Today’s student demands flexibility in learning–online courses need to be designed to help support this
Online students place high value on the time flexibility that online learning can bring to their lives. However, online learning is not inherently flexible; it needs to be designed that way.
By way of explanation, online students place the highest levels of importance on the following factors regarding their choice to enroll in online courses:
- Flexible pacing for completing a program
- Work schedule
These enrollment considerations are more important to learners than cost, distance from campus, reputation of the institution, and future employment opportunities.
To me, these three factors all relate to having sufficient time flexibility built into their online learning. What are the course design factors that impact the time flexibility of an online course? Let’s examine.
Window of Opportunity
I’ve long used the phrase “window of opportunity” to describe how long the online student is given to complete various tasks, such as:
- Quizzes and exams; measured from the date the quiz opens until it closes
- Assignments; measured from the date of posting until the assignment deadline
- Required discussion postings; measured from the opening date of the forum/topic until the deadline to make a post
Too short of a window provides very little time flexibility for the students. But what is considered too short? If you have online students who are doing nothing but working on their courses, a quiz window of four hours might not be too short. However, I’ve yet to see an online class where most of the students aren’t involved in many other things in addition to their learning. Four days would be more appropriate than four hours, in my opinion.
Many educators argue that a window that is too long encourages or allows procrastination, and can also have the effect of putting everyone in the class at a different stage of completion, thus making collaboration more difficult. I’ve gone to the extreme of having one deadline, where everything was due at the end of the term. Works great for a few students, but it’s a horrible failure with most students. Which begs the question, how long is too long?
Other Factors Impacting Time Flexibility
There are many other factors that impact the amount of time flexibility for online students. Here’s a list of some of those factors. We’ll delve more deeply into some of these items in future posts.
- Timeliness of instructor feedback on student performance
- Days and times of the week when due dates are scheduled
- Required synchronous activities
- Required group work
- Online office hours; both the timing of availability and the modes of contact
- Appropriate amount of course content
- Extra credit or make-up opportunities for required coursework that is missed
No doubt there are other flexibility factors in addition to those listed above. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.