In the modern world, it is increasingly common for people to work, study, communicate and do just about anything online.
Since the pandemic, there has been a proliferation of online course creation and it seems that most education platforms are now offering online courses. Even universities have continued to host lectures and study groups online as they have realised the benefits of doing so during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.
So, there are clearly many benefits to online learning, but this move to online courses has thrown up many concerns too. With so many online courses to choose from, how do you know if you are signing up for a good one? Or how do you know if previously in-person class now has the necessary components for it to work well online? What makes for great online course design and successful online courses?
To answer these questions, this article reveals the top 10 components of a good online course.
What are the components of a good online course?
A good online course should have everything a good in-person course has: great tutors, engaging content, quick work turnaround, and a wide range of support from teaching and admin staff. An online course should also have a good virtual platform that is easy to navigate, and it should encourage virtual communication amongst the students on the course and between students and tutors.
Before enrolling on an online course, it is a good idea to check that they have everything in place for your learning experience to be as smooth as possible. You should email the course providers directly if you are unsure about anything on offer.
So let’s jump in and take a look at the top 10 components of a good online course.
Top 10 components of a good online course
Before deciding on an online course, be sure to research who the tutors are. Any good course, let alone an online one, needs great tutors who are experienced and well-practised in their chosen field of study. Moreover, teachers need to be comfortable with online teaching. For students, online learning requires some getting used to, and so tutors should be capable of putting students at ease with their online education environment.
The tutors may be working professionals who teach their skills to students part-time, or they may be full-time educators who are fully qualified to both research and teach their subject of choice. In either case, a good online course will be taught by experts in the field that have a wealth of experience that they bring to the course.
Online teachers must also be able to make good and efficient use of the myriad of tech available to enhance the virtual learning experience.
Virtual office hours
As we have just seen, a good online course is led by great tutors and students should have the opportunity to meet one-to-one with their tutors during weekly or fortnightly virtual office hours.
The phrase “virtual office hours” refers to a weekly time slot when tutors can meet with students to discuss their work. Students may come with specific questions regarding course material or with work they want to share and read through with the tutor.
During these time slots, it is crucial that students make the most of their tutors’ expertise. They will often not have much time with a tutor, but even a short one-to-one session can lead to a serious improvement in a student’s understanding of course material.
Thus, online courses should always offer virtual office hours, so check how often you will be able to meet your teachers online before you sign up for a course.
Physical resources, such as books or print-outs, are an important part of any course. Reading on paper or from a book is often far better than reading on a screen for many reasons: students’ eyes are less likely to strain, they can write notes alongside the materials, and research shows that they are more likely to retain what they read.
So, a good online course should provide students with a coursebook that contains all the necessary readings. Or, at the very least, they should provide students with PDF copies of readings that can be easily printed out.
Interactive course content
A good online course shouldn’t just be a database of information for students to learn. It should engage many of their faculties through an interactive learning environment. An interactive online course may have weekly tests with videos as well as written resources and online classes for studying and revising. The course could also make space for students to communicate remotely in study groups, so they can get to know their coursemates, whilst also pooling their knowledge on the subject matter. Moreover, an interactive course might encourage students to ask questions of their tutors during lectures or seminar sessions. Or a course might require students to prepare a presentation to share with other students.
There are plenty of ways in which a course can be interactive and a good online course will make use of many of them.
When courses are online, it can feel all too easy to skip the occasional lecture or study session. While attendance is ultimately up to the student, a good online course will keep track of a student’s attendance and notify them if they record too many absences. This is common practice for in-person courses and should also be common practice for online courses, although for many it isn’t.
Students may skip classes for a number of reasons but a provider should remain vigilant about absences. They should chase up any absentees to make sure they are not getting into difficulty. In this way, courses can show they care about student achievement and provide that extra encouragement that we all need from time to time.
Encouragement of student practice
Students should be encouraged to practice their learning both inside and outside of their online course. For example, if you are training to be a lawyer using an online course, then it would be beneficial to have some sessions in which you can practice some of the practical assessments of the exam.
Some online courses have physical classrooms that students can attend a few times during their studies to put their work into action. Others may do everything virtually. The course should also encourage students to practice in-person or online with one another outside of class hours.
Students should be encouraged to set their own learning objectives outside of the course so they can make the most of their time during class hours.
Perhaps the most simple and effective barometer of what makes a good online course is the students’ results that it yields. If an online course has proven itself to produce success stories, then it must always be doing something right. By attending a successful online course that has proven results, you are more likely to succeed.
Also, if an online course frequently gets good overall results, then it is likely to get more interest from prospective students and become more popular, which means it will make more money and, in turn, will continue to improve any areas that still need improvement.
You should usually be able to find the previous results of an online course on their website. If not, email them first to ask.
Marked work returned on time
Students undertaking online courses usually upload coursework onto a virtual platform to be marked by a tutor. Most online courses will guarantee work to be returned within a certain number of days.
A good online course should honour this guarantee, as it helps the students and shows that the teaching staff are committed to their duties just as the students are committed to the course.
Marked work returned on time will also lead to better work and potentially better results overall, as it gives students time to ask their tutors any follow up questions or for any help they may need based on their feedback.
A great platform
One of the most important components of an online course is to have a great platform. The platform, sometimes known as a “virtual learning area” or a “learning management system”, should be easy to navigate, well supplied, and simple to use.
Students will spend much of their time interfacing with the course platform and it is likely to be the place where they upload their work, attend lectures, communicate with tutors and other students, and undertake much of their revision.
A good online course will also have a simple onboarding video or presentation that demonstrates how to navigate their platform. As a student, it is worth spending a bit of time exploring the platform at the start of the course to ensure you know exactly where everything is and how to upload work and so on. Then you can be sure you won’t be caught short on any deadlines or lectures.
Contactable administrative support
Let’s face it, even the best online course is going to run into technical or administrative errors from time to time.
Students should be largely forgiving in such circumstances (provided it doesn’t happen too often) as long as their queries and appeals for help are met promptly and successfully by an administrative team.
A good online course does not need to have round the clock admin support. They should, however, be responsive and quick to act if a problem does arise otherwise the student or students affected may be left without access to aspects of the course that may be hard to catch up on.