instructor in front of a lecture hall
March 13th, 2020 E-Learning

Transitioning your courses from an in-person to an on-line environment? Here are some tips to help the process go smoothly.

As online education has grown over the years, many institutions and educators have become accustomed to teaching some portion of their courses online. However, if you’ve never run an online course, moving to a virtual environment may seem intimidating. Educators don’t always know what to expect, and if they’re struggling, it’s likely their students are, too.

Making the transition is no small feat. However, there are steps that educators and institutions can take to make the process run more smoothly from a technical standpoint, while providing support for teachers and students in the process.

1. Make sure your infrastructure can scale.

Moving online means more traffic and more users on your system. If you don’t have the right resources in place, your e-learning platform will slow down and maybe even crash. A platform that is slow or crashing means lost time as educators struggle to upload their materials, and often lost data as well. For students, it can mean added frustration, late submissions, and poor learning outcomes.

Your priority should be making sure that you have sufficient hosting resources. Take at our list of popular LearnDash hosts to determine what your needs might be. If you’re a larger institution, skip right to the end and read about the premium hosting solutions available.

Next, be sure your learning platform can handle the increased user load. This is where choosing a hosted solution will probably let you down hard. They’re designed for smaller courses, so trying to import a lot of lessons for a larger student body will be a big challenge.

If you’ve yet to choose a learning management system, prioritize one that not only scales well, but has user-friendly controls for learners and educators alike. You’re going to have to train a lot of people how to use this system, so opting for one with poor usability could come back to haunt you.

2. Invest in LMS training for your teachers.

Your teachers are going to need a lot of support with their first online courses, both in using the new system and in transferring their in-person courses into an effective on-line environment. These are, in fact, two distinct training needs: One for technical support as educators learn to navigate the new system, and the other for instructional design information as they create an effective course.

For the first, recognize that not all instructors will need the same level of training. Those who are more technologically literate may take to the system rapidly, which might make them more frustrated by mandatory training that they don’t need. On the other hand, there will be educators who feel very uncomfortable with an online system, and my need extra in-person training.

Run a group training session with all your educators to cover any standards that everyone needs to adopt, including assessment guidelines, course requirements, and naming conventions. Then have your educators self-identify according to the further training they need.

If you have a lot of training to work on at once, you may consider asking educators who feel confident in their abilities to help their colleagues who are less sure of themselves. This can get everyone through the basics faster while reserving your power users for more difficult training questions.

3. Offer your learners on-line orientation materials.

Instructors aren’t the only ones who will need additional support. For many learners, this will be their first experience with online education. They, too, many be unfamiliar with how to handle the new system and will need additional support as they accustom themselves to the new environment.

A few things you can do to help them include:

  • Including a tutorial session guiding them through the LMS, including where files should be uploaded, how to take quizzes and advance through courses, and where to find the course syllabus.
  • If you’re working with children and young adults, provide this training for their parents and guardians as well, so they can provide help at home.
  • Create a resource repository with the syllabus, required reading, and any printable documents where they can be easily found.
  • Offer online office hours to talk to your learners as they need it.

4. Discuss the basics of online instructional design.

As we said earlier, on-line techniques are different from in-person techniques when it comes to delivering course material. You can’t hand your learners a stack of PDFs and expect them to absorb all the information as if they had covered it in class. Nor can you film a lecture and expect it to be the same as witnessing the lecture in person.

In an in-person course, you are able to read the room, respond to questions, and encourage discussion to develop naturally as you go through material. This is the most difficult thing to translate into an online course. A classroom has a social draw on learners, keeping them in their seats for longer, and encouraging them to take part.

But an online course has no such draw. Learners are surrounded by the distractions of their home environment, and there’s little to keep them at the computer, working through material, save their own willpower.

Work with them by breaking your course into manageable pieces. Use short quizzes at the end of each segment to give learners feedback about the progress they’re making. Include a range of media, such as infographics, short videos, and audio recordings.

Since many of these elements are resource-intensive to create yourself, look for sources in the public domain, or which can be shared with the correct attribution. You can’t charge learners to view a TedTalk that’s freely available on YouTube, but you can share a TedTalk video to give added context to your course material and to launch a discussion on your forum.

5. Run live courses and discussion groups.

Moving your entire curriculum online can be time-consuming, especially as you search for or create rich content to go along with it. Videos and infographics can be important tools to help with your new course, but if you need to get going quickly and aren’t sure where to begin, start off with live courses and discussion groups.

Use a webinar platform such as Zoom, GotoWebinar, or ClickMeeting to invite your learners. If you already have a presentation, you can talk to your slides during your presentation. In the discussion period after, you can respond to questions that learners submit via chat box, or you can use your admin controls to let students ask questions or make comments as you go.

Finally, you can record your webinars and using them to help create course content for the next time, for students who missed it the first time, or for students who want to re-watch the video.

6. Think creatively about assignments and assessment.

Finally, the most difficult part of creating an on-line course comes from having to rethink your norms for delivering course material and assessment. Adopting the old “write one post and respond to two others” approach to forum discussion might be familiar territory, but it isn’t particularly effective.

Instead, as much as possible, search for creative ways to help your learners engage with the material. Experiment with ideas, even if they seem a little “out there,” and try to find assignments that go down well with your learners.

Also, look at the assessment tools your LMS provides, and vary the types you use when building out your tests and quizzes. These can include multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, drag-and-drop, short answer, and essay. Where possible, remember to give immediate feedback on answers to help learning.

Be ready to offer plenty of support to teachers and students alike.

A move to a completely online system takes time, and even under the best circumstances, your first lessons will be rough. Be patient with yourself, with your colleagues, and with your learners. As you keep going, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and eventually you’ll find the right balance to strike.

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