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10 Questions for Online Courses


June 10, 2016 by admin

online courses learning on the run

There are two contradictory perceptions operating regarding online courses: One posits that online learning is easier than other forms of learning, because you can do it at your convenience – when you want and where you want; and, the second line of thinking suggests just the opposite, that the online learning environment is full of distractions, not just multitasking with multiple media, but noise and people (kids) that distract students in online courses.

mLearning and online courses

These contradictions, I think, will only grow taller as we move into an era of mobile learning, sometimes referred to as mLearning. It is also referred to as “learning on the go” or by its snappier label – content snacking. All of these terms imply that for the online student, somehow there is a shortcut to learning. And, I think this may be where some of the general criticism of online education comes from – it’s easier because of the reliance on technology. I think the myth grew out of the belief that because one can take courses from the convenience of their home, that learning will somehow be easier, as if kids or other distractions in the background don’t somehow disrupt the learning process. Pearson Education published this PDF, Learning on the Run that describes what the authors believe learning in a mobile-based world—mLearning–is or will be like. I hope you’ll read the short piece and post your reaction to what I have presented here. And while the piece is mostly talking about apps and hardware, like tablets, I think they are perhaps missing the point regarding how we actually learn in online courses and in that what students remember long-term with regard to what they read, hear and see. In essence, it’s not just about what technology has added with regard to learning modalities, but also what cognitive science and neuroscience have added to our understanding of how individuals actually learn.

Cognitive Science and online learning

Dr. Elliot King, Chair of Loyola University Maryland’s Communication Department and co-founder of the online graduate program in Emerging Media developed 10 Questions for evaluation and assessment of learning in online courses, as well as flipped and blended courses. They are:

  1. What is/are the big question(s) addressed in the course?
  2. What are the sub-questions associated with the big question(s)?
  3. Are their specific competencies the students are intended to master? If so, what are they?
  4. What is the range of content types offered?
  5. What is the range of interactional opportunities offered both teacher/student and student/student?
  6. What is the engagement of the teacher with the students? How is the teacher’s presence projected to the students?
  7. What feedback mechanisms have been built into the course?
  8. How do the activities in the course connect to the questions and competencies outlined in the class?
  9. How will you measure competency (i.e. what activities will be graded and what is your grading rubric?)
  10. How is student engagement tracked and measured?

Online education, what this blog refers to as University 5.0, is about the latest iteration of learning modalities in which the distribution of information and knowledge relies heavily on technology. Along with this technological shift comes newer ideas about the ways in which students learn online that might be different than the ways in which they learn in a traditional classroom setting i.e. doc on a box. Today, we hear much about mobile learning and a snappier label – content snacking. Both of these terms imply that for online students somehow there is a shortcut to learning. By considering the 10 questions listed above, instructors can shape their online, flipped or blended courses to consider how learning actually is taking place. Yes, technology has changed the way students learn, but we have also gleaned from cognitive science and neuroscience a lot about how students actually learn.

-Neil M. Alperstein, PhD





  1. Very informative post. Today, most students like to take up online courses as it is quite convenient, time saving, money saving and provides quality learning opportunities.

  2. Lara says:

    Good post.

  3. Hello! It would be interesting to read a study that compares online learning to the traditional classroom model.

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