E-learning course creation

E-learning course planning, design and creation is a process, which contains several important steps. The first stage contains learners’ group identification and respectively identifying the course content based on the target group needs. The next step includes learning objectives definition and the appropriate course model selection, followed by the e-tools selection and curriculum development itself. The final step consists of the created course piloting and evaluation, as well as the users’ feedback consideration and course improvement.

This section will present how to defind the learning objectives and course model selection

Defining the learning objectives and course model selection

The first step in e-learning course creation aims at learning and teaching objectives definition. For these purposes a students’ needs analysis has to be conducted to define the basic level needed to start the course, the learning needs of the trainees, to evaluate the school’s organizational and technical capacity, equipment and resources. Related to this analysis is also surveying about the students’ expectations from the course, their computer skills and technical expertise, the network bandwidth, etc. 

  • According to all above mentioned characteristics, the set of learning objectives should be defined. They should be defined sequentially, in the order in which they should be achieved with the purpose to achieve the general, high-level course objective. According to the Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains, learning objectives can be formulated through six different types of actions, ranged in ascending order: 
  • Remember - the student is able to memorize or recognize information;

  • Understand - the student is able to explain a concept on their own;

  • Apply - the student is able to use the information in a practical case or exercise;

  • Analyse - the student is able to define a structure: to determine the elements and define relationships among them;

  • Evaluate - the student is able to make a decision or to find a solution according to a criterion or standard;

  • Create - the student is able to produce a new solution or approach.

Clearly defined learning objectives allow the development of consistent learning activities which are really focused on learners’ needs and provide the basis for course evaluation tests.  These objectives should be used as a basis for instructional, media, evaluation and delivery strategies selection. 

As a result of this stage, a blueprint that will be used as a reference to develop the course, should be defined. It should contain the following major elements:

  • the curriculum structure, i.e. the curriculum organization in modules, units, lessons, activities; 

  • the learning objectives, associated with each unit; 

  • the delivery methods and formats (e.g. reading materials, interactive self‑paced activities, synchronous and/or asynchronous collaborative activities, etc.) to deliver each unit.

What are the purposes of the learning objectives definition?

  • to define the pre-knowledge, needed to start the course
  • to determine the school's readiness and necessary resources
  • to solve course's quizzes easily
  • to be able to use virtual conferencing

Curriculum development and selection of e-tools

Curriculum development

During this stage the course learning materials are actually created. Content planning and analysis is probably the most critical step in the instructional design process. The detailed course content should be carefully planned in order to achieve the goal of the course. 

The course could include the following types of learning content:

  • Facts - they could be historical events, data of any kind, etc.

  • Procedures - a sequence of instructions, for example entering a function in Microsoft Excel

  • Concepts or principles - a group of objects, entities or ideas that are defined by a term, sharing common characteristics and laws or rules, related to them. For example, the course could contain the concept of computers and the principles, they work with.

  • Personal attitude or interpersonal skills - communication, collaboration or presentation skills, understanding of importance of nature or cultural heritage preservation, etc.

The learning content can vary significantly, depending on the available resources. E-learning content may consist of only simple text-based materials (Word, PDF or text documents), containing primarily text, images and URLs. These static materials could be combined with other materials (e.g. audio or video files), assignments, interactive games and tests.

The development of multimedia interactive content includes as a first step content development (writing or collecting all the required knowledge and information), followed by storyboard development, i.e. integrating instructional methods (all the pedagogical elements needed to support the learning process) and media elements. This is conducted by developing the storyboard, a document that describes all the elements of the final interactive products, including images, text, interactions, assessment tests. The final step is courseware development, i.e. developing media and interactive components themselves, producing the digital content  in different formats, uploading and integrating the content elements into a learning platform, and incorporating the materials into a single course that students can access.

