Choosing, setting up and running successful online courses
Andy Hockley and Fiona Thomas
Increasing numbers of educators are interested in teaching online. What does setting up an online teaching operation involve for the various stakeholders? For anyone interested in the answer to this question, this new e-book will be of help.
The authors have identified the need for a compact, accessible work which walks managers through the process of planning, building and marketing an online course, and very importantly, dealing with teachers. ‘Education in the digital age’ succinctly covers this process. It consists of nine Chapters, plus Appendices.
Chapter 1, ‘New medium, new management’, usefully compares the differences in managing a traditional face-to-face operation and an online one. It asks the key question – “salaries” – and while not providing the definitive answer (can there be one?) offers valuable insights into the differences in paying online tutors and paying the classroom teacher.
Chapter 2 examines the fundamental question: “Why offer online courses?” The list provided is thorough, covering social aspects; the fact that you can learn anywhere; plus technological, economic and educational reasons. Various risks are examined.
Chapter 3 lists three basic approaches: ready-to-go, off the peg type courses; creating a course by selecting materials from a databank; and finally, creating your course from scratch. The pros and cons of each option are provided in what is essentially the heart of the book. This section should enable those considering online training to make informed decisions.
Chapter 4 points out how crucial the teacher is to the success of a course. The teacher’s role is defined, and information on synchronous and asynchronous communication is given. There is a description of three basic ways of proceeding: the teacher is assigned to a class; to an individual; or, there is a round the clock system. (I found this distinction helpful. I’m not a big fan of the 24 / 7 online teacher approach, which sees a student as ‘Number 1051, clocking it at 10.00 EST’).
Chapter 5 looks at financial considerations. This part was tough going for my poor financial brain, but is obviously essential reading for anyone intending to set up an online operation. The graph showing breakeven point is clear. The authors point out that rather than asking ‘How much do I charge’ it may be better to ask: ‘How much money would I like and how much are people prepared to pay?’ (These words must be familiar to those involved in selling language teaching services).
The key take-home message here is that there are fewer risks setting online than setting up a bricks and mortar school.
Chapter 6 looks at marketing, and contains terms which will be familiar to anyone with a marketing background. I was surprised to learn that there are, in some models, no less than ‘8 P’s’ of marketing! ‘Physical evidence’ is of especial importance here.
Chapters 7 and 8 describes the ‘customer journey’, covering initial expectations, support systems and feedback.
Chapter 9 is entitled ‘Becoming a high quality online course provider.’ It makes the valid point that there is no accreditation process or set of guidelines for online teaching and learning. The authors use this book to propose guidelines. This seems eminently sensible.
The Appendixes include links to sites which cover the thorny area of copyright, and provide some very useful example of job descriptions and a pre-course learning tips documents. There is also a short Glossary. As a teacher, I was happy to spot Hockly and Clandfield’s book ‘Online Teaching’ (Longman) in the Bibliography.
Among the advantages of the e-book format are the fact that I can open .pdfs and websites directly from the page, and use internal hyperlinks to move around the book. At times, due to the ‘flow’ nature of the text, headings were separated from their paragraphs; nothing serious.
What I particularly liked is that this book is grounded in the real experience of running an online school. The checklists generously provided are especially useful, as are the models from the business world, such as the S.W.O.T. analysis in Chapter six.
At times, I wanted to know more: what platforms are available? what are the emerging pedagogies? However, I’d urge readers to view this book as a starting point from which to explore their own interest areas further. The book achieves its central aim: to provide users with a clear path of what is involved setting up an online enterprise. It will enable managers to proceed further, with their eyes open, rather than stumbling around and hitting obstacles.
The prose is clear and authoritative. I’d recommend it to anyone contemplating doing what’s laid out in the sub-title: choosing, setting up and running successful online courses.
Bio: Pete Sharma is the Director of Training for Pete Sharma Associates. www.psa.eu.com He is an EAP lecturer, ELT author, reviewer and consultant in Blended Learning.
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