How-to Integrate Collaboration Tools to Support Online Learning

I share here a five-step strategy for integrating technology tools to support meaningful learning in online courses. However I’d be misleading readers if I suggested that effective technology integration is as easy as following a five-step formula; I’m likely not sharing anything new with readers by emphasizing it’s not. A key component when creating effective online learning experiences with ed-tech tools that lead to collaborative learning (and not busy-work that students abhor), is determining why and how.

busyworkThe why and how needs to be determined well before implementing the five steps. I was inspired to delve into the strategy behind ed-tech integration after reading “10+ No-Signup Collaboration Tools You Can Use in 10 Seconds” (Couch, 2015). I tweeted the article last week (below). It got several views and likes which is not surprising since most online instructors are looking to incorporate interactivity into their courses, and the tools featured were free and easy to use. Yet despite my enthusiasm for the tools, I felt the need to share a strategy for integrating tools effectively. The tools are alluring—as the article’s headline suggests the collaborative tools ‘can be used in 10 seconds’. Yet each tool on its own is neutral, zero-sum; there’s no value-added when using technology for student learning unless integrated with a purposeful strategy, and an approach that’s grounded in the why and how.

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 2.46.22 PMThe Approach
Approaching technology integration as a multi-dimensional, strategic exercise is not the usual approach by course designers and instructors, yet is essential to creating conditions for learning. Though it sounds obvious, the first phase is exploring what, why and how. This phase determines if the tool ‘makes sense’—sense within the context of the course learning objectives, and the sense it makes to students. Both are at the core of every effective education technology strategy, yet in my work experience I’ve found that integrating tech tools into learning activities is one of the most neglected areas of course design even though it has significant impact on student learning.

Teachers and faculty need to know why they are using the tool, which begins with what—what learning goal or objective does using a learning activity support? What kind of learning activity, e.g collaborative group project, discussing forum posting, group case study analysis, will support student learning that will lead to meeting the objective? What tool can potentially support the activity? Next is whywhy would or should I use the tech tool? Why this tool over another? It seems so simple to ask ‘why’, yet the answers can often be complex; all the more reason to begin with why.

Students also need to know the ‘why’ behind the learning activity and the tool

But finding answers to the why for educators is not enough—students need to know the why—why are they doing this activity? The latter is often missed. Educating students about the purpose of a learning activity is an essential element that supports pedagogically sound teaching, where a tool is used not for the sake of using a tech tool, but used purposefully. Otherwise it’s becomes a busy-work assignment—using a ‘cool’ tool. So how do we let students know the why? We tell them. This means when writing a brief description of a learning activity for students to include within the course site that includes a sentence that begins with “The purpose of this activity is to….” . The activity purpose should align with one of more of the course learning objectives. Articulating the purpose makes clear that the activity is worthy of students’ time and commitment; student motivation is far higher when they know the purpose and premise.

When approaching the how, educators should consider a tool from two perspectives: 1) the technical aspects of the tool—how it works, what it does, how feasible it is to use the tool within a course, e.g. whether students will be able to access the tool easily, the learning curve for using the tool, and 2) the pedagogical aspects—how the tool will support learning and how it’s use will be described to students so that it’s becomes seamless experience so the focus is on learning and not the technology. Which is why as mentioned, there are several considerations, layers of complexity to integrating tech tools. The five-step strategy (below) addresses most of the factors that need consideration when integration educational technology, while the first phase of examining why, why and how addresses the remaining.

Five-Step Strategy for Tech Integration

  1. Consider: Will this application/tool enhance, improve instruction or motivate learners? What similar applications/tools are there to consider? I
  2. Review the learning objectives for the  course or lesson to determine what activity (with support of the tool ) will support learning. Which tool might best support meeting objective?
  3. Identify the content/concepts students need to learn – review, augment and/or update content that students may need to access during activity
  4. Assess the ed-tech application/tools – will it encourage students to apply the content and learn the material, construct knowledge and promote critical thinking?
  5. Select and implement the best application. Create concise instructions of how-to use tool. Allow time for learning of tool and learning of course content
Graphic: 5-Step Strategy to Ed-Tech Integration (Morrison, 2012)

The HOW for Students
I would like to highlight for readers Step 5—the last component of step five that addresses the student—how are students going to use the tool and how will it be explained to them?. This component including in the course concise instructions for the activity and the use of the tool, is critical yet often overlooked. Students need to know why they are doing a collaborative activity, then how they are going to go about it, what tool they will use so that they can get down to business of learning. Otherwise their time is spent of figuring out what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Wasted time.

