A Student’s Nightmare
After recently speaking with a friend about her poor experience with online education, I’ve done some research on why online education (also called distance education) can fail so badly. While there may be exceptional online courses that are well designed and actually do provide an engaging and enjoyable experience, students and businesspeople who are suffering from poor distance education experience are plenty.
Opinions From a Broad Audience
In a LinkedIn polling of a broad audience of professionals of various educational development backgrounds – some of whom do include students and instructional designers – the general consensus on why online education frequently fails seems to fall into one main reason: poor course design.
We follow with further in-depth discussion in this.
Poor Online Course Design
There’s nothing like hiring a person ill-fit for the job at hand. So it seems for the design of some courses we see online.
A student I spoke with recently claims the nightmare of the online course design experience begins the very moment one logs in to the class itself. The student clicks a link that leads them to the online course. Simple enough, but this is where the easy part ends.
At first glimpse the course is broken out as a downwardly cascading series of chunks as the course progresses. In clicking on these links, this is where the mess begins. Students have to make sense out of perhaps an innumerable maze of links.
Ease of navigation is the issue here. Aside from this, there is an overall lack of rhyme or reason to what the course is trying to impart, let alone how it claims it will do it.
Rising Demand Leads to Cutting Corners
As the United States and other nations across the globe fall farther into the quagmire of economic recession, it seems more and more job seekers are turning to bettering their career by broadening their education.
With this recent rush and demand for online courseware, educational institutions have been hard-pressed to hire well qualified courseware design experts to produce fresh curricula. These courses span perhaps the greatest variety of educational topics, some never seen before. These challenges aside, hiring qualified instructors to learn up on and teach these course offerings further exacerbates the issue.
As a partial answer to this dilemma, many institutions have opted for a quick fix by repurposing older conventional “bricks-and-mortar” courseware. This may be likened to a tired old car getting a new paint job: look great outside, but what’s under the hood remains imminently flawed and outdated.
While perhaps the “courseware recycling” method is well-intentioned, its effect may be catastrophic both for the school’s reputation, and for the unfortunate students taking these courses. In this case, cutting corners does not pay off.
Garbage In. Garbage Out.
Of the more obvious issues at hand in the courseware recycling method is the question of whether the course was that well-designed to begin with.
With some colleges and universities still swimming in the old-boy educational institution mentality, professors, adjuncts and other instructors may have become “too close” to the subject matter offered in their older courses. Instructors are wont to see the flaws so evident to an outsider, yet remain unseen from their comfortable perspective. While perhaps these courses may have been well designed in their first rendition years ago, over time they have been subject to innumerable updates, revisions, rewrites, and all manner of other editing.
With the passing of semesters and years, the course at hand has become a mish-mash of subject matter ‘” likely difficult to understand, and failing greatly in providing measurable benefit for the students it was intended to enlighten.
This said – A recycled course in this form – now converted to an online offering – is ever more a disaster. What ended in the conventional bricks-and-mortar school as a failure, fails ever terribly as an online offering. Garbage in, garbage out.
Solutions From Qualified Professionals – Including Students
While technology offerings can be leveraged to offer great features for online learning, exactly how they are implemented is an entirely different beast of its own. In sum, educational institutions suffering from instructional design issues would do well to consult those who may be the best doctors who specialize in these ailments: their own customers (the students) and instructional designers well-versed in online learning content development.