Transitioning to Online Courses: A Quick Guide to Creating, Delivering and Marketing Online Education
Date posted: April 1, 2020
The events of the past few weeks have changed the world in many ways, upending the personal and professional lives of many people all over the world. While it is not the only industry that has felt the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, the education sector has been particularly affected, with schools around the globe forced to shut to ensure the safety of their communities.
Faced with this unprecedented challenge, many forward-thinking institutions have moved to transition their in-class courses to online delivery. With many tools and resources available to help you make the move, this solution is easier than you might think to implement, and could allow your school to continue to provide a quality education to both your current and future students through the crisis.
Getting Started: Resources for Schools Looking to Create Online Courses
If your instructors are not used to teaching online, the prospect of transitioning to a virtual learning environment might be quite daunting. They may not feel at ease working with technology, or feel they cannot translate certain aspects of their syllabus, or simply worry that they will be unable to deliver a personalized learning experience to students remotely.
Fortunately, there are resources available to help during this transition. Many professionals in the field have refined and perfected their online learning approaches over the past number of years, and several of these experts have put together courses, guides, and other resources that can walk beginners through the process.
Here are a few options which could suit your school’s needs:
– How to Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students (FutureLearn): A free 3-week course designed especially to respond to COVID-19. Participants need to put aside only 1 hour per week for study, which should make it easy to incorporate into your team’s schedules.
– Creating Online Courses (University of California): This PDF guide offers an overview of The University of California Office of the President’s approach to developing online programs. At just seven pages, it is easy to digest, and could be a valuable starting point to help your team understand what is involved in the process.
– How to Create and Sell Online Courses: The Step-By-Step Guide (Thinkific):A comprehensive eBook that covers everything from creating course content to marketing online education programs.
– Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started (FutureLearn): Another course from FutureLearn designed for the vocational education and training (VET) sector. Encompassing 4 hours of study over 5 weeks, it offers a more in-depth experience for instructors.
– Using Virtual Scenarios to Create Effective Learning (FutureLearn): This course focuses specifically on designing practical online learning exercises, which could be especially useful for courses which a strong hands-on element.
– Learning Online: Learning and Collaborating (FutureLearn): This free course considers online learning from the point of view of students rather than instructors. If you have students who are nervous about moving their education online, pointing them in the direction of this class could be beneficial.
– How to Create an Online Course in 2020 (LearnWorlds): A very comprehensive blog which offers information on almost every aspect of the process.
– El desafío de Innovar en la Educación Superior (MOOC List): A course on online learning delivered in Spanish, which could be a handy resource for Spanish-speaking instructors.
How relevant these resources are to your school will depend on your specific needs, your school’s current setup for online course delivery, and many other factors. Nonetheless, they will definitely provide a good starting point to build upon.
Software Options for Online Course Delivery
If your school already offers some courses online, then you likely have a learning management system (LMS) in place, and it will be simply a matter of adapting and importing your in-class course content, as well as guiding your instructors through the transition.
However, if you are new to creating online courses, you will need to seek a software solution to enable online delivery. You can, of course, take the simple route and have your instructors host classes via video conference call apps like Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom, which can be a good stopgap option if you are looking for an expedient solution.
To ensure a richer learning experience for your students, though, you may want to investigate tailormade online course-building software, which offers more sophisticated tools for building courses and interacting with students. Here are a few possible options for this purpose.
A free open source platform, Moodle offers everything you need to get started delivering courses online. The platform includes an array of useful features, including a fully customizable interface, integration with a number of commonly used software applications (Google Apps, Microsoft Office, etc.), and an array of community-created plugins.
You can check out this video for a quick overview of what Moodle offers:
Google Open Online Education
Google offers its own free platform for developing online courses. Because it is built on top of the widely used Google Apps platform, it is easy to integrate with a number of tools your team may already be using, such as Hangouts, Analytics, and Calendar.
What’s more, your school can maintain its own branding, and offer courses to an unlimited number of users. Google also offers a comprehensive online course kit which can help guide your team in creating its programs.
Thinkific offers an easy drag-and-drop course builder, as well as tools for creating quizzes, putting together videos, and hosting discussions with your classes. The platform is paid once you want to deliver your course, but you can set up a free account to test-drive it for your school.
An all-in-one paid platform that can help you do everything from build a unique website for your courses, to creating your course content, to marketing online education.
Example: A website created by online course provider VR Dev School using Teachable.
Another paid solution which offers course hosting and marketing, as well as creation and delivery tools. LearnWorlds’ platform is particularly good when it comes to interactivity, with a number of useful features including the ability to create synchronized transcripts, and to add interactions such as overlay images, questions, and links.
There are countless other options available that can help you to develop sophisticated online learning experiences that will be just as good as being in the classroom for students.
