Setting Up an Online Learning Experience

Our course text, The Online Teaching Survival Guide provides an entire chapter of tips for course beginnings (CB).  With the following tips in mind, I will endeavor to respond to the application questions posed for the week.

  • “CB Tip 1: Course Launch Preparations: The Essential Course Elements of an Online Course
  • CB Tip 2: Hitting the Road Running: How Not to Lose the First Week!
  • CB Tip 3: How an Online Syllabus is Different
  • CB Tip 4: Launching Social Presence in Your Course
  • CB Tip 5: Getting to Know Students’ Minds Individually: The Vygotsky Zone of Proximal Development
  • CB Tip 6: Getting into the Swing of a Course: Is There an Ideal Weekly Rhythm?
  • CB Tip 7: The Why and How of Discussion Boards: Their Role in the Online Course
  • CB Tip 8: Characteristics of Good Discussion Questions
  • CB Tip 9: Managing and Evaluating Discussion Postings
  • CB Tip 10: The Faculty Role in the First Weeks: Required and Recommended Actions” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 62-63)

What is the significance of knowing the technology available to you?

First and foremost, an online learning environment begins with some type of technological interface.  It is imperative to understand which technologies are available to the organization as a whole, as well as for use within individual courses.  In consideration of the tips listed above and the context in which the course occurs, one must address which technologies are most appropriate for each aspect of the online course.

Second, at the very least, the instructor needs to be familiar with the institution’s learning management system.  “The primary tool that you will need to become familiar with is the course management system (CMS) that your institution uses” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 57).  The rationale is clear as the course management system provides the course structure.  Within that, structure documents will be uploaded and downloaded, discussion forums will be created and maintained (often with group assignments), grades will be recorded, online usage will be tracked, and resources will be accessed.

Third, students will have varying degrees of technological aptitude depending on their age and previous life experiences.  If and/or when a student inquires as to whether or not you can use Eluminate for a live meeting, it would be helpful for the teacher to know if that is a software available for use, and, preferably how to use it.  In another example, students may be brainstorming ideas for a course project and inquire which technologies might work best for their various ideas.  As the instructor, it would be ideal to guide the students toward technologies readily available rather than unintentionally sending them on a wild goose chase.

Why is it essential to communicate clear expectations to learners?

The importance of clear expectations for learners is not a new concept.  However, learning in an online environment significantly alters the course context.  Online learners require more self-direction and motivation.  There are no regular face-to-face meetings with written reminders on the whiteboard coaxing students into completing their assignments on time, or providing redundant and repetitious information already provided in the resources.  Rather, there are due dates for discussion posts and assignments, which require learners to have completed their reading, reflecting and synthesizing prior to joining in the fray!  This is vastly different from the traditional learning scenario.

In addition to learning the new definition of “preparation” for online learning, there are also different expectations as to quantity, quality, and even netiquette.  The online learner needs to understand how their work is assessed, when they are to post to discussions, and the depth to which they are required to respond.  For instance, despite the fact that all my instructors use the same rubric, they have all assessed discussion posts a little differently.  I had one instructor who insisted that two posts was the minimum requirement and garnered only a minimal grade.  Yet another instructor insisted that it was not the number of posts, but the depth of the postings that mattered most.  And yet, another instructor required a pattern of continuous conversation beginning with the initial post and continuing almost daily through the end of the week (for an exemplary grade).  Yet still, another instructor required original resource citations for a discussion post to be graded as exemplar.  I have even had one instructor who chastised quoting from the resources because as graduate students we should be developing our own thoughts.  In sharp contrast, a different teacher deducted points for infrequent references to the resources.  Entirely other institutions assess discussion posts on completely different scales.  For instance, my sister attends the University of Phoenix and her post expectation rarely exceeds two to three sentences, and never requires citations.

What additional considerations should the instructor take into account when setting up an online learning experience?

There are many other considerations to address prior to launching an online course, as evidenced by the detailed tips provided in our text and already mentioned herein.  However, I would like to point out the importance of what our text refers to as “Course Beginning Themes” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 53).  For instance, the authors discuss the importance of developing the instructor’s social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence, as well as building a learning community.  It is my opinion that the online course could have every new-fangled technological device known to mankind available to its instructors and students, and have every possible expectation skywritten over the learners’ heads, but if the instructors do not successfully develop their “presence” and build a learning community within the first week or so of the course, it is highly likely students will not be as successful as they would have been otherwise, if they do not drop out entirely.


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010).  The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tipsSan Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


One thought on “Setting Up an Online Learning Experience

  1. Thank you for your insights, Lynn! I wholeheartedly agree, without some sort of tangible connection between learner and student in the first weeks of the course, the opportunity for the rapport needed for a successful learning may be lost. It is sometimes discounted as important because it’s hard to define, but our readings this week outline just how important it is. This article may state that far better than I can!

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