Skip to main content

Online Courses are For Whom?

When I have attended meetings or conferences and the topic was online courses, a great deal of attention is paid to the "target audience" for online education. The assumption is that online courses are ideal for certain groups:

  • Workers seeking to complete a degree.
  • Rural residents unable to relocate or travel to a campus.
  • Disabled students requiring accommodations.
  • Non-traditional students (meaning everything from older to unusually young).

These might be ideal "targets" if a university operates as nothing but a business, but even private institutions have a responsibility to deliver the best, most meaningful educational experience to all qualified students. I would argue the pressure on for-profit institutions is actually greater because there is a skepticism in academia towards the profit motive.

And what we ignore when we think of "target audiences" is that the descriptions do not reflect the personalities of the students.

Online courses, from hybrids that meet at least a few times physically to those courses entirely online, require students who exhibit some character traits that are not always present in college students. Placing an unprepared student in an online course increases the odds he or she will not complete the course. Low grades, dissatisfaction with the course, and other negative outcomes could lead a student to exit post-secondary learning.

Instead of targeting students by their locations, ages, or special needs, we should be considering if a student is ready for online learning. We should help students determine their preparedness for online learning. What are the traits necessary to online success?

  • Self-motivation,
  • Time management, and
  • Tech savvy.

Too many students believe an online course will be easier than a traditional course. Those of us with online teaching experience will tell you that the time requirements and effort are greater online.

Depending on the format of the course, synchronous or asynchronous, a student has to maintain a strict schedule. The students in asynchronous courses, in which there are no "live" virtual meetings, have a tendency to fall behind on assignments. Instructors can send repeated reminders, post an online calendar, and take other step to prod students along, but if a student doesn't go online he or she won't complete assignments.

I've had motivated students with no time management skills. They do want to succeed, but they've never learned to keep a calendar or weekly schedule. Teachers have always been there to remind these students of deadlines and expectations. I tell students, if you don't keep a calendar without being told to, an online course is going to be difficult. I teach students to put deadlines in their calendars on the first day of class. MS Outlook, Apple's iCal, and various free alternatives are ideal for this.

I have found that students who aren't comfortable with computers don't do well in online courses. I've had online systems that required downloading Java, QuickTime, or other support software to play media clips or edit documents. If a student isn't comfortable installing software or adjusting browser settings, then an online course becomes both technology training and whatever the intended content is. I've had English students tell me they learned more about Windows in my class than in any other! That's not what I want to be thanked for by students, though at least they valued the information.


Popular posts from this blog

Slowly Rebooting in 286 Mode

The lumbar radiculopathy, which sounds too much like "ridiculously" for me, hasn't faded completely. My left leg still cramps, tingles, and hurts with sharp pains. My mind remains cloudy, too, even as I stop taking painkillers for the back pain and a recent surgery.

Efforts to reboot and get back on track intellectually, physically, and emotionally are off to a slow, grinding start. It reminds me of an old 80286 PC, the infamously confused Intel CPU that wasn't sure what it was meant to be. And this was before the "SX" fiascos, which wedded 32-bit CPU cores with 16-bit connections. The 80286 was supposed to be able to multitask, but design flaws resulted in a first-generation that was useless to operating system vendors.

My back, my knees, my ankles are each making noises like those old computers.

If I haven't already lost you as a reader, the basic problem is that my mind cannot focus on one task for long without exhaustion and multitasking seems…

MarsEdit and Blogging

MarsEdit (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Mailing posts to blogs, a practice I adopted in 2005, allows a blogger like me to store copies of draft posts within email. If Blogger, WordPress, or the blogging platform of the moment crashes or for some other reason eats my posts, at least I have the original drafts of most entries. I find having such a nicely organized archive convenient — much easier than remembering to archive posts from Blogger or WordPress to my computer.

With this post, I am testing MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software based on recent reviews, including an overview on 9to5Mac.

Composing posts an email offers a fast way to prepare draft blogs, but the email does not always work well if you want to include basic formatting, images, and links to online resources. Submitting to Blogger via Apple Mail often produced complex HTML with unnecessary font and paragraph formatting styles. Problems with rich text led me to convert blog entries to plaintext in Apple Mail and then format th…

Let’s Make a Movie: Digital Filmmaking on a Budget

Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 5, 2015 Deadline
July 2015 Issue

Every weekend a small group of filmmakers I know make at least one three-minute movie and share the short film on their YouTube channel, 3X7 Films.

Inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project (, my colleagues started to joke about entering a 48-hour contest each month. Someone suggested that it might be possible to make a three-minute movie every week. Soon, 3X7 Films was launched as a Facebook group and members started to assemble teams to make movies.

The 48-Hour Film Project, also known as 48HFP, launched in 2001 by Mark Ruppert. He convinced some colleagues in Washington, D.C., that they could make a movie in 48 hours. The idea became a friendly competition. Fifteen years later, 48HFP is an international phenomenon, with competitions in cities around the world. Regional winners compete in national and international festivals.

On a Friday night, teams gathe…