Recently I attended the Instructional Technology Council’s eLearning Conference in Tucson. The final keynote was given by Maria Andersen, “the principal consultant at Edge of Learning and the CEO and Cofounder of Coursetune, an edtech company that builds curriculum design, management, visualization, and collaboration software.” She shared some tips about course design based on studying the engagement in MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses). I want to share some of those tips with you.

#1–Improve Findability. Students can get really frustrated when they can’t find what they’re looking for. Is there a syllabus tab in the LMS? Is the syllabus there? It should be. The gist here is to make things easy to find. To accomplish this, you really have to think like a student. Or, better yet, have a colleague look in on your course and ask that person to give you some honest feedback about findability.

#2–Manage due dates. Maria asked a great question: “What happens in the course between due dates?” At that point, she showed a graph of when students were engaging in the course in relation to due dates. You can image where the spikes of engagement were. One regular due date a week isn’t a way to get our students to engage more regularly with the course. I know. I’ve tried it. Over the semesters, I have added 2-3 due dates per week to get students coming back to an online or hybrid class.

#3–Invest time in discussions. Maria shared that students who post four times a week (in MOOCs) have the lowest probability of dropping the class. Those who never post are likely to drop. Those who lurk (they are there, but they do not post) actually have a low probability of dropping. They key then is to get students to a discussion and get them coming back to it throughout the week. Ah, we could be millionaires if we could solve this problem, right? How can we improve participation in this learning community? Here are a few tips to try:

a. An intriguing discussion title. Think “Discussion 4” vs. “Two Rulers and One Woman.” It’s a lot better. And it could be revised to be even more intriguing.

b. Consider posting announcements that point out good posts that everyone should read.

c. Consider giving students multiple prompts. Instead of one question, we can give them 4-5 to choose from.

d. Try smaller group discussions. Students have less to scroll through and read. They may be less shy to post. And there is a little bit more onus on them to post since a few people are waiting for them–there is no hiding.

I hope these few tips are useful to you. Are you trying any of them? How did they go? Let us know.

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