Sunday, January 24, 2016

Online Course Preparation and Administration

This post addresses some specific actions online course Facilitators should take in setting up and administering a course.

On Familiarization with Available Technology 
This action seems obvious, but bears further consideration. For example, consider a case where an instructor is pressed into service with minimal preparation time. Clearly, Facilitator’s thrust into such a position must efficiently manage available preparation time. According to (Boettcher, & Conrad 2010) Facilitators should initially concentrate on essential tools and gradually phase in additional technology when comfortable. Certainly familiarity with the selected course management system (CMS) or learning management system (LMS) is a prime concern. Specifically; (Boettcher, & Conrad 2010 p.57) recommend proficiency in the following CMS/LMS functions:

1.    Requesting or arranging for a course template

2.    Uploading documents and graphics

3.    Updating and revising documents

4.    Setting up and creating discussion forums

5.    Setting up and using the grade book

6.    Setting up teams and groups

Once an online instructor is familiar with these important functions, the technology tool belt can be expanded to encompass multimedia communications and social media. For example, weekly podcasts can increase social presence and facilitate assimilation into an online learning community. Other resources such as, Wikis and Weblogs provide a vehicle for communal construction of knowledge.

On the Importance of Clearly Communicating Standards and Expectations
Unlike face to face instruction, where opportunities for the clarification of ambiguities abound; online instruction requires clearly defined goals, expectations and standards. As noted by (Boettcher, & Conrad 2010) online Facilitators should prepare the following items prior to student arrival; syllabus, weekly teaching guide, discussions and rubrics and the course site. In an asymmetric setting, there may be a 24-hour delay (even for attentive Facilitators) in receiving and responding to student inquiries. Accordingly, every effort must be made to insure students clearly understand the required standards for each assignment without needing additional clarification. While these items seem axiomatic, they are nonetheless congruent with Malcolm Knowles’ Andragogical Model.

According to (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson 1998 pp.64-68) the model is comprised of six items:
     1.    The need to know: Why do I need to Learn something?

2.    The Learners’ self-concept: The need to act in a self-directed capacity.

3.    The role of the learner’s experience: Previous experiences and knowledge must not be ignored or devalued.

4.    Readiness to Learn: Adults become ready to learn things they need to know to cope with real-life situations

5.    Orientation to learning: learning is life-centered as opposed to subject-centered

6.    Motivation: Intrinsic motivation can be limited due to inaccessibility of opportunities, time, or resources.   
The connection between this descriptive model and (Boettcher, & Conrad 2010) prescriptive course preparations is readily apparent. In a nutshell, adult learners must explicitly understand what is expected of them to initiate the self-directed learning process.          

Additional considerations in course setup and administration
As noted in a previous post, online facilitators must be particularly active in establishing an online presence with students. As noted by (Boettcher, & Conrad 2010) online presence has “social” and “cognitive” aspects. Establishing a social presence serves the important function of putting students at ease and making students feel as if they are communicating with a real person. Establishing a “cognitive presence” allows the Facilitator to develop a feel for each student’s knowledge and abilities and is crucial in connecting to each student’s zone of proximal development. For example, a follow up to an ice breaker could be an assignment requiring students to review course performance goals and prepare a post describing how they would employ course learnings in current or future work assignments.

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

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (1998). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Houston, TX: Gulf Pub.


  1. Rob, thanks so much for including info on Andragogy. Often overlooked, the assumptions/principles of adult learning are so important for designing adult online learning experiences.

  2. Hi Rob,

    I liked how you incorporated the Andragogy into your post. You are correct that it is very important to understand what the students perception is and what their expectations are when attending an online course. Understanding how an adult learner is viewing their learning is critical to the success for that course audience.

  3. Hi Robin,

    Instructors at the beginning, think that teaching online is about uploading content and grading assignments. At first, they are not familiar with the concept of online presence. I agree with you, faculty must establish the online presence with students.

    Student satisfaction decreases when the instructor is perceived absent. The instructor interaction is a critical predictor of student satisfaction in online courses. The interface with an instructor in the online discussion is the most important point of communication (Blignaut and Trollip, 2003).

    Thanks for your post.



    Blignaut, A. S., & Trollip, S. R. (2003). Measuring faculty participation in asynchronous discussion forums. Journal of Education for Business, 78(6), 347-353.