There are so many tremendous educational technology tools and applications available now, more than ever before, but unless they are integrated effectively and thoughtfully, it’s a zero-sum game—zero learning and a waste of resources.

Collaborative Tools



Facebook for MOOCs: A Bridge for Student Learning

Facebook-Groups-e1291281035929I’ve long believed that Facebook is one of the most effective platforms for student discussion and collaboration within Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other online course formats. Facebook is a virtual meeting place that encourages authentic interaction, sharing and collaboration. I’ve found that closed Facebook groups, created for a specific course, generate more discussion, exchanges and sharing among a greater number of students than any forum within a MOOC platform.

A recent study, The Role of Social Media in MOOCs presented at the annual ACM Conference on Learning at Scale, validates Facebook’s effectiveness for student engagement. Researchers conducted a study using three MOOCs on Coursera’s platform comparing students use of Facebook groups to discussion forums within the Coursera site (Zheng et al. 2016). They found that students were more engaged in Facebook groups than within the MOOC discussion forums (see figure 1 below), and engaged for longer periods on the Facebook site, even after the course ended. Students also admitted they preferred interacting on social media due to its immediacy—the quicker response times to questions and posts, as well as the less chaotic environment. Quite compelling is the fact that students stated Facebook gave them a “sense of community” (pg. 423).

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“The Role of Social Media In MOOCs: How to Use Social Media to Enhance Retention”.  Proceeding of the Third (2016) ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale, pages 419-428.

Why is this so? I suggest two reasons. First, because Facebook is the most used social networking site globally, for a variety of reasons—its low barrier to participation, and ease of use (Pew Research, 2014). Given the numbers of people who use Facebook across nations, more students are familiar with Facebook than any other tool or feature within the MOOC platform, so it’s no wonder they are more likely and willing to engage with their peers. Below are some telling comments from students of the study that indicate why Facebook preferred over the MOOC platform.

“Sometimes, I actually want to reply or make some updates
on Coursera, but when I think I need to login on my
computer, I postponed doing it and then I forgot to do it later.”
“I frequently forget my password or account name. I know this is stupid, but it happens frequently not just on me but on many of my friends!”

Second,  Facebook creates a sense of community. Learners are able to establish a sense of presence, they have a sense of being there and being together. Students can see who they are interacting with—a real person. Facebook is transparent, unlike MOOC platforms where students can sign up and create any user name not linked to their identify and post in forums anonymously.  Interaction within MOOC platforms feels like one is communicating in a vacuum.  This transparency fosters a sense of presence and trust, aligning with the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. The CoI model is a theoretical framework that outlines a process for creating deep and meaningful online learning experiences. It’s based on three interdependent dimensions of presence–social, cognitive and teaching presence (Garrison Anderson & Archer, 2000).

Social presence is the ability of participants to identify within a community, in order to communicate in a trusted environment, where learners can develop personal relationships by projecting their individual personalities (Rourke et al., 2001). With its transparency, ease of use, and low barriers to participation, Facebook embodies this concept of social presence, enables students to engage socially leading to dialogue and collaboration.

Community of Inquiry Model, Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000)

How It Works
Facebook groups can be created by the instructor or institution administrators as a closed group where students request to join. Though in MOOCs, students often take the initiative and create a group for course participants, opening up the group well before the course begins. Frequently participants will create smaller groups for those interested in specific course-related topic areas; they find one another via the interaction and dialogue. For further info see Group Basics on Facebook.

The study’s findings have tremendous implications for online educators and institutions. If students in online learning environments are more likely to engage with class peers on social platforms, like Facebook, it’s well worth our time to examine further how we can thoughtfully integrate social media to engage students and deepen their learning experience.


MOOC Quality Comes Down To This: Effective Course Design

“Design brings forth what would not come naturally”
                                —Klaus Krippendorff, Professor of Cybernetics, Language,and Culture

designThere’s little data to go on to determine the quality of learning outcomes in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Traditional education measures the quality of learning with a variety of assessment methods against a set of established criteria or objectives. But MOOCs don’t fit into the traditional education mold and given it’s usually unclear what the intended outcomes are for MOOCs, assessment is challenging (Gaebel, 2013). If the objective is to deliver quality learning there’s little to go on except for low completion rates and even smaller percentages of student rankings of their perceptions of learning (via end-of-MOOC surveys). A recent study attempts to address MOOC quality by assessing instructional quality of 76 MOOCs—50 xMOOCs offered on dedicated MOOC platforms and 26 cMOOCs or connectivist MOOCs (Margaryan, Bianco & Littlejohn, 2015). My aim in this post is to share results of the study and outline the framework used to evaluate the MOOCs in an effort to highlight how a course design framework is critical to developing quality learning experiences within MOOCs.

