Taming the ‘Big 3’ in Your Online Learning Course

Let’s Talk Discussions…c’mon don’t be afraid..

discussionsMuch of what we do for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association’s Professional Development Dept. is now centred upon online instructor training and development. As a team we have come to understand that knowing the environment constitutes about 20% of what it takes to deliver a good course experience. We estimate that 20%-30% then resides in the instructor’s knowledge of the content and 50% lies within what we have come to call ‘The BIG 3’ of online learning. This post will discuss the first of the Big 3 – Gangly Discussions.

GANGLY Discussions

If your course is designed to have meaningful discussions then by all means – let’s make them meaningful. Begin by removing any and all discussion expectations that have participants respond to a minimum # of posts. Go on – trust me on this one – just do it! Make those discussions meaningful and then have a great read! I promise that only good things will come of this! Once you’ve taken that courageous first step, it’s time to look at real issues that flatten our discussions and here they are:

A. The Discussion Bandit

We all know that participant whose voice is so strong that they become the de facto course instructor. Keep in mind that this participant wants to share and should never be penalized for their zeal, however many often zoom through the entire course posting initial thoughts on every subject matter available. To make the field a fair one try some of these strategies:

1.Opening up discussions as per restrictions;

2.Ask a question that is particular to the course material at the time;

3.Leaving the Discussion visible and not available – this allows participants to view the topic to reflect;

4.Should you implement a rule like: “Please read before your post” or “Post before you read”.

5.What really resonated with you? Just one thought – a sentence to break into the subject matter;

B. The Gleeful Respondent

Most course instructors will have also had a brush with what we endearingly call the ‘Gleeful Respondent’ – a participant who is always too happy to agree with everyone else’s opinions. With either a ‘Ditto’ or ‘Jamie pretty much said what I wanted to say’ response, an instructor is usually challenged to draw some meaningful opinions out of this type of participant. Try some of the strategies below and see if they help:

1.Once in while pipe in – Have you considered? (Use of your expertise);

2.Establishing the expectations at the onset;

3.Make the discussion an opportunity to make a decision not necessarily an opinion;

4.Pose a question that directly relates to their own personal experience.

C. The Reflective Thinker

The reflective thinker glides in that magical space between the harried march of content consumption and the gangly forest of discussions where someone shares a truly inspiring and thought provoking idea. In such a case, it is absolutely critical that the instructor not only acknowledges the reflection but to also – with permission – expose it to as many of the other participants as possible.

Finally – as a course instructor, consider whether or not you accept discussion posts using the full fury of the world wide web. Why on earth do we continue to accept typed responses in an editor capable of so much more? Why not video interviews, Prezi’s, Podcasts etc? There is no reason for an instructor not to open these options up to their participants unless the instructors themselves need support to rekindle their imagination. 

That’s what we are here for!

To be continued… (Grouping, Voice Responses and Featuring Great Posts in Your Course)