The student mix
Just as you cannot pick and choose people who will be good classroom learners for your face-to-face classes, so you will have no choice about who will be in your online class.
Even if you try using a filtering mechanism you will have:
- learners who do not want to learn online
- learners who do want to learn online but have no idea how to go about it, and
- learners who do not want to learn at all!
You have no doubt met all of these people before in other learning contexts!
Independent online learners
So, there is no point in designing online learning delivery for some kind of ideal independent learner. Independent learners certainly exist and can be a pleasure to work with – but I’ve seldom had the pleasure of working with a class comprised wholly of independent learners.
In designing an online course you need to consider that the learner is probably independent to some extent.
A helping hand will probably be needed … and appreciated
From my previous experience in delivering courses to people who also work, I know that learners have limited time, no matter how interested they are in the content of the subject, and no matter how skilled they are at finding information they will probably appreciate some help along the way.
Similarly, in most subjects, learners are expected to have already acquired certain underpinning knowledge and skill. So, as you develop your online course ask yourself questions like:
“If I tell them to download a document, will they know what to do?”
Sometimes I have decided that some extra instructions are needed. Sometimes I have decided that nothing more is required.
I have based this on my understanding of the profile of our expected learners and on my expectation that there will be a lot of individual variation within that profile.
Be flexible and ready to make changes once you start
However, I also know that once we start to deliver a course we will find that we were sometimes wrong. When we do, we’ll need to make changes. Just as you have no doubt found in classroom teaching, learners don’t always do or know what you expect. So, although a learner profile is essential to help guide you through the development process, it will not be perfectly accurate. You must be prepared to make changes.
Fortunately it is just about as easy to make changes in online delivery as it is to change what you planned to do in class. An online course is not bound by the inflexibility of publication that you have to work with in print or on a CD-ROM.
So, you should start any online learning materials development with a profile of your learners. Learner profiles come in several varieties. If your focus is on tailoring education or training to particular individuals, then you need learner profiles that accurately reflect
- what they know
- what they can do
- how, when and where they learn best.
Your materials should cater for what this profile tells you about their knowledge, abilities and resources.
However, you should also expect to have to refine this profile and make some changes to the original versions of your materials. Even if you develop these materials for a group of learners whom you already know well, you will find that there is sufficient challenge and change for them in the online environment that there will be significant occasions on which they fall short of your expectations.
You’ll also find that some materials or activities that served you well in the classroom serve equally well online, while others do not.
Learner profiling is not unique to elearning
The need to understand your learners through some kind of profiling is not unique to elearning.
What is unique to elearning is that the profile must include some data about the relationship between the learners and the technology they will be expected to use.