Factors Affecting Quality Course Design
Course design is a critical to delivering quality learning through online courses and MOOCs, yet it’s rarely mentioned in literature and articles discussing MOOC and online course outcomes. This study fills a gap. It determined that while most MOOCs were well-packaged, design quality was low. Out of a possible 72 points that each MOOC could score, not one MOOC scored above 28 points (p. 82).  Reasons vary, but I see it as absence of one or a combination of: skill set of course designer(s), time, and/or a structured process that includes a course design framework.

My view is that an online course takes on a persona of the instructor where the course guides and promotes part of the learning process as an instructor would. This thinking requires a different design approach—a different mindset than one used for traditional courses. A well-designed course also provides a learning path that students can follow and influence. A path that includes: quality, varied and curated resources, methods that encourage active learning whether individually or within self-selected groups, places for students to engage and share where they also act as contributors to the course. The latter is key—students should be able to shape the course through application of course concepts using their existing knowledge and experience.

Overview of the Study & “First Principles of Instruction”
The study analyzed quality through the lens of the Merrill+ model, a framework based on the “First Principles of Instruction” framework of David Merill (2002). Merill’s model is remarkably thorough, detailed and thoughtful in its inclusion and application of learning theories and approaches incorporating components of R. Gagné and H. Gardner’s theories as well as models of instructional design. First Principles also aligns closely with Malcolm Knowles’ adult learning theory andragogy, which I’ve discussed in previous posts. There’s significant research in support of Merrill’s theory suggesting it’s a credible, perspective tool to evaluate curriculum design of traditional, online courses and MOOCs (Frick et al. 2007; Margaryan et al., 2015).

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 11.15.33 AM
Merrill’s’ model is grounded in the practical as shown by figure 1 which describes how his five principles focus on problem-focused learning (Merrill, 2002).

Ten Principles of the Merrill+ Model
Margaryan and Collins added five additional principles to Merill’s First Principles to create Merrill+ Model which builds on Merrill’s philosophy and synthesizes contemporary instructional theories and practices (2014). The 10 principles of Merrill+ Model:

Learning is promoted…

  1. Problem Centered Learning: …when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems
  2. Activation: …when learners activate existing knowledge, experience or a skill set as a foundation for creating new knowledge and/or skills.
  3. Demonstration: …when learners observe a demonstration [that includes learning of new knowledge via a primary resource] of the skill [knowledge] to be learned.
  4. Application: …when learners apply their new knowledge or skill through discussion, written work, or creation of an artifact to solve a problem.
  5. Integration: …when new knowledge is integrated and into the learner’s context
  6. Collective knowledge: …when learners contribute to the collective knowledge of a subject or topic
  7. Collaboration: …when learners collaborate with others to expand knowledge of individuals and a community of practice
  8. Differentiation: …when learners are provided with different avenues of learning, according to their need, e.g. scaffolding
  9. Authentic resources: …when quality learning resources are curated from and applicable to real world problems
  10. Feedback: …when learners are given expert feedback on their performance

Closing Thoughts
There are other course design frameworks that can be used as alternatives to the Merrill+ Model, Khan’s e-Learning Framework (I’ll be writing about Khan’s Framework next month) and the Dick and Carey model for instance. Some institutions develop their own course design model as Purdue University did with its IMPACT model. The key to MOOC quality is selecting, then following a framework grounded in learning theory that supports an effective course design process that delivers quality learning experiences.


  • Frick, T., Chadha, R., Watson, C., Wang, Y., & Green, P. (2007). Theory-based course evaluation: Nine Scales for measuring teaching and learning quality. Retrieved from
  • Gaeleb, D. (2013). MOOCs: Massive open online courses. (Tech.). European University Association. Retrieved from
  • Margaryan, A., Bianco, M., & Littlejohn, A. (2014). Instructional quality of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Computers & Education. 80. 77–83. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.08.005
  • Merrill, D. M. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59. doi:10.1057/9781137394644.0012

What is the Optimal Size for Online Groups within MOOCs?

