Many teachers are pivoting towards making language teaching a business. This includes designing online self-study courses. In the second part of this series, Chiara Bruzzano looks at some decisions to make when designing an online self-study course: whether to make it interactive, how to introduce reflection tasks and check learning, and how to pilot the course.
If you’re a language teacher, it’s highly likely that you already have many of the skills you need to write an online self-study course: you can write, you can explain things clearly, you’re used to checking learning, you can structure a course and you know how to do your research.
So, if you have ever come across one of those online self-study courses and thought to yourself ‘maybe I could design one too?’, you’re in the right place! This is the concluding part of a series on how to write an online self-study course. If you haven’t read Part 1, catch up with it now to learn about choosing your topic and platform, doing your research and selecting your delivery modes. Once you have taken these steps, you’re going to want to consider the points we’re going to discuss in this article: how to structure your course, whether to introduce discussions, live elements and learning checks, and how to pilot your course.
1. Making it interactive … or not
After mapping out the content of your course and how to deliver it (e.g. via video, text, presentation, audio or a mixture of these), you will need to decide whether to introduce any interactive element. While online self-study courses are mostly done asynchronously, most platforms nowadays offer the possibility to introduce discussion boards. These can be a great addition to your course to give your students a space to elaborate on the concepts they learned and also learn from each other. I generally use these at the end of a unit and set a brief discussion task with one or two open-ended questions to answer.
Be careful, however: discussion boards need to be monitored. Just to give you an idea, I recently joined a free MOOC on dyslexia in language learning from Lancaster University: at present, it has not even started and there are already 50 comments in the introduction section! There is also always the possibility, however remote, that people will post inappropriate comments: this happened to me once and I swiftly had to intervene to moderate so that the discussion board remained a safe place for all my students. So, bear this in mind when you think about your future commitment after you publish your course.
2. Introducing reflection tasks
Because of the lack of live interaction with an instructor, online self-study courses can feel a little isolating, which can ultimately lead people to give them up. To make learning more personal, I like to introduce reflection tasks throughout my courses. I normally start units and lessons with reflection tasks in which the student is asked to relate their previous experience and knowledge to the topic at hand. This needs some careful planning as you need to keep your audience in mind so that your questions are applicable to them all. For instance, in my case, I have both novice and experienced teachers among my students, so every time I design a reflection task, I give them the option to reflect on their teaching and/or their learning experiences, so that they all have something to draw on.
3. Checking learning
It is also important to give your students a sense of progress, so you will want to design specific activities for these at the end of each section of your course: for example, I do it at the end of each unit and then again at the end of the course. A nice way to do this is via a quiz and many platforms offer a quiz function. Another way of doing this is by asking students to write and submit a short essay or presentation in which they have to elaborate on the concepts they learned. This can be daunting, however, if you are meant to give them individual feedback, so again make sure this is a level of commitment with which you are comfortable (and that is reflected in the price of the course!)
4. Pilot your course
Once you have finished building your course (and given yourself a nice pat on the back because you finished the job!), it’s time to pilot it. Piloting your course with a small audience will allow you to work out what works and what you may want to change before you have paying students. Ideally, you would pilot your course with a similar audience to the one you will ultimately target: in my case, for example, I give free access to the first version of my courses to a few English teacher friends and acquaintances, since that is going to be my target demographic. As you pilot your course, identify the key points you want feedback on and give your audience some guiding questions or a survey to complete so that you receive exactly the information that you want: do you want to know if the course is user-friendly? Clear? Too long? Too short? Does it meet the needs of those taking it or do you need to change, remove or add something? These are all questions you may consider.
After you get your feedback, make the changes and get ready to market and sell your course. If you use any of these tips, do let me know how it goes in the comment section!