Ingredients for Successful OCL Programs and Online Communities of Practice

I found Lee’s comments about the lack of pedagogical acknowledgement in “online” courses interesting, slightly disturbing, but also telling of society’s expectations or assumptions about education or really information in general.  Does the average person really look at product labels or media credits and sources, conduct research on the companies making the products, and make conscious choices about how and where to spend their money and time?  I’d like to think that we are getting better at that because information is “out there” and we just have to be willing to invest time to find out.

Well what if the product is an online course that comes from a reputable post-secondary institution or a widely-known (and well-advertised) educational company.  How many people try to find out if the course is effective based on research or unbiased reviews before enrolling or buying the product?  Does that information matter if thousands of customers or users rate it very highly or I start to see that company (and its ads) popping up everywhere in my community?  Lee even mentioned it tonight in our hangout chat, that adult learners want to know what’s relevant and usable right now; I feel a responsibility to produce a quality experience for our Givercraft teachers, but I wonder if they signed up because they heard about it from another teacher or we have advertised very well under the umbrella of UAS.  With that comes an expectation or assumption of the quality of what we will provide, I mean we are part of an accredited university system right? But just as Lee described it, even within an educational institution, the concept of online learning could mean many different things.  From the reading this week, I decided to focus on five areas that can inform our understanding of institutional online learning: relevance, investment, student support, a standardized approach, and evaluation.

It’s not difficult to understand that a course should be relevant to existing interests and needs.  There has to a market or demand for a course; we even talked about this tonight with Frank C from (AKLN), the courses have to meet a need and be appealing to students in order for them to be accepted.  The institution offering the online course also has to maintain relevance; if student needs and interests change or societal and economic trends mandate that new programs be created, the institution needs to adapt accordingly to maintain relevance.  Sometimes institutions, organizations, and businesses try to maintain relevance without acknowledging these outside factors and they don’t survive because they cannot adapt to the needs and interests of their consumers (or students).

One of the factors in successful OCL institutional innovations is investment in technology tools that facilitate collaborative discourse and support effective course design.  Utilizing and providing access to the latest tech tools is not enough, investing resources in creating a learning management system or other technology that meets the specific needs of the course is also important.   The significance of investment also applies to the course development and faculty training needed for OCL courses to be successful; course design and development needs to be a priority because it is the foundation of the program.  When adequate time and resources are made available not just to develop courses but also to evaluate and redesign courses as needed, an institution can continue to be relevant and provide effective and meaningful courses for students.  Investment in faculty should include training in OCL, course design support, mentorship and peer support, continuing professional development, and competitive compensation and benefits.

Successful OCL courses also have a range of student supports; any student weighing their options in comparing courses or institutions will definitely want to know how their learning experience will be supported.  The course design, tech tools, relevance and investment in faculty all work together to support student learning; but support can also be in counseling, tutoring, financial aid, career guidance or job placement, social activities, peer mentorship, and even access to an alumni network that can support a student after their course experience.

A standardized approach or system is needed for all these factors to work together; not only so that relevance, investment, faculty and students can function and thrive in an OCL course but the institution or program needs to be regularly evaluated and measured to ensure its success.  This also allows the program or course to be successfully replicated and change as needed; high rates of faculty and student retention can occur with a standardized approach but this can also benefit turnover in staffing because there is an infrastructure for new faculty to step into.

Online communities of practice thrive on similar concepts but are more organic in nature.  Relevance and investment are important in different ways – members are more active if the topic or issues are relevant to their own work and interests and investment by members through participation, resource sharing, accountability, commitment to the “cause”, inspirational and stimulating discourse all contribute to the lifeblood of the OCoP.  The bigger the OCoP, the more important a system or format for discourse is needed to keep members organized; it could be general guidelines for participation, organization of the tech tool used for communication and information storage, different tools available for use within the group, a routine or schedule for events, discussions, and feedback, or even a process for documenting the dialogue, knowledge, and products created by the OCoP.  The system could also be the expectations that are set and sense of community that is cultivated by the members; an OCoP is successful if it’s members agree on a high level or intellectual foundation of why they exist and do their work.  Then the logistics are just functional and not limiting to the members’ participation but can continue to evolve as the group needs change.

Some Online Communities of Practice for Educators to check out:

4 thoughts on “Ingredients for Successful OCL Programs and Online Communities of Practice

  1. I do no think many people try to find out if a course is effective based on research or unbiased reviews. Most take a class because they need credits or a degree. I have had some courses, that after they were over I wanted my money back. Oh and the ads do pop up more, but that does not mean the school is better, just better at advertising. Course have to meet a need and look appealing, just take ASDN courses for teachers, they have ones they think teachers will take. I agree with you about the one factor is the investment in technology tools, I would take it a step further and would say it is also the ability to pick the correct tools. Teachers do not need to use every new tool but need to look at the objects or what they want students to do or learn. Then pick the appropriate tool. I also think having student support is important, students need to know if they get stuck they can get hel.

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    1. I agree with your point about choosing and using the correct tech tool; I like technology and trying new tools but that also helps me to consider what I would use and for what purpose. On the other hand, it’s not practical for teachers who are not as tech-obsessed or tech-savvy to be keep trying the latest tech tools; it makes much more sense for reading up on a tool, asking peers, or finding recommendations from other teachers online, and maybe trying one new thing at a time. It’s a balance of developing our individual knowledge and expertise at integrating technology into our teaching, with using the appropriate tech tools not necessarily in the way that the tools are used by others, but to meet our teaching and learning objectives (for students). Thanks!


  2. I agree that students should do the legwork before signing up for an online class. I have done several faculty training/certification experiences for companies like Phoenix. Some of them are very very good and engaging. Some are just very tedious and not very motivational. Especially the ones that ask you to read 20 articles, and then ask a question that limits you to a 500 word response, and you notice no one cites the articles in the reading!

    There is a tough balance in education in general – but it seems to appear in adult education as very important. That is the balance between what the student wants, vs. what the student needs. It’s really difficult because sometimes, the student just wants an A, and doesn’t want to really do the learning. As a teacher, we have to be able to challenge students at all levels. So a student may not always be happy with a class while it is going on. Especially not if they are being challenged. But it’s a good goal that when students get to the end of the class, or when the class is over, students are able to look bak and see in a concrete way the difference between what they knew initially and what they know now.


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  3. i agree with having the UAS name or advertising, if this caused teachers to sign up for Givercraft. I think it’s both, but also other colleagues experiences that have heard of it… word of mouth is huge with success. I do feel more pressure on this round, because we had such a good run with Givercraft the first time, I think there are high expectations of us for this semester. With the teachers, community and the university. Their name is on the line. I agree with you on changing the course to relevant information. Interesting thought, where the course is created, but needs to change for the students. It made me think of the degree I’m currently getting with UAS. Throughout the course, there have been new classes, classes that have changed from the previous list and are no longer allowed. It’s the same for teaching in a classroom. You design a lesson, but the next year it might have to be tweaked a little or completely changed depending on the students you have. WIth online teaching, I think it’s important to have an organized course, teachers be trained on how to teach through an online course and make the learning content relevant. I enjoy edmodo. I have used this in a professional development class. It would be engaging, relevant (like facebook) and fun for students to use in the classroom.

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