Is there an optimal size for groups working within a MOOC?

Multiethnic Group of Business People with Speech BubblesI received this question from a reader of this blog about optimal group size for individuals who meet online and are collaborating on a project or participating in a study group as in a MOOC. I share here our discussion via email, and resources specific to online groups that readers may find helpful.

Reader’s Question:
“I was wondering whether or not there is an optimal size for online collaborative groups. I’m referring to collections of individuals who “know” and “meet” each other only via web interactions but who interact with each other (one on one and one on many) to accomplish a goal? Do you have an instinct as to whether there is an optimal size for a student collaborative study group in a MOOC and, if so, is it 5, 15, or even more?  Anything very large would more resemble a bulletin board for postings and replies.”

My Response:
This is an interesting area of study. I’ve done a fair bit of research in this area along with practical application and my observations are consistent with the research which finds that online collaboration in an academic context where a group project is part of a grade for a fully online course, requires involvement and guidance of a moderator (instructor) for best results. Not to say that students’ won’t participate without an instructor’s guidance but that participation by group members is higher with an instructor’s influence (Peck, 2003). Also optimal size for this type of group collaboration—online in a course where students do not interact outside of the the online context, is three to five. This is consistent with my experience where I’ve seen best results when groups are this size. Five is almost too big in an online context: it’s more challenging to coordinate and a group member that is by nature lazier, will find it easier to shirk responsibility in a group of five. In smaller groups there is more responsibility and pressure for each group member to perform. I’ve found the ideal size to be three or four.

However, in a MOOC context group collaboration whether for an online study group or project varies greatly. There are several factors that influence the group collaboration dynamic and outcomes.

First is motivation of participants which is different from in online, for-credit courses; each [student] is taking the MOOC for different reasons many who are not interested in taking the course for a grade which is the case for smaller, closed online courses for credit.  This alone implies that group work or collaboration must be entirely voluntary and not directed by the instructor.

Second is the structure of the MOOC. Due to the massive number of participants, it is technically impossible for an instructor to be involved in the group formation and moderation for a formal group assignment, from a manpower perspective, and from a technical perspective in terms of providing the ‘space’ for groups to form and interact.

However there are instances where informal online study groups can happen as well as smaller discussions, that can be guided by course facilitators. Below are some instances where this can work:

  • Participants can be encouraged to form their own groups; which I’ve seen participants do where they reach out to others in the general discussion forum and form their own groups on Facebook or other platform. I’ve seen this happen in MOOCs on several occasions. Groups may be formed by interest in a specific aspect of the topic, or by geography.  Groups are then run independently of the course with no involvement from the course leaders
  • I’ve also seen success with breaking discussion groups into smaller groups which allows for more manageable and intimate conversations. For a specific discussion question related to a given topic (module), three or four discussion forums are created and participants asked to contribute based on the first letter of their last name, e.g. for last names beginning in A to G, respond here,  from H to M respond here, etc. This can be very effective as it overcomes the challenge of the cumbersome discussion boards with massive numbers of participants, granted the numbers can still be large.

Formats for what’s described above can be the discussion forum within the LMS, or there are also digital bulletin boards that can be used, which I’ve seen used for smaller groups with tools such as Padlet (though I’ve not seen Padlet used for groups over 30, so not sure of the technical implications).  I like Padlet because users do not need to sign up and create an account, once a board is created (by course facilitator) it can be open for anyone to contribute to who has the link. There are other applications, but many require creating an account and updated versions of Java etc. which some students may not have.

Some MOOC platforms and structures are based on the small group concept and require participation, Stanford’s open courses I believe work on this concept of ‘mandatory’ participation by students who sign up. I believe the groups are fairly large, up to fifteen or twenty. I have not taken a course on this platform, but have heard from practitioners in my network who have.

Hope that helps.  Below are a few resources you may find helpful.


How To Make Online Courses a ‘Place’ for Learning

‘Place On The Map’ by George Hodan

I recently listened to a lecture ‘The importance of place’ from a Great Courses series on Cultural and Human Geography.  The professor discussed the process of ‘place-making’ that occurs when humans interact with, and modify a physical space to make it their own. The result is a distinctive place with a unique culture shaped by the people within. This got me thinking about ‘place’ in terms of online education. Do  students view an online class as a ‘place’? If they do, how can educators make an online space into a place for learning?