In a practice-oriented course (for example Web-design or multimedia design course), the content could be organized according to the order of the activities in the real job environment (practice-context principle). In the case of scientific or informative course, concepts can be organized according to their inter-logical connections, for example describing the concept and listing examples, providing examples first, then definitions or starting from familiar or simple information and then proceeding with more abstract or complex concepts. It is a good idea to start the course with a revision of the previous knowledge, if possible, then focus on course specific topics, and finally lead the students to the general conclusion (zoom principle). The other approach could apply the idea that the learning curriculum can revisit and update the previously known ideas, and repeatedly building upon them until the learner understands them fully (spiral principle). As a result, the final course sequence corresponds to the selected logical interconnections, where each element corresponds to a specific learning objective and contributes to the achievement of the overall course goal.

In a practical oriented course the content should be in a social format, based on discussions, similarly to real job environment

  • True
  • False

Which of the following elements are types of learning content?

  • Facts
  • Principles
  • Procedures
  • Essays
  • Problems

Curriculum design methods

The curriculum design methods could be broadly divided into the following categories:

  • Expositive methods - suitable for presenting new information and new knowledge to students. It could include text-based materials, presentations, case studies, examples, etc. The purpose is to present the knowledge to the students. These methods could be delivered by the following formats:

    • text documents or PPT presentations - these materials could be quickly developed, but contain no interactivity for students;

    • Interactive e-lessons - they are flexible and could be adjusted according to linear or non-linear learning scenarios depending on the specific needs. In addition, they reduce the risk of mechanical memorisation of the information, since the learner is forced to read and understand the material in order to be able to proceed. It is a good idea for an interactive lesson to contain a screen with learning objectives, introduction screens with previous materials revision (1-3 screens), major content (5-25 screens depending on the size and complexity) and final summary screen. 

    • video/audio lessons and podcasts - they can easily be developed and delivered to students. Their drawback is the lack of interactivity, since they provide only passive learning.

    • Video/audio conferences, chats, virtual classrooms  - they allow interaction between teacher and students and support interactive learning. They could be easily combined with some other tools, for example by desktop sharing. The students’ Internet connection and resources has to be taken into account before using the tools, requiring real time video.

  • Application methods, i.e. learning by doing - the purpose is to make the student do some practical exercise, solve a problem, create a project, etc. They could include demonstrations (video tutorials), case-based or scenario-based exercises, role plays, simulations and serious games, research, work on projects or course work, etc. The purpose is to motivate students to apply the new facts and knowledge in a real-time situation. These methods could be delivered by the following formats:

    • Simulation or animation tools - the students can practise in interactive mode. These tools are useful in practical trainings, for example in software, engineering, medical training, etc. 

    • Virtual classrooms - in addition to the previous tools, they could provide additional opportunities, like shared applications and online practically oriented discussions.

    • Interactive e-learning lessons - they could be applied in order to check the level of understanding the students have achieved in an interactive way. The lessons could be adjusted to give additional resources or exercises in case of a wrong answer. The major drawback of this approach is its relative complexity and time, needed to develop.

    • Online group or tutored activities - they are highly interactive and support social interactions between students. They could be used for collaborative creation of documents, collecting materials on a specific topic, creation of a project or wiki, etc. They require time and teacher or facilitator presence in order to provide online support.

  • Collaborative methods - they aim at cooperative and collaborative work. These methods could be realized using discussion forums, chat rooms, various collaborative work tools (workshops), peer tutoring and assessment, etc. The purpose is to force students to apply the obtained knowledge in team-work environment. These methods could be delivered by the formats, already discussed above: simulation or animation tools, interactive e-learning lessons, online group or tutored activities, as well as forums, chats, discussion groups, blogs, shared documents, etc.

Learning by simulation software is an example of:

  • Collaborative methods
  • Application methods
  • Expositive methods

Creation of an wiki by a team of students is an example of:

  • Application methods
  • Collaborative methods
  • Expositive methods

Assessment tools

Assessment tools are useful for tracking students’ progress and allow the students to check their level of understanding in an interactive way. Online quizzes are popular tools for trainees assessment and self assessment. They could contain some of the following widespread question types:

  • True/False question - the student has to decide whether a statement is true or not;

  • Multiple choice -  the student has to select one or more true answers to a question;

  • Matching - the student has to join each element of a set with its correspondent from another set, for example some terms with their correspondent definitions;

  • Fill-in-blanks - the student has to fill in some missing words in a text;

  • Ordering -  the student has to order several elements in a sequence, following their logical structure;

  • Short answer/essay -  the student has to answer a question formulating the answer on their own.

