Setting Up an Online Learning Experience

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Preparing to launch an online learning experience for the first time that is engaging for your students and allows you to focus on building knowledge and competencies within learners as well as a network of mutual respect through the sharing of ideas and perspectives takes a lot of time and preparation before the course begins. A facilitator must first consider ways to design the course to be engaging, but also considerations must be made toward choosing the right tools that will complement the learning experience. There are many tools to consider, but with such a range of online tools that are available, it can become overwhelming to decide which tools to use. For the first online class, the best approach is to keep it simple (Boettcher& Conrad, 2010, p.57). After teaching that first class and becoming more comfortable with what to expect and gaining confidence in understanding how the technology can work within the course to achieve the course’s objectives, integration of additional online tools can be considered. In the first phase of a course, the goals are to launch the course and lay the groundwork for a learning community in which learners and faulty support one another in the accomplishment of the course goals (Boettcher& Conrad, 2010, p.10). The most important goals to achieve in the first few weeks of the course is to get acquainted with the learners, establish trust, and launch the learning community (Boettcher& Conrad, 2010, p.56). Most courses today have a diverse range of students concerning age ranges and varying skill levels. Marc Prensky (2001) spoke about this topic concerning digital natives and digital immigrants in our education system where today’s students, K through college, represent the first generation to grow up with new technology and have been surrounded by a multitude of tools of the digital age. These are the digital natives, but those that were not born into the digital age and adopted technology into their environment later in life are called digital immigrants. Keeping a course simple allows you to focus on the course’s objectives and minimizes the potential frustration a learner can have toward being hindered from learning by the complexity of technology in the course.

Within the first few weeks of a course as the facilitator works at getting acquainted with the learners, establishing clear and unambiguous guidelines about what to expect from the participants and what they should expect from the instructor will contribute toward a satisfying online experience (Boettcher& Conrad, 2010, p.55). This is important because as the instructor provides the students with a syllabus, they will have a clear understanding about the course as far as when the class will meet, how long the class will be, as well as how they will be graded. The students will also have an understanding about what the responsibilities are for the instructor toward teaching the course to the best of their abilities, when they will be available, feedback guidelines, timeliness of grades and what the performance responsibilities are for the learner based upon a criteria that has been established for the course. Establishing the course expectations and making everything available to them for review is essential toward ensuring a quality teaching and learning experience.


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5. Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

5 thoughts on “Setting Up an Online Learning Experience

  1. John,
    I teach a woodworking class and often times I have to switch the curriculum up based off of the availability of materials and expert demos that can come into the shop. Because of this my syllabus is varied and very fluid.
    I cannot see a world in which this would work in an online class. Having a clear and well defined syllabus along with fully developed curriculum is a key factor in whether or not a class is successful (Laureate Education, 2010). When setting up an online class the lion’s share of the preparation time should be spent on the content of the course and the community of the course.

    Great post and thank you for writing it.
    Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experience [Motion Picture]. Retrieved from

    • Hilarious picture…don’t you really feel that way sometimes?! I appreciate your emphasis on making sure that important information is provided at the beginning of the course so students have a good start.

      • Dr. Fenton,
        When I saw the picture I knew it was fitting. I feel that way every year when I get ready for the annual Acceptable Use Policy online course required by my district for all employees. While managing our LMS system and designing the course along with the modules, there are so many little parts to construct that I almost feel like I have to use a sticky note for every piece of the puzzle. Hence, the image just felt right :]

  2. Nice post John,
    Whenever I hear Prensky’s name I go into attack mode. I can’t help to think his ideas fall far short of the standards required to be on the same shelf as Behaviorist, Cognitive and Constructivist learning theories. I wrote on the subject in an early blog post located here:

    Keep up the good work and do have a look. Frankly, I don’t understand why Connectivism receives so much campus attention, but this only one man’s opinion.

    • Hi Rob,
      Thank you for your comments! Interesting statement about Marc Prenski and going into attack mode. I read your reflection, that I did find interesting, but I’m not sure why you feel the way you do about Prenski. I came across his work at an Administrator conference in my school district some years back and what he said about digital footprints really resonated with me and made sense. Is it not the behavior of some to do the things they do that show them to be a digital immigrant as opposed to the digital native. I see these behaviors all the time in my work environment. If behaviorist believe that learners are passive and respond to stimuli, when I send you that time sensitive email and proceed to get up from my chair and go to your area to ask you whether or not you received it, is that not a behavior provoked by a condition?

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