Place in context of human geography has two elements—the physical characteristics of the natural environment and the human influences—ideas, interactions and interventions. There are several books on the concept of place including “Place: A Short Introduction” by Tim Cresswell, author and professor of human geography. Cresswell describes place not only as a location, but as a physical space where humans produce and consume meaning (2004). “Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience” by Yi-Fu Tuan, one of the first scholars in the discipline of human geography, describes place and space as a relationship, that includes the feelings and thoughts humans associate with each (2001).

Why Online Students Need a Place
When examining face-to-face education settings we get a sense of how place influences learning. Inherent to education is the idea of going to a place to learn—a place to study, to meet with classmates, to lecture, to engage in discussion, to do research, etc. And a place’s physical aspects—the decor of a room, the temperature, WiFi availability, space constraints, available resources, even furniture, can influence students motivation, their effectiveness or even willingness to learning.  As do the human aspects associated with a  learning place—interactions, discussions, institutional processes, etc.  In my experience it’s these human aspects that are most often associated with online education. Yet a sense of place that addresses the physical aspects in an online course is more elusive. Elusive—but necessary.

Community of Inquiry Framework, (Cleveland-Innes, Garrison & Vaughan)
Community of Inquiry Framework, (Cleveland-Innes, Garrison & Vaughan)

How Do Educators Make a Place Online
Few resources exist for educators wanting to learn about place-making in an online class. The closest I’ve found is the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model; a framework for describing presence online. The CoI model encompasses three dimensions of presence for online learning spaces: teaching, social and cognitive presence. The model suggests that effective education experiences occur when the three dimensions coincide. This is a good starting point for place-making. It addresses the human aspect of place-making through the three dimensions. Yet as mentioned, addressing the physical dimensions of place-making online is more challenging.

Example 1: Creating Dynamic Online Course Sites with Digital Tools
Effective use of Images and media can contribute to place-making. An experienced online educator Laura Gibbs (@onlinecrslady) maintains a dynamic course site for each of her online classes (Mythology and Folklore) using embedded images and content representing students’ course work from various digital platforms. Not only do students get to see their work featured on the course site, but the course becomes a dynamic space for learning. When students log-on to the course site, the most recent student assignment is featured (screenshot below), which students can access via an active link. Gibbs’ use of media tools (Rotate Content, inoreader widgets, etc.) and platforms (Twitter, Pinterest, Blogger) support place-making by creating a learning space that has meaning and purpose for students. Students shape the space by their contributions, interactions and involvement—making it a ‘place’ for their learning.

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Screenshot of a web page in one of Gibbs’ online courses.  This page features students completed writing assignment discussing Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset that uses the Blogger platform. Visit this link to view Gibbs’ assignment instructions for students:

Using Twitter as a tool to contribute to place-making in an online course.

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Screenshot of Tweet featured on one of Gibbs’ course sites. Gibbs posts Tweets featuring course updates, links to relevant resources; students also contribute.

Example 2: The Student Lounge
Some online courses feature a ‘student lounge‘, usually a discussion forum or chat room within the course site labeled as such. In my experience these lounges typically aren’t used, usually because there’s little invitation or reason to get involved—it’s just there. Yet there are ways instructors can make these spaces inviting and dynamic, to construct and lay the foundation for place-making. As we saw in the previous example, it takes a focused effort by the instructor to support place-making. Below are ideas for creating a student lounge from high school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gowan outlined in a blog post:

It is not hard to create a virtual student lounge in an online classroom. Think about what a student union provides and go from there. Make sure that students go there first, familiarize themselves with the space, and are encouraged to return to it time and again to recharge their social batteries. It should be a place where everyone can hang out and share, [by] posting, uploading and downloading. You can also create a “water cooler” thread that serves as just a fun way to build your community, introducing students to each other as members of a Virtual Learning Community (VLC.)…For instance, you might want to set up a space or thread that:

  • Links to resources or even a gift shop of materials and supplies that students can buy or access in order to supplement their learning
  • Allows students can share thoughts, writings, and videos
  • Serves as an “information desk” so students can ask questions about the classroom and/or the content
  •  Acts as an “arcade” of links to content-related games and entertainment
  •  Promotes and celebrates learners in the community for their academic or personal accomplishments both online and offline

Closing Thoughts
The idea of ‘place’ in online education is an interesting one; it’s another way thinking about and approaching online education. The idea of place-making in online courses could be one way to engage and motivate students, to make learning relevant, meaningful and effective in our digital world. If you have ideas for place-making in online courses, readers would be interested—please share!