Tips for Replicating the In-Class Experience Online for Teachers
The key to successfully managing this kind of transition among your staff is to involve them in the planning. After all, they know their courses and what makes them successful better than anyone, and listening to their thoughts and ideas will help you figure out how to best proceed.
One potential pitfall to avoid is trying to force changes to your courses in order to fit the online format. In a recent interview with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Mount Holyoke College’s Director of Mathematics Leadership Programs Mike Flynn said, “Often people will make the mistake of looking at online learning from the perspective of what’s available in terms of technology and then figuring out how to use that as a teacher. It’s more important to look at how do you want to teach and what’s out there to help you do that.”
Encourage your staff to take a ‘content first’ approach to moving their curriculums online. This will ensure that the key elements of your courses are not lost in translation or diluted for your online students.
In the current crisis, however, it’s important not to set unrealistic expectations. If you’re looking to allow your current students to continue their studies online, expediency may be the priority, and the simplest solutions available may be best.
Speaking about John Hopkins University’s transition to remote instruction in response to the outbreak, Associate Professor Feilim Mac Gabhann said, “Perfection is impossible, so don’t strive for that. We’re not professional video editors or animators, so if your hand-drawn, squiggly diagrams are OK for the whiteboard, they’re OK for an online lecture or discussion.” In the long-term, of course, you can work to improve your course delivery, but your initial priority should be to get your courses live as quickly as possible.
Above all else, it’s arguably important to ensure that your online learning solutions provide plenty of opportunities for students to get the personalized attention that they would get attending your institution in the flesh. Students who did not specifically sign up for an online course may have been seeking an in-classroom experience for a reason, and want the support and personal guidance that face-to-face instruction brings.
You should encourage your staff to facilitate as much interaction as possible during their lessons through video and messaging apps, and you could also suggest putting other measures in place, such as online office hours, to help students get as much one-on-one contact as possible.
You should also offer students plenty of opportunity to communicate with their classmates, too, whether through group projects or through the setup of online discussion forums. In the current times, being able to keep in close contact with their classmates could make all the difference to them.
Communicating the Changeover and Marketing Online Education Programs
If you are developing your online courses as a substitute for your in-class offerings as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, your most immediate priority once they are ready to go should be to communicate the changeover to your current and incoming students.
Ensuring that your current students are aware of the situation should be relatively straightforward, and could be as simple as sending them an email. They will likely be anxious to complete their studies and welcome the opportunity.
Nonetheless, it is important to convey how your online system will help to replicate their in-class experience, and reassure them that they will still get the same value from completing their course. Offering tutorials and guides may be a good idea, and you should also ensure that your staff and instructors are on hand to answer any questions they have promptly.
Example: The University of Victoria includes a section of common FAQs for students moving to learning online on the newly developed coronavirus section of its website.
However, your school may need to work a bit harder with your incoming students. With uncertainty surrounding when exactly society will be able to return to normal, it’s likely that many students have been considering postponing their study plans. They may also have new financial concerns to deal with due to the effect the crisis has had on the economy.
With that in mind, you will need to work hard to assure them that now is still a good time to pursue their education, and that your online system is still going to provide them value. Updating your website with details of your online learning capabilities, creating email campaigns, and other initiatives will go a long way to showing them that you are still open for business and ready to go.
Your admissions staff should also get in touch personally with as many of your incoming students as possible, and be proactive in learning about any new concerns or changes in their situation. If your team is working from home, ensure that they have the facility to respond to inquiries and process online student applications remotely. While some drop in enrollment might be unavoidable, you can mitigate the damage as much as possible.
You should also try to keep as many new leads flowing for your courses going forward as possible. If you have never offered online learning before, your school will likely not rank highly in searches related specifically to online learning, and you won’t have an established reputation for it either. This could lead prospects who would otherwise have looked at your school to go elsewhere.
If you do have existing online courses, now is the time to prioritize them, and place them front and centre of your strategy. The crisis has led to many people having a lot more free time, and they may welcome the chance to finally pursue their educational goals. Increased enrollments in your online programs may help soften the blow of closures on campus.
Of course, if your school has been adversely affected by a loss in enrollments, devoting time and money to promoting your programs may be easier said than done. As much as your resources will allow, however, try to devote some marketing efforts to your online courses over the coming weeks and months. You could create blogs that highlight your online courses and target specific keywords, post on social media to raise awareness, or run cost-efficient paid advertising campaigns.
Example: Automotive Training Centres created this blog recently about its online auto mechanics course.
Developing an infrastructure to offer online courses and repositioning yourself as a provider of them is a huge challenge, especially during what is no doubt a very stressful time for you and your staff. However, if you can succeed in doing so, you will not only be better able to weather the current storm, but you will also open up greater possibilities for your school’s future.