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Finding Effective Practices in Online Education

The terms "best practices" and "leading practices" are not hard to find these days when researching strategies for improved online teaching and learning. But what might be a "best" or "leading" practice in one school, program, or course may not meet the needs of your particular situation.

The Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) has taken a slightly different approach, collecting "effective practices" from instructors, institutions, and vendors across the elearning spectrum. This collection is available and searchable online. To be included, each submission must provide detailed documentation that includes instructions for implementation, evidence of effectiveness, descriptions of the context in which the practices were applied, and contact information for the educators who make the submission. This program documents the context of each practice as it was implemented allowing you to better assess whether or not it could be an effective strategy in your course. I should disclose here that I am an individual member of Sloan-C and find a lot of value in their resources. The Effective Practices catalog is just one of the items I think is worth sharing with you here at Inside Online Learning.

Sloan-C Effective Practices

Each year a Sloan-C committee reviews the latest effective practice submissions against an evaluation rubric, and selects a small number for recognition as award-winning practices. The following criteria are used for this review:

  • Innovation: Is the practice inventive or original?
  • Replicability: Can the practice be implemented in a variety of learning environments?
  • Potential impact: Would the practice advance the field if widely adopted?
  • Supporting documentation: Is there evidence that the practice has been effective?
  • Scope: How is the practice related to elements of quality: learning effectiveness, faculty satisfaction, student satisfaction, scale, and access?

The 2011 awards were recently announced and include a range of practices involving online teaching and learning. The five submissions chosen for recognition are summarized below:

  • Faculty and Student Support System for Blended CoursesThis practice features collaboration within the Adler School of Professional Psychology to provide enhanced faculty and student support for blended courses. Sparked by an increase in student enrollment, the Adler Online team worked with the school's Information Technology department to assess support needs. In this effective practice report, you'll find information about learning management system training and assistance and recommendations from faculty and students who were surveyed about their experiences.
  • Content-led Online Courses to Teach the Basic Knowledge and Skills Required for Face-to-Face Classes: Incoming students at the Imperial College Business School in London take online courses covering some of the basics, such as accounting and finance, in preparation for the more advanced face-to-face courses of their academic programs. The online portion is content driven with some tutoring assistance. This practice report includes lessons learned through the design of the online courses and assessment of learning, as well as more information about how program support is provided and how students transition into their programs.
  • Study Strategies and Student Engagement Using Wikis: How can you motivate students to prepare for class discussions before coming to class? St. Louis Community College-Meramec implemented The Cornell Method of note-taking as part of a course assignment in which students worked individually and in small groups to review the course textbook and share their notes. The instructor demonstrated the method using a wiki. Take a look at this report for more details about how students used the note-taking method.
  • Organizational Behavior Models and Implementing Blended Learning: Educators from SUNY Empire State College submitted this practice detailing their efforts to "use organizational behavior models to illuminate the structures and procedural barriers to successful implementation of a blended learning program, propose ideas that lead to failure, and identify key contributors to effective professional development for faculty." This report includes testimonials from workshop attendees provided by the school's Center for Mentoring and Learning and the Office of Academic Technologies. You'll also find additional resources related to organizational models and higher education administration.
  • How Continuous Adaptive Learning Can Solve College Readiness: Submitted by Knewton, a learning technology company, this practice describes Arizona State University's use of their online adaptive learning platform to prepare incoming students with developmental learning in math. A pilot program is presented in which course meetings were reduced while student mastery increased. This report provides details about this implementation in specific courses and their goal to address the common problem of weak math skills in first-year students.

As you can see from the practices presented above, the entries include a range of international schools, educational technology companies, for-profit and not-for-profit institutions, and two-year and four-year schools. Online, on-campus, and blended learning environments are all represented. Visit the Sloan-C Effective Practices Award Winners page for more highlighted practices from 2002 to the present.

Additional Resources

Sloan-C is of course not the only group collecting information and practical examples from online instructors and elearning designers. What are your favorite resources? Here are a few more to explore:

  • Faculty Focus: This free e-newsletter and website publishes articles and reports focused on faculty in higher education settings. Many of the contributions come from practicing instructors interested in sharing their experiences. You can search this site by topic, including Online Education.
  • Illinois Online Network: ION is a project of the University of Illinois that highlights faculty development resources related to the use of technology in traditional and online classrooms. Visit the Educational Resources page for case studies, tutorials, learning activity instructions, and more.
  • PBS Teachers: PBS curates a list of research and best practices in technology integration. These resources are geared toward K-12 learning environments but cover topics, such as accessibility, Internet safety, and the use of visual media, that are important to online learning at all levels.

What is working in your courses? Don't underestimate the value of your experiences and lessons learned. Find a network where you can submit your practices for others to learn from and consider publishing your own recommendations via professional publications, and perhaps your own blog! If you are already sharing your perspective, let us know about it here.