Switching from a live classroom to an online one requires adjustment for instructors and students alike. If the medium is the message, then you can’t replicate the exact same lecture you had planned for a face-to-face classroom in the online world—at least not without making a few adjustments that will benefit student learning.

Moving into the digital realm requires a different approach to teaching and learning, particularly if you want to embrace active learning and inclusive teaching practices.

Curriculum design methods

Curriculum design refers to the way you organize the curriculum: the objective of the course and the knowledge or skills a student must master before moving on to the next level. For online instructors, it’s also a step-by-step process to improve the courses offered by a college or university, incorporating the latest online teaching strategies and innovative teaching techniques to improve the student experience.

There are three basic types of curriculum design:

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  • Subject-centered curriculum design revolves around a particular subject matter or discipline, such as mathematics, literature or biology. It’s less concerned with individual learning styles.
  • Learner-centered curriculum design revolves around student needs, interests and goals. Differentiated instructional plans provide an opportunity for students to select assignments and learning activities.
  • Problem-centered curriculum design teaches students how to look at a problem and formulate a solution through case studies, helping them develop skills that are transferable to the real world.

Review rubrics

Regardless of your approach to curriculum design, you can use review rubrics to assess the quality of your course as you transition it to online learning. A rubric can provide guidelines and best practices—rather than policy—for course design (and redesign), as well as processes and tools for assessing the impact of your curriculum design on learning outcomes.

  • Quality Matters has eight general standards in its rubric for assessing the quality of an online course. This includes course overviews, learning objectives/competencies, assessments and measurements, instructional materials, learning activities and interaction, course technology, learner support and accessibility and usability.
  • The Online Course Design Rubric from New Mexico State University uses 40 quality assurance standards for self-review or peer review of online classes in higher education.
  • The Quality Online Course Initiative Rubric from the Illinois Online Network at the University of Illinois assists in the design, redesign and evaluation of online courses.
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Adapting vs. replicating content

While you can’t replicate the same experience, you can adapt or repurpose existing course material and teaching methods. Giving a lecture or having a classroom discussion can be done when teaching online, but it may be harder to keep students’ attention—so you may have to consider using your class time differently, such as including coaching or mentoring as a part of course development instead of lecturing.

Some of this can be handled by your institution’s learning management system (LMS), which typically includes communication, content delivery and assessment tools. But you may need to complement the LMS with other relevant digital tools and technologies in order to create a rich and engaging learning experience for students. With the right tools, you can create a course, load assignments, set due dates, attach files (such as readings) and write a description for each assignment. This can also help students feel more connected to their learning community.

You’ll also have to adapt some of that content for online education. Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, says in Time Magazine, that student attention span maxes out after about 10 to 15 minutes of passive listening. That means it’s even more important to make classes interactive and engaging, especially online where students can be easily distracted.

Equity and accessibility

The focus of equity and accessibility tends to fall into two buckets: access to technology and access to support for students with learning disabilities. In both cases, it may take some extra work to redesign your course material and assignments to meet everyone’s needs, but this will ultimately help students be more successful.

Students’ access to technology could vary widely. Some may not have high-speed Internet access at home, while others rely on physical university infrastructure, such as computers at the library. That means you’ll need multiple methods for engaging with students. Asynchronous options are an important consideration since they give students the flexibility they may need to access course content or a learning environment that allow them to focus without interruption.

You might also have students with learning disabilities or those who require special accommodations to function online—from dyslexia to reading processing disabilities to attention deficit disorders. That means making use of technology that can optimize their learning experience. A student with a learning disability, for example, might be able to use assistive software that reads text aloud or they may ‘listen’ to a textbook and other learning materials on an e-reader.

One way to accommodate different learning styles is to provide multimodal ways of learning, such as reading text (such as eBooks or interactive timelines), listening to audio (podcasts or audio clips), watching videos (live-action or animation) or looking at images (infographics or photos). Online active learning platforms like Top Hat offer many options to ensure student success and can complete their course no matter where they are, including the automatic transcription of lecture recordings.

To learn more, download our Ultimate Guide to Online Teaching. We’ve compiled actionable strategies, easy-to-use tools and templates to help every professor—and their class—thrive online.

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