Tips for online learning: Some ideas from Professor Richard Rymarz
My day job is delivering online courses to working teachers. I also do research on what students look for in online resources.
What do you think the most important thing is? Is anyone surprised if I said the most highly reported factor in assisting online learning is ease of access.
Let me say it again — ease of access.
- Design — needs to include features to ensure the user can easily navigate their way around the site. Icons should be clear and closely connect with the supporting text.
- Links — Ease of access also means that links are utilised and that they work. One of the advantages of online learning is that it easily and naturally dovetails to further learning. But — and it’s a big but — links must be operative. Put simply, when you hit the link you must be taken to the site. Online learners have very little tolerance of broken links and if they aren’t active it’s better not to use them as the disenchantment that comes for getting error messages can easily translate to disengagement with the whole learning endeavour.
What else is important?
Another key factor is the need to highlight and prioritise information. There is a great temptation with any resource, online or otherwise, to keep piling on information … more text, more illustrations, more maps ... more of everything!
Avoid this temptation. Identify the key material and focus on this, as this is most likely to engage the learner and not overwhelm them.
Online learners nominate the need to provide information in “chunks”, that is, in manageable sizes or “bites”. This assists learners process information more easily, connecting new information to prior learning.
Another aspect of guiding the learner is to be mindful of making obvious connections between the material presented online. Once again there is a tendency when utilising online resources to go overboard on the range of material covered. Online learners tell us that they really value seeing the connections between what is being presented.
Finally, having reminded you of the need to be focussed and to make connections obvious, remember that probably the greatest advantage of online learning is that it enables the teacher to be creative and innovative in the way in which they engage with learners.
Online learners in our research put this well when they commented, “we like things that move!” It’s a great metaphor! For instance, don’t just put up a graph. Add features to the graph, such as hover capacities which enable you to draw out more information. Two simple examples – a map can show where St Paul went on his journeys. You can enrich the learning experience by showing some other aspects of the journeys using hover features. Why not use added features like spoken word narrative? We can all read the story of St Francis of Assisi online. We can also expand this by added spoken word features where students tell the story of St Francis in their own words.
Remember we like things that move!
Professor Richard Rymarz Is the Head of Religious Education and Director of Research at BBI – The Australian Institute of Theological Education
Order your copy of any of Richard’s books, all of which provide great insight into teaching RE, and offering ideas, systems and processes that are currently employed by teachers across Australia.