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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Converting a Course from Classroom to Online

I'm working with a client who is converting a classroom-based course to an online course in Moodle. I'd like to share a question that I received from the client, and my response. I've edited our exchange to make the client anonymous:


I hoping you can help me clarify a few issues before [our e-learning team meets].

The plan now is to take the existing ... Curriculum and "translate" it to Moodle. I am finding this to be a very difficult and awkward process. I'm thinking that this is a bit backwards, and that developing an online course requires building from the ground up. Its not that all of the content must be rebuilt from scratch, but that the order of material, the grouping of concepts, and flow of the online course is going to be different than a traditional class room experience.

In your experience, do you think that my instincts are correct here?

My Response

Yes, I think you are realizing one of the key facts about porting a course from classroom to online. Bringing a course on-line often demands that you change the organization and timing of the course.

Breaking down the classroom course into its smallest logical chunks is a good start. It's easier to rearrange small chunks than large chunks. If you find yourself rewriting most of the material, then you've broken it down too far into chunks that are too small. The idea is the break it down without needing to rewrite.

You will also need to allow more time for online learning. In a classroom, because of the force of the instructor's personality and the quick, live interaction with the instructor, a student can usually cover material faster than in an online course. The only time I have found that to be untrue is when the classroom presentation must be slowed down to accommodate slower students. But in a small class like you are accustomed to teaching, when you have everyone "in sync" and focusing hard, students can assimilate an amazing amount of material in a short time. Students won't have that experience on line. So when you bring the course on line, you must allow more time for each topic.

On line, you need to make everything the student learns relevant and useful, as quickly as possible. Again, you don't have the force of the instructor's personality helping the student to wade through preliminary material. There's no one there to say, "Stay with me, pay attention to this next part, because in an hour you're going to need to know how to do this." So to keep the student motivated, before you make the student learn something, show how that piece of knowledge will help the student to perform the task you're teaching. If each topic in the course is a separate competency, for each activity that you make the student perform or each resource that you make the student view, state how it will help the student to develop that competency.

On line, you need to test and apply the student's knowledge as soon as the student gets it. Moodle's quiz feedback is a great tool to combine testing and learning. You can give feedback for each individual answer that a student selects, telling the students why it's correct or incorrect. You can also give feedback for each question, regardless of which answer the student selected. Use this to explain the relevance of the question, or to give hints that will help the student to remember. For more about using Moodle quizzes as a teaching tool instead of a testing tool, see my blog post here:

And after you've confirmed that the student knows the material, you need to have them apply it as soon as possible. Having the student create something and upload it to a Moodle assignment or forum are the standard choices.

As for rearranging concepts, you will often need to do this. If several parts of a course, or if several courses, depend upon a student understanding a concept, you can always link back to where that concept was introduced. When the student needs to remember a concept before learning a topic, at the beginning of that topic, give the student the chance to review the concept. If the student is comfortable that (s)he learned it well enough the first time, the student can skip the review. If not, the review is there.

Also, while teaching conceptual (theoretical) information, relate the concept back to the competency. The student might think, "I just want to learn how [perform this task]. Why am I learning about [this conceptual information]?" If you can't state how a concept relates to the competency, then try this: break the concept down further, into smaller pieces. Can any of those pieces relate back to the competency? If so, teach just that part of the theory and leave the rest out.

So on line: your presentations will be shorter, you will insert more teaching quizzes and short assignments, at the beginning of each presentation you will motivate the student by showing how the material helps build the competency the student desires, and before teaching anything theoretical or conceptual you will state how it helps the student perform the competency they are developing. These are all things that you do naturally in front of a classroom, but now you need to do them explicitly on line. So it's not just a matter of taking the written course material and popping it into an online course. You must also take the pieces of yourself that you give a classroom full of students, and put them on line for your remote students.

Client's Response

Perfect. You confirmed all of my suspicions. We met today, talked about all of these issues, and now finally have a plan for moving forward that makes sense. We have some cool ideas to add our own flavor to all of this. We'll be sure to show you what we have once we have some of our first beta topic together.