In addition, the course could include auxiliary resources like glossary with key terms and related explanations, lists with URLs, providing additional information on specific topics without interrupting the flow of the lesson for students, who want to learn more on the topic, text-only or printable versions of some lessons, “getting started” tutorials, providing an overview of navigation features for new learners, etc.

Course evaluation and feedback

Once developed and uploaded into a web-based learning management system, the course has to be piloted with students, evaluated using their feedback and obtained results and improved for future exploitation. After its creation, the e-course has to be promoted among students and they have to be acquainted with the platform and course technical details (URL address, hardware and software requirements and constraints). They have to be aware what  the purpose of the e-course is and what they will benefit from it. 

As a pre-course learning activity and a course demonstration, the teacher could deliver the first interactive lesson together with the students. This will act also as a test stage of the platform, technical skills and IT knowledge level of students. During this initial activity, it is very important the e-course makes a good impression on participants, so the teacher has to encourage them and to explain them if any obstacles or uncertainties will arise.

The work with the course itself could be scheduled on a weekly or daily basis and typically should last during the traditional class-based learning. E-learning activities may include self-study as well as various individual and collaborative activities:

  • reading, watching and self-study - the students should be encouraged to read and watch  different types of content, such as simple learning resources (documents and presentations), video and audio content and interactive e-lessons.

  • individual assignments, quizzes and collaborative project work - the teacher gives the students assignments, either in a group or individually. Students also may be allowed to assess or comment on each other’s assignments, for example in website, presentation or multimedia creation. An assignment should be clearly defined and followed by a discussion on the strategies used to complete it.

  • sharing ideas and knowledge - learners can comment and exchange ideas about course activities or share their knowledge about a specific domain. In addition, students can ask specific questions to the teacher.

  • discussions - they could be initiated or regularly shared by the teacher. On the contrary, discussions can be initiated by students when they need some help or clarification from peers or from the teacher. It is important for the teacher to track the discussions and evaluate students’ involvement in the course.

In the case the e-course contains a final exam (online quiz, coursework or project), it should be conducted through the course and results should also be discussed and evaluated. At the end of the course the students should complete an evaluation survey that will provide the teacher with feedback about user experience, course advantages and drawbacks. This is a very useful step as it allows the teacher to improve the course before using it again. In fact, the content improvement takes place during the whole life cycle of the course. It also gives students the feeling that the teacher is interested in their opinion and it is important to make the course more effective.

This section will introduce MOOCs and their development trends

MOOC’s development

The latest trends in the evolution of open educational resources include MOOCs. A massive open online course (MOOC) is an educational model for delivering learning content online to any person who wants to take a course completely online, with no requirements or limit on attendance. Although it was first considered in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island as a part of distance learning, the model became very popular among business and academic institutions, since it  offers the stakeholders new business opportunities to reach, what we call today “the extensive classroom”. It was claimed that 2012 was the year of MOOCs, because of the world-wide popularity of big MOOC providers like Coursera, Udacity, eDx, etc. The model was developed by the Higher education Online: MOOCs the European way (HOME) partners in March 2014. 

In terms of instructional design, models MOOCs were broadly divided by Stephen Downed in 2014 into two major types: xMOOCs (Extended MOOCs) and cMOOCs (Connectivist MOOCs). The basic difference between the two MOOC kinds is related to the place the learning and training process is conducted. As could be guessed by its name, xMOOCs have been run, and maintain training on a specific MOOC platform, where many concurrent users could access the materials simultaneously. The vast majority of contemporary MOOCs offered fall into this category. The other type, cMOOCs rely on the connectivist idea, that the learning process could be conducted at various places - websites, social networks, etc., looking for information from various sources according to the connectivist pedagogy model.