Online learning has exploded in popularity as students and parents try to identify better ways to meet their learning needs. But starting online learning can have pitfalls, particularly if you don’t plan to engage the students. Developing a strategic plan for online learning is one of the best ways to avoid these pitfalls and ensure that your online learners are happy with the experience and make the most of their time in school.
Some of the key steps in developing a strategic plan for online learning include:
1. Identifying a target audience: All online content has a target audience. But online learning can be done for students as early as preschool and continue throughout their lives as they reach higher education levels.
Students of different ages and learning groups have different habits, characteristics, learning styles, and behaviors. Research your target group and assess your current resources and additional needs. This action helps you prepare better to connect with your students and provide them with appropriate content for their learning needs.
2. Create learning goals: Once the target audience is defined, you are ready to create learning objectives. These can guide you and help you design an outcome-oriented online learning experience. You can begin by thinking about how the content will benefit students and improve their skills. Good learning objectives tell your students what they expect to know after completing the course.
3. Plan for remote engagement: Many great in-person instructors aren’t sure how to adapt to a digital experience. Engaging learners in a remote setting is much more complex, and delivering content is often insufficient.
Students may become bored by simply listening to content. Active participation helps with knowledge retention, particularly in an online setting. Even using brighter colors can help to provide additional stimulation. Incorporating videos, interactive learning experiences, and group discussions are great ways to promote engagement in a remote setting.
These options should be considered when you are developing a syllabus. Planning remote engagement can also be an opportunity to ensure you create content tailored to all learners, including those that learn visually, auditory, by reading and writing, or by doing activities. A wide variety of content types can help ensure that you have material that will engage all students.
4. Create a content outline/class syllabus: When the other elements are established, such as audience and learning goals, you can begin to map out the course over the learning term. Finally, you can structure the course to reflect your organization’s mission and values.
5. Identify learning technologies or platforms: Online learning differs from a few short years ago. This change is primarily due to an increase in the number and types of technologies available for online learning.
Your organization may already have online learning platforms and infrastructure in place. If so, you can begin to organize content in a way that makes sense. However, suppose you don’t have technologies identified. In that case, this phase of the strategic planning process allows you to reflect on your technology needs and begin working with vendors to determine the best match to meet your organization’s and your student’s needs.
6. Identify risks and challenges: There can be no denying that online learning has many different challenges than in-person classrooms. Identifying barriers to your student’s success is one of the best ways to prepare for these challenges and overcome them.
Common challenges include lack of motivation, content retention, technological issues, and disengagement. Thinking about ways to mitigate these challenges, such as identifying alternative assignments if a student can’t connect due to tech problems, is one way to ensure that your students succeed despite any obstacles that may arise.
7. Assess and refine the online learning strategic plan: Strategic plans are great for providing your organization with a roadmap during online learning. It can also be shared with students and parents to demonstrate your commitment to your student’s success.
But these are living documents that should change and be updated to reflect current circumstances and changes that may be necessary to respond to student concerns and unmet needs. Periodically reviewing and updating the plan will ensure it stays relevant to your organization and attending students.
Online learning will continue to grow in popularity, but the difference between a solid online learning environment and one that provides students with less value is often the development of a strategic plan for online learning. These plans lay the foundation for your organization’s success!