eLearning – What I Wish They Told Me…

eLearningWith eLearning being so popular now, many trainers and college faculty are learning to teach their first online class. Read on and hear from Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC ISD Program Director.

eLearning Resources Abound!

Today a number of great resources are available to beginning online teachers. These eLearning resources range from blogs and websites dedicated to this to entire books on the subject. Additionally, there are numerous great courses now that help you learn how to teach online. I taught my first online graduate level course over ten years ago. eLearning resources were not as plentiful as they are now. I was given a syllabus and an empty course shell in Blackboard. I think someone wished me good luck. That was about it.

Looking back, there are a number of things that I wish someone told me before I taught my first online class.

8 eLearning Things I Wish I Learned Ahead of Time:

Know Your Students – It is important that you get to know your eLearning students (and their motivations). For example, do they need your course to graduate this semester? Are they working three jobs and taking care of kids? Are students taking your course because they love the topic? Or did they register because all their other class choices were filled? Have they taken online classes before? Beware the students taking your class because they think that online classes are “easier”.

Be Deliberate About Communication – Have a plan about how and when you communicate with your eLearning students. For example, I tell my students to expect a response from me in 24-48 hours when they post a question or send me a direct email. Don’t leave them guessing. Over the years I have received numerous VERY long emails from students. They have dozens of questions and concerns about their performance in the course. Rather than respond via email, I usually ask them to talk on the phone with me. It gets to the point quicker and helps to deal with any issues directly. Additionally, it may be a good idea to have an eLearning course FAQ.

All Students Will Not Read the Syllabus – As teachers we are very proud of our course syllabi. Be prepared that a number of students will not read it. How do you deal with this? You can structure an assignment that forces them to read the syllabus (scavenger hunt). Or you can award bonus points if students can answer questions about your syllabus. Remember that the syllabus is the contractual document between the students and the college. When there are issues over grades, the courts always refer back to the syllabus.

Technology Will Fail You and Your Students – No matter what you do, technology will not work at times for you and your eLearning students. Murphy’s law mandates that this failure will happen at the worst possible moment. Encourage (require?) your students to have access to a backup computer. Additionally, have them save everything in MS Word first before they post it. It’s also a good idea to have them save files online using tools such as Google Drive and others. This will minimize issues such as “my hard drive died and my assignment is gone”.

Check Your Course Every Day – I originally thought that checking my eLearning course every few days would be more than enough. Wrong! What I discovered was that it makes much more sense to check in online every day, even if it is only for 20 minutes or so. Students constantly want feedback in a timely matter. Additionally, questions may pop up that are time sensitive and need to be addressed quickly.

eLearning2Simple Is Good – My original eLearning course design was much more complicated than it is now. I used to think that “more was better”.  What I discovered over the years was that I sometimes confused students by giving them too much information. They didn’t know what to do or where to go on the course site. Now I’ve really scaled my course design back. The lesson I learned was “it’s not about the technology”.

Students Know How to Take An Online Course – Even though the first online course I taught was in 2004, I really thought that students knew how to take an online course.  Boy, was I wrong! Taking a course online is a completely different experience than taking a face-to-face course. What I’ve learned is that just because I have a lot of experience teaching and taking online courses, it doesn’t mean that my students do. We sometimes forget that everybody does not use a computer every day.

Students Will “Disappear” – I was surprised to learn that a handful of students simply “disappeared” from my course. What I discovered was students simply stopped showing up or stopped participating in the class. Even worse, they never even told me why. I had to seek them out myself. What I found out was they had work issues, personal issues, medical issues, etc. Some stopped participating just because learning online wasn’t for them.

eLearning is Not for Everyone

Over the years, I’ve learned that online courses are not for every student, nor are they for every instructor. As an instructor, it is helpful to keep an open mind and realize that you can always learn and get better. Ten years from now, who knows what I’ll write about this topic.

For more info, check out my video on this topic.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

You Don’t Need a Degree in Instructional Design to Get a Job

By: Dr. Greg Williams, Program Director, UMBC ISD Graduate Program

This blog article might get me fired!

ISD JobIn my position as the director of a graduate program in instructional design (OK there’s my full disclosure), I often get the question “Will this degree get me a job?” My answer is no. That response may be heresy for a college professor.

In reality, I am not sure that ANY degree guarantees you a job these days. If people truly think that a degree alone will get them a job, then they are wasting their time and their money.

Employers look at a number of things besides your education. That may include your work experience, your skills and competencies (as documented by a professional portfolio), how well you work in groups, how you solve problems, your creativity and much more. You should never overlook the importance of career tools and such as your resume, your references, your relationships within the professional community, how well they interview, etc. They too play a part in getting a job.

My academic colleagues may not like this, but everyone doesn’t need a college degree.

If people really wanted to they could get comparable knowledge on their own. They could do this by:

  • Reading and studying and practicing on their own
  • Taking appropriate professional development courses
  • Getting feedback and coaching from professional colleagues
  • Working with a mentor
  • And much more!

This might give them similar benefits that may compare to the content of a college degree. Are there exceptions to this? Of course there are! The truth is that most people don’t have the self-discipline to do this.

The older you get, your degree becomes less critical in getting a job.

As you gain experience, employers look more at your accomplishments and your body of professional work, far more than your degrees. There are some employers who use the degree as a screening tool to eliminate candidates from a large pile of applicants. However, in some workplace environments degrees are very important (higher education), while in others they are not (e.g. sales).

It is very possible that you may not need a degree at all. There are a number of people in our field (instructional design & eLearning) who are very accomplished and don’t have a degree. The difference is they have accomplishments and a body of work that showcases their skills.

As with many questions in life, the answer to this question often is “it depends”. Before you spend a lot of time and money on a degree, think about what you will put into it (time and money) compared to what you will get out of it (raise, new job, skills). In the end, you are in charge of your own career, so weigh the pros and cons carefully.

Speaking of careers, I wonder if I still have a job?

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow