Learners can experience emotional anxiety when entering into an unfamiliar learning environment. The first moves an instructor makes in designing and facilitating an online course are very important.
Here are some best practices to make sure your learners feel both welcomed and confident that they’ll find success in your online course:
- Start with an Introductory Week (Week 0)
- Many courses on NovoEd start with an introductory week, where learners aren’t expected to engage with content right away. Instead, they are asked to reflect on their own learning experiences and develop an online identity. Tasks such as completing a reflective survey and completing their profile give your learners an early sense of both belonging and accomplishment. Additionally, it’s a chance for your learners to learn how to navigate and use the environment (similar to getting a tour of a new school building or the rules of a classroom).
- Use an Introductory Discussion
- In an unfamiliar environment with unknown classmates, it may be difficult for learners to initially speak up and present their ideas. Instead of beginning discussions with a controversial topic, the first discussion should be introductory, where learners are asked to share a bit about themselves and their goals for the course. This practice results not only in revealing the course community to itself, but also gives learners a relatively risk-free opportunity to speak up in a public space, creating a stronger sense of confidence in sharing ideas using this new online medium.
- Use Custom Profile Questions to Facilitate Reflection and Connections
- While questions like favorite foods or movies were appropriate for 2nd graders, you can ask more content specific questions to your learners depending on your course topic. Asking things like “what is your level of confidence with the concept of _____” or “Rate on a scale of novice to expert your knowledge about _____”. This gives your learners a chance to reflect on their skills and assures them that they’re not expected to know everything. When profiles are public for everyone’s viewing, learners with similar levels of skills sets can engage with each other for support, or seek out more experienced classmates for advice.
- Set Clear Expectations
- Let your learners know what is required for successfully completing your course. Tell them what the expected workload may look like as well as what strategies they may use to allot time to complete their coursework. More information provided upfront will mitigate learners dropping out due to poorly managed expectations.
- Share Yourself with the Community
- In an online setting, showcase the best parts of your personality by sharing your personal stories and insights early on. Your learners will develop a sense of connection not only with their classmates but with you as an instructor or facilitator. Post frequently to the discussions and comment on your learners’ posts. The more time you invest in your learners, the more they’ll invest in your course.