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Date published: 21 February 2013

21 February 2013

As higher education institutions around the world consider whether to develop massive open online courses, Open Universities Australia (OUA) shares its advice on how best to design subjects for mass online consumption.

According to OUA, the key to success is not getting stuck on the massive component but instead focusing on designing, developing and delivering the highest standard of education with the online student in mind.

"There have been some major shifts in society which can't be ignored by the higher education sector," says Mr Paul Wappett, CEO of Open Universities Australia.

"Today's students consume information differently through different mediums. Whilst most will think nothing about watching a half hour TV show, they're unlikely to watch a 30 minute YouTube video.

"In the same vein, people are more likely to listen to a ten minute speech in an auditorium, than staying tuned in to the same length speech online," says Mr Wappett.

According to Mr Wappett, once you understand that the way we consume online is fundamentally different from the way we consume in the physical environment, you're on your way to discovering the best possible way to teach students online.

"A clear learning, teaching and assessment model along with learning objectives that students truly understand are paramount before embarking on subject or course design, as without these foundations you are anchorless," says Mr Wappett.

Once ready to design a subject, OUA recommends several principles to ensure that online students comprehend the teachings and are more likely to succeed.

"Create engaging and compelling content by keeping it short, making it visually appealing and dynamic. This could be in the form of videos, animations, 3D visualisations or simulations," says Mr Wappett.

"Collaboration and social learning play a critical role in subject design. For example, providing discussion forums in the same environment as your video allows students to ask each other questions and prompt comprehension without relying solely on the instructor. This is in contrast to traditional discussion boards in learning management systems, where students must participate for a specific reason.

"Pose questions in your videos that will prompt discussion. But don't assume that merely by watching your video, students have understood the content. Build in regular tests of comprehension and signposts to make sure that what you're teaching really sinks in.

"Some students will still require more support, so we suggest that you find interesting technologies and ways to lead them to authentic material and research. The ultimate goal here is to help students find and comprehend the right answer themselves.

According to Mr Wappett, the final thing to remember is that there is no one size fits all approach to designing online subjects.

"By keeping these core principles in mind, linking them to intended learning outcomes, being creative and regularly evaluating your approach - you'll be leaps and bounds ahead of competitors who are yet to realise that online students behave very differently to those on-campus and have very different needs," says Mr Wappett.

About Open Universities Australia - leading online learning

Owned by seven of Australia's premier universities, OUA is the national leader in quality online tertiary education. Enrolling more than 250,000 students since 1993, OUA provides access to over 1700 units and 180 qualifications taught by more than 20 leading Australian universities and TAFEs.

For further information, please contact:
Jessica Singh
Manager, Corporate Communications, PR & Sponsorships
Open Universities Australia
Ph: 03 8628 2412
Mobile: 0419 662 553