Online training and learning is on the rise — and going strong.
According to the Babson Survey Research Group’s 2017 Distance Education Enrollment report, 6.3 million students have taken at least one online course, which is a 5.6-percent increase from the previous year.
What is just as notable, however, is the drop-out rate, a particularly stubborn statistic that refuses to budge in online training.
Besides the usual suspects of poor planning and a lack of engagement and motivation, could standardization be the key to overturning those high drop-out numbers for online courses?
When looking at an expansion of their online learning opportunities, Scottsdale Community College received an interesting review from the Higher Learning Committee, or HLC. While the basic foundational components of online course delivery were present, the report found that,
“[D]ecentralisation in review and oversight authority led to variability… that, in the opinion of the team, made the courses more faculty- than student-centred. The lack of consistency may be a contributing factor in the online student success rate, which was 10 percent lower than either face-to-face or hybrid delivery modalities.”
If standardization is the key—and, indeed, if it can even be done within digital courses—here are five methods to standardize training content and materials.
Learning objectives are all about outlining what a student should be learning when they successfully go through the course and complete it.
Often, companies investing in online training or businesses interested in creating LMS platforms for the consistent access and upgrading of their employees’ skills forget that formal objectives can set the stage for everything from course materials choice to course design.
For example, when employing the methodology of ‘bite-sized’ modules, each of these modules can and should have their own explicit learning objective.
When course developers offer accreditation or certification at the end of a course series, enrolment inevitably goes up and drop-out rates significantly decrease. There is a sense of ‘legitimacy’ that external accreditation or certification brings to the results of digital learning.
But accreditation is also a great way to ensure that courses are up to par, meeting an external standard of high quality. Since a course structure and materials itself have to meet particular standards to be recognised as a course on the path towards an accreditation or a course that will facilitate future accreditation, there is also a consistent and reliable standard that will have to be met.
In the process of accreditation, external boards or review bodies will continue vet and evaluate the integrity and quality of the course, making sure that a combination of its training content and materials, learning objectives, assignments, tests and more all contribute towards the student either preparing for an accreditation or eligible to work towards that accreditation, via the online course.
There are a few organisational philosophies that have been developed in the last fourteen years, specifically for online courses. One of these is known as the “Highly Specific Approach.”
As the name states, this approach to standardisation outlines an extensive series of components and standards that every online course must adhere to, wherever it is being offered. When followed, these can include granular details such as the use of specific synchronous communication tools, virtual world avatar integration, time-restricted responses to student emails or posts, etc.
Of course, the main benefit to this is that the resulting courses are highly structured experiences that skew towards quality, clarity, and student interaction.
Standardisation in digital and online learning is not about crafting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ experience. Rather, it’s about providing a dependable and content structure through the choice of training materials, course content, assignments, support, etc.
As courses progress, digital learning offers another key feature that course developers can use to move towards more structure: Analytics. Learning analytics can paint a picture of student engagement and the success of current structure in an opportunistic way that physical learning simply doesn’t offer.
Learning analytics, through LMS dashboards, can allow course developers and designers to view behaviours like student drop-outs, clicks or opens on course materials, quizzes taken, scores earned and more.
Analytics can then be used, over time, to make future versions of courses more tailored to the behaviour of students, providing incentives for them to continue, or helping them to address complex material but gamifying the process.
Here, standards are about consistent structures and analytics is a key tool in articulating which direction this structure should proceed.
According to the research on distance education courses through the years, researchers at Coastal Carolina University have offered 10 components for the standardisation of online courses.
- Announcements (placement, tone, format, access, etc.)
- Course information
- Instructor information
- Course modules
- Email portals
- Course support
Creating guidelines for these 10 components of online courses are much like creating learning objectives. Each of these areas requires a specific standard, either suggested as something a course developer may adopt or made mandatory.
These 10 components form the overarching structure for every standard digital course out there. There are modes of communications with instructors, ways to structure the course material and content delivery, ways to communicate with peers and ways to evaluate and be evaluated. Each of these areas are ripe for the articulation of a particular set of standards.
For example, when setting the standards or a baseline for course content, course developers may stipulate that every lecture also come with a transcript so that students can create a set of PDF notes to print for studying later on.
Standardisation in digital and online courses come down to structure, consistency and expectations. Students within a course have particular expectations about the structure of the course and providing them with particular standards can help establish and then fulfil those expectations.
Standardising the experience of a digital course allows students to understand how to learn, what study behaviours will help them most and how to successfully complete a course, having actually learned something and engaged.