4 Ways To Personalize Instruction In Pre-Designed Online Courses

How To Personalize Instruction In Pre-Designed Online Courses 

As an online instructor, the course you teach isn’t always yours. From pre-designed packages to master courses developed by a peer or department head, it isn’t uncommon for instructors to be thrust into a course whose learning materials, assessments, and discussion forum prompts have already been established. For these instructors, being able to put their unique spin on the course content becomes much more difficult. Fortunately, strategies for doing so exist. The following suggestions don’t only address this; they align with industry standards for engaging students in the online classroom. Whether you have full control over your online course or are in the position described above, consider the following strategies to help personalize instruction in your online classes.

  1. Engaging in discussion forums.
    It isn’t uncommon for discussion forums to be the hub of student-student and student-instructor interaction in the online classroom. While any online instructor should be engaged in the day-to-day conversations of his or her students, this is a critical area for an instructor teaching a pre-designed class. Not only does it provide critical student-instructor interaction, but it also affords the instructor the opportunity to use his or her professional expertise to make the most of the subject matter and better assist students in their mastery of learning objectives.
  2. Including supplemental resources.
    While a significant amount of work will have gone into ensuring that the course is prepared for its intended audience, it’s natural for some modules or lessons to not go according to plan. When this occurs (and the course structure can’t be edited), an instructor can add supplemental resources to a discussion forum or course announcement. This benefits the student by ensuring that additional, outcomes-specific resources have been provided to help meet learning objectives. In addition, it provides the instructor with the academic freedom he or she desires to best meet student needs. If you’re going to be teaching the same course or a similar set of courses on a regular basis, an additional strategy to employ is to begin keeping a list of the supplemental resource you find or send out. Maintaining these in a spreadsheet or Google Doc can help ensure that they’re at the ready when you need them, which better allows you to allocate your time toward interacting with your students.
  3. Sending course-wide module conclusions.
    It isn’t uncommon for learning modules to already have introductions written, but including a weekly wrap-up for the previous module can personalize instruction by carrying the instructor’s voice into the online learning experience. Taking the time to review the previous module’s learning objectives and how they tie into the larger course goals helps remind students of the bigger picture of each module. Furthermore, taking a look at assessment data in the Learning Management System can help inform what should be covered in module conclusions. Did students struggle with a particular portion of an assessment, or did a specific discussion thread spiral out of control? Circling back to these shortcomings can ensure that students stay on track as they continue through the rest of their course.
  4. Targeting individual student needs. This is something any online instructor should be doing to make the most of the learning experience, but it’s another powerful avenue for ensuring that the course has a strong instructor presence. Monitoring discussion forum interactions, assignment submissions, and overall quality of student work can help an instructor determine if he or she needs to reach out and provide additional support. This can be done via the Learning Management System’s messaging feature, a brief email, or even a phone call to the student to check in on how he or she is doing with a particular topic. Students who are new to the online environment can sometimes feel a disconnect between themselves and the learning community, and taking the time to reach out when this disconnect occurs can make or break the student experience.

Teaching a pre-designed online course isn’t always an ideal experience, especially for those who are used to having full creative control of their classroom, but it doesn’t hinder the academic freedom allotted. Instead, it encourages the instructors to think creatively about their content, instruction, and student body to establish processes that help engage that specific audience through the lens of the individual instructor’s personality. It can seem daunting at first, and even restrictive, but strategies such as those outlined above can personalize instruction and ensure that your course is uniquely yours.