Topic 1: How to prevent students from feeling overwhelmed at the start of an online course?

This was one of the questions we answered as a group and the one that stuck with me.

The scenario for these weeks was of course that of our own. For me at least this was the most advanced online course I have ever attended. The choice of scenario was therefore brilliant as it was basically impossible not to think about our own experiences at this very moment. 

So how was my start of the course? I knew it would consist of pedagogy on a high level, which made my palms sweaty due to me not having a degree in it. But despite working in ICT I am part of a development project also working with the development of online learning, so I was pretty sure some good would come out of it. 

Due to especailly busy work weeks I hadn’t done more than the compulsory before the course start – received a welcoming email, registered on the website and had a quick look. Unfortunately I struggled to find the hierarchy in the website, which made finding the relevant information difficult.

Then came the introductory meeting and the first meeting with our PBL group. This was great. I was nervous beforehand as I’ve never been a big fan of group projects but this really felt like the way to start a course. The online courses I’ve taken earlier have all been without online meetings and there you just don’t get the feeling of being part of a group of people. You don’t feel obligated to finish the course and probably don’t learn as much either. Here we all were in the same boat and in a small enough group to dare to communicate with each other. If anything, I would have liked an even broader overview of the course, partly due to my own laziness and partly due to the website not being the most user friendly. What we did get was a good place and time to ask questions but the question I would have liked to ask was “what is it all about?”. I can’t say that this concern was a dealbreaker for me in any way but I did get the feeling that other learners had similar ones. Now one topic later I’m sure most learners are seeing the big picture.

This rough start was of course perfect for us to analyze in topic one. I already explained the concerns I had at the beginning of the course and briefly some solutions to them. During our group work we investigated this topic further. These are some actions we found that the teacher can do at the start of a course in order to prevent the concerns mentioned among learners:

  • Have the info and materials of the course as clear as possible and everything linked to one single, accessible page. 
  • Start off the course with a meeting where the big picture is explained as well as how the course is designed.
  • Create small PBL groups where the learners feel that they are all in the same boat and feel comfortable discussing openly. Set up online meetings regularly.
  • Have facilitators in every PBL group answer questions and guide the groups in the beginning of the course.
  • Have learners lead the discussion in the PBL groups for different topics

As you can see I think this is a great model that you’ve come up with. 


Add yours

  1. So nice to read about your experiences, Tobias! 🙂

    I think it’s very interesting that you state that it was basically impossible not to think about your own experiences in this course, as that’s a perspective that I almost completely lost while working with the material for topic 1! When discussing it in the group and reading the reflections, I was reminded that it’s good to zoom out (or in?) and think of it on that level, instead of over-focussing on what responsibilities and expectations a teacher or student has or (may) have.

    Since you think the interactive parts of the course and the group feeling help you continue in the course, I wonder what your thoughts are about the (partially) asynchronous aspects of the course and the division between ‘central’ events and smaller PBL group meetings?

    • Now I’ve finished my blog posts as well 😀

      Yes, I don’t know why but personally it took some time for me to get my head around the fact that this was a course about online pedagoy that was held in pretty much precisely the way that the course taught us to teach.

      This balance between asynchronous and synchronous I think was quite ok. In general you had a couple of days in between meetings which made sure that you still had some memory of what happened during the previous meeting. What did you think about it?

  2. Very true, ONL is a great model in itself of how to run an online course

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful post. It inspired some thoughts of my own. An online course with collaborative phases is a complex design. Finding your way to topics, information, assignments, and work materials is a challenge. Since the structure was built by someone, they bring their own way of thinking to the structuring. Therefore, I think that some confusion at the beginning of a complex setting cannot really be avoided. That is why it is important to explain the structure of the learning materials.
    Again and again there is a call for intuitive, user-friendly tools that can be mastered “immediately” without thinking. Unfortunately, this does not exist. Nor are there any structures that are immediately obvious to you without having to do a bit of analysis of what exactly is being put in front of you. If we recognize elements more quickly, intuitively so to speak, it is because we have already seen and recognized similar or even the same structures, because we have already learned how they work. One example is the “Home” button on websites. Is it really “logical” that a “house”, respectively the image of a house – a metaphor – is identical with “home page of a website”? No, absolutely not. We have learned that a house icon represents the home page. This is the only reason why we can recognize it and interpret it correctly. After all, user-friendliness ultimately means using structures that might already be familiar, so that the user has as short a learning curve as possible. But one will never be able to spare the learners from having to find their way around first.

    • I’m glad that it made you think about it as well. You summarized it really well. Finding the balance between text and spoken word and between long, detailed text and short, summarizing text is a never-ending struggle. It made me wonder about what the optimal LMS really might look like.

  4. Thank you Tobias,
    I’m now reading these posts as part of the final reflection of the course.
    I’m so happy that I’ve been working with you in ONLL. You have been a calming group member asking important questions and taking proper time for considering different possibilities.

    And this list is still very good checklist for organising a course.

    • Thank you Eveliina! I’m really happy to hear that and It’s been a blast working with you as well. Already from the beginning it has been clear that you are very experienced in pedagogy so thank you for sharing it with us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *