Online learning is fast becoming one of the primary ways adult education practitioners are accessing professional development (PD). In 2005 when World Education launched Adult Multiple Intelligences, its first, facilitated online PD course, many of us in the field were new to online learning. That has changed dramatically in the past seven years as we’ve become accustomed to distance learning. Facilitated online courses fit our desire to overcome distance and time constraints while connecting with colleagues. World Education now offers more than 30 self-paced and facilitated courses on the topics of math and numeracy, college and career readiness, adult student persistence, reading, and differentiated instruction.
At all steps along the eight-year journey, we found opportunities and challenges. We listened to our partners, instructors, and participants as we worked to improve the content and facilitation of our courses. What did we learn?
- Team a subject matter expert with an instructional designer familiar with the principles of online learning in order to develop engaging, reflective online activities that draw on research-based content written by the experts.
- Achieve quality control by following a multi-step process that has built-in review points.
- Finish the production before marketing the course as it always takes longer than anticipated.
- Partner with other organizations to extend the resources and bring in additional expertise.
- Acknowledge that while high-quality video, audio, graphics, and interactivity add value and interest to the course, the production time and costs increase.
- Identify instructors with content expertise, professional development experience, and comfort with teaching virtually.
- Clarify the expectations of the online instructors and discuss the importance of creating community, providing supportive feedback, and maintaining instructor presence.
- Provide training on use of the learning management system and issues with navigation and other aspects, such as discussion forums and recording grades.
- Extend the online course experience with webinars, workshops, and online forums to strengthen the professional learning.
- Give participants take-aways—strategies, tools, and lessons—in a format that they can use immediately in their classrooms and programs.
- Provide clear, step-by-step instructions and visuals on the online course tools, make a technical assistance line available, and monitor the start-up to ensure initial log-in.
- Encourage a sense of community through reflective postings and responses to the discussion boards and sharing of activities.
- Schedule deadlines for completion of each lesson to enhance the sharing of assignments with colleagues.
- Reward successful completion with certificates and state-specific credit.
We’ve benefitted from working with partner organizations and listening to participants and instructors as we expanded our online PD offerings. For our newest course, Promoting Mental Health in the ABE/ESOL Classroom: Addressing the Impact of Chronic Stress on Learning, visit World Education E-Learning at http://elearningPD.worlded.org.