  • Cresswell, T. (2004). Place: A short introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Robbins, P. (2014). The importance of place. Lecture presented in Understanding cultural and human geography. Chantilly, VA: The Great Courses.
  • Tuan, Y. (2001). Space and place: The perspectives of experience. Minneapolis, MN. University of Minnesota Press.

How to Make Learning Matter to Online Students

“Classic Learning” by Alan Levine on Flickr

One of the core premises of “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” is to make learning matter to students (Brown, Rodediger & McDaniel, 2014). The authors emphasize that learning is stronger when it matters, when the abstract is made concrete and personal. Intuitively it’s a logical premise; of course we want learning to matter to students, where learning is relevant and applicable to their contexts. Yet how do we know if students perceive course concepts as relevant and meaningful? And even if they don’t, does this matter? The consensus is that it does. Evidence indicates that when learning is relevant, students are motivated and engaged→ learning is more effective and outcomes are more likely achieved. This phenomenon is described in “Make it Stick”  and in recent research (Bernard, 2010). In practice, I’ve seen how students are more likely to engage and participate in online courses when assignments encourage them to apply course concepts and ideas by building on their existing knowledge and experience.

Framework for Relevant Learning – Andragogy
The concept of making learning relevant to students is not new. Malcolm Knowles, creator of andragogy the theory of adult learning, outlines a set of assumptions of how adults learn; relevance is a core element (1984). Andragogy suggests adults learn differently than children, and learning programs tailored to characteristics of adult students, such as work experience, existing knowledge and life situations, are more likely to motivate and engage students in the learning process. Below are core assumptions of andragogy that serve as guidelines for making learning matter to students:

1. Adults need to know why they need to learn something
2. Adults need to learn ‘experientially’
3. Adults approach learning as problem-solving
4. Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value.

Online Student_ThinkingStrategies for Making Learning Matter
I’ve found that by applying adult learning principles to the design of online courses, assignments and learning activities for instance, payoffs are significant in terms of student participation. I’ve seen this time and again. Online students are sensitive to busy work—activities or assignments that don’t appear to have a purpose, don’t require critical analysis, don’t appear to align with course learning objectives, or have real world application. Granted, these are students’ perceptions, yet it is beneficial to explain the purpose of an assignment, to describe how it will further learning and be of value, or be applicable later in the course. Following are practical strategies that I’ve applied when designing courses in an effort to make learning matter. Comments highlighting my experiences are in blue.

  • Describe an assignment in three parts; 1) outline the purpose of an assignment: how it fits in with objectives, what students will gain from the assignment, why they are doing the assignment, 2) describe assignment details and logistics: provide a description of assignment, format, resources, due dates, rubrics, and 3) describe technical logistics and details, e.g. any platforms or software needed for the assignment, collaboration tools for group assignments, where and how to submit the assignment e.g. within the LMS, or Turn-it-In, etc.  Frequently I’ve seen assignments that lack detail in at least one of the three mentioned here. This creates confusion for students, potential for lower-quality assignments, need for frequent reminders/clarifications, more student questions, and it delays students getting on the path to learning.
  • Provide opportunity for students to apply and share their experience and knowledge of subject matter: encourage students to draw upon work experience or existing knowledge. For example in a discussion question activity, include opportunity for students to share their experiences as applicable to the topic. Doing so can be as simple as adding another component to a discussion question where students incorporate examples from their personal or work experience.
  • Create opportunities where students research and/or share how (select) course concepts apply to real world scenarios or situations. This can be done within a discussion forum activity, a blog post assignment, written reflection activity or other type of written assignment. Alternatively, assignments can be based upon a real world challenge or problem the student is facing within their work, community or personal situation. As discussed earlier, the key is to highlight to for students why they are doing the activity—even though it may seem obvious. An example of how a question might be framed—here’s how a question from an undergraduate course in nursing might read “…to demonstrate how (concepts) apply to current situation in clinical setting, describe how this would be integrated…”.

Closing Thoughts
Making learning matter to learners does matter; where learning is relevant and applicable, especially for adult students. Considering adult learner characteristics is good practice that can lead to motivated and engaged students. Yet online learning does require a different approach than used for face-to-face settings—one that considers characteristics not only of the students, but the medium. The strategies outlined here are a starting point.