preparatory materials should be available to students in advance, so that it’s easier for them to post their queries.
Furthermore, online libraries should also include academic journals, professional databases, e-books, and research papers that are carefully curated to meet the objectives of the course. Irrespective of the type, most good online courses provide their students with a study pack that contains a student handbook, information on how to access the online library and virtual learning environment, audio lectures, and podcasts.
- Course presentation:
Course presentation is the final component in the quality framework of an online course, and involves the presentation of the course content in a professional manner. Online learners need to make sure that the course presentation addresses factors like functionality, grammar, consistency regarding font and layout, which contribute to the overall look and feel of the course. A well-presented course has a content structure that is sequenced logically and effectively and is also written and reviewed by a subject-matter expert. A logical arrangement of the course content is crucial since it makes sure that the learning activities are aligned with the intended outcomes.
The quality of an online course depends upon many factors but serves a simple purpose: to develop in its learners a comprehensive understanding of the subject. While the factors that individual learners consider important would always be varied, a course that is created with quality in mind always delivers better learning results. In a nutshell, a practical online course is one that facilitates knowledge transfer, and makes it easy for learners to master the relevant skills.