User Experience Matters: Moving toward Student-Centric Online Courses

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User Experience Matters: Moving toward Student-Centric Online Courses

By Melanie Shaw, Director of Online Curriculum and Instruction, Clemson University

I have been interested in the student-centered trend in education. Because I oversee online curriculum development, I am particularly vested in ensuring online courses are engaging and meaningful for students. Too often, our course development processes have been about effective design and not about the online student experience. So, I recently did some analysis to determine what mattered to online students from a user experience perspective and came away with some key information:

  • Students want flexibilityOnline students require flexibility in due dates, opportunities for extensions, accelerated course completion options, and asynchronous activities for engagement to ensure they are able to meet conflicting responsibilities at home, work, and school.       
  • Students want to have the opportunity to draw upon prior knowledge – Online students should be offered flexible options such as prior learning assessments and test-out options for courses to promote success and persistence. Prior experience should be welcomed and encouraged whenever possible for assignment credit to allow students to accelerate assignment completion. Online courses should be built to allow students to share relevant personal and professional experience and promote inclusion of prior learning whenever possible.
  • Students want to be socially engaged  Students need opportunities to engage with other students and faculty. Online courses should promote rich student-to-student and instructor-to-student interaction through discussion board, social media, and group activities. Effective instructor feedback is a key to student social engagement in the course.
  • Students want to self-regulate their learning –In order to promote self-regulation, time should be spent in the first few days of the term to orient students to specifics of the course. The syllabus should provide clear guidance on course expectations. Students should be provided with a calendar of due dates for assignments. Rubrics should be included so students will understand outcomes expected for submitted course work. In addition, students should have access to grades earned on activities in the course so they can evaluate their own progress and learning outcomes.

It is important for those involved in the development of online courses to keep these key points in mind. Even the best designed courses will fall flat without attention given to the experience of the online student user. A course may not be perfect from an instructional design perspective, but if students are engaged, self-regulated, provided resources, have flexibility in pacing, and can draw upon prior knowledge, they will enjoy the experience of learning and be more likely to reach their educational goals. And… that is the whole point!

Melanie Shaw
Melanie Shaw

Melanie Shaw has over fifteen years of educational experience ranging from classroom and graduate level teaching to counseling and administration. She is Director of Online Curriculum and Instruction at Clemson University. In addition, Melanie is a dissertation chair, teaches undergraduate and graduate courses online, and develops curriculum for a variety of higher education institutions. She serves as an education consultant and as Executive Editor for the eLearning Institute.

Melanie’s primary research interests include online teaching and learning, organizational leadership, and distance learning instructional practices. She is the author of several books, articles, and chapters including: The Genre of Instructor Feedback in Doctoral Programs: A Corpus Linguistic Analysis; An Evaluation of Student Outcomes by Course Duration in Online Higher Education; Establishing an Online Professional Development Community to Promote Faculty Engagement and Excellence; Motivational Factors of Generation Y Educators: Implications for Teacher Retention; Distance Learning Courses: A Survey of Activities and Assignments; and Online Course Activities: A Survey of Assignment and Assessment Types. In addition to Melanie’s publications, she has presented at the U.S. Distance Learning Association Conference, Online Learning Consortium Conference, the Ubiquitous Learning Conference, International Learning Conference, and the Distance Learning Administration Conference. She is the winner of the Wagner Award for Outstanding Instructional Support and the Online Learning Consortium’s Effective Practice Award.

Melanie received a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Curriculum and Teaching from Northcentral University, a master’s degree in Education Administration from Grand Canyon University, and a second master’s degree in School Counseling for the University of West Alabama. She received her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies and Music from Excelsior College. She holds teaching certificates in online teaching, elementary education, and guidance counseling. She lives near Colorado Springs with her husband and two daughters.

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