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How to Accelerate Your Course

Because of the flexibility and convenience online learning offers, more students want degree programs delivered online, specifically in the accelerated format. Many online learners are non-traditional students—they typically have full time jobs and responsibilities in the home. By offering accelerated courses, we meet these students’ unique needs to best set them up for success on their track towards a degree. Unfortunately, there’s no “easy button” for the course acceleration process; however, for many years, we have successfully coached faculty during this process using a proven 10-step method to ease fear and uncertainty among instructors who are new to designing accelerated courses.

Step 1: Identify measurable course objectives, and align the objectives to program objectives. This helps you determine how your course fits in with the entire program—it also helps you determine which content to include (and exclude) in the accelerated version of your traditional course.

Step 2: Combine complementary weekly topics. For example, if the topics from weeks two and four are similar, combine the two topics into one week. Doing so enables you to shorten the course length while retaining necessary topics.

Step 3: Align your philosophy and pedagogy to your objectives, and ensure that the objectives are measurable.   Consider the learning environment you are creating—a constructivist or connectivist environment (or perhaps a blend)—and use the principles of these theories to drive learning objectives you create. The assignments and assessments should also aligned to the learning objectives. See steps #4 and #5 for more details. Suggestions: Consider the flipped classroom, project-based learning, scenario-based learning, and collaborative learning.

Step 4: Create authentic learning experiences. Designing the accelerated version of a course requires you to adjust some of the activities assigned in the traditional format. Think from the perspective of the online student, and consider whether the assignments are doable in the condensed time frame. Remember to align assignments and activities with the methodology. Examples of authentic learning experiences: Case studies, project-based assignments, experiential activities, collaborative assignments, observations Tips for creating authentic learning experiences:

  • When combining weekly topics, scale down assignments need to accommodate students’ and your workloads, yet still produce the same student learning outcomes.
  • Provide options for student learning preferences. For example, students can choose to present their work through a choice of three to five modes (e.g., Prezi, Glogster EDU, SlideShare).
  • Provide rubrics to help students understand your expectations for successfully completing the assignment.

Step 5: Use a variety of assessments. Using a variety of assessments addresses varied learning style preferences, and students are provided opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge acquisition through multiple modes of assessment. Examples of assessments: Culminating projects, randomized test pools, auto-graded quizzes, essays, e-portfolios Tips for creating assessments:

  • Ensure assignments and assessments align with measurable learning objectives.
  • Provide rubrics for projects and essays.

Step 6: Include multiple options for media. Students in 21st century online courses are accustomed to multi-sensory inputs via computers, tablets, and cell phones— these students tend to be adept at finding resources and media on any subject. Enhance your online course by offering multiple forms of media instead of simply posting  “talking head” videos of the professor. More importantly, instructors can save time by using existing open-licensed videos, such as TEDx and YouTube.

Multimedia examples:

  • Introduction video—sets the tone for the course, clearly defines expectations, and allows the students to connect with and have insight into your personality.  View a sample introduction video.
  • Micro-lectures—chunk information into short (7 minutes or less) video clips to keep students’ attention.

Video tips:

  • Avoid discussing assignment due dates or similar information that will date the video.
  • Interject a closing question or activity for the student to think about or complete before they view the next video.

Step 7: Design opportunities for discussions. When you provide ways for students to discuss and reflect on course content, you increase student engagement, interaction, and learning. You could use the LMS’s tradition threaded discussions, or other discussion formats like wikis or blogs. Tips for designing and managing discussions:

  • Provide examples of an exemplary, mediocre, and poorly written discussion post.
  • Use the discussion board as a platform to incorporate current events in the media, since the course is developed in advance.
  • Use the discussion board to address early warning signs, gaps in learning, and to recap the weekly successes via a group announcement.
  • Utilize the randomized groups function in the LMS to create small group discussions.
  • Follow these 9 Strategies to Ensure Successful Course Discussions.

Step 8: Incorporate a wide-range of readings. By offering students a variety of readings, you create a rich, robust learning environment that introduces students to varying author and expert perspectives. Reading formats could include articles, books, e-books, self-authored materials, or blogs from field experts.

Step 9: Meaningfully incorporate technology. When used purposefully, technology is a crucial component to engage students, connect with students, and address learning preferences. Technology could include Web 2.0 tools and social media.

Step 10: Incorporate feedback from course reviews. When reviewing your course’s effectiveness and planning improvements, incorporate student feedback and course data. Also consider the teaching experience.