What Duke learned about online education last year, and what we did about it
The Online Duke group recently reflected on our work for the last academic year and summarized those reflections in the 2014-15 Online Duke Annual Report. As in previous years, what we learned from our online education projects proved useful for thinking about campus-based education as well. 1. Learners are mobile, so they want course materials […]
The Online Duke group recently reflected on our work for the last academic year and summarized those reflections in the 2014-15 Online Duke Annual Report. As in previous years, what we learned from our online education projects proved useful for thinking about campus-based education as well.
1. Learners are mobile, so they want course materials to be mobile-friendly.
With 30% of active learners in Duke’s Coursera courses accessing their materials on phones or tablets, we worked hard last year to figure out what kinds of digital materials and learning activities could – or could not – be delivered effectively on mobile devices. We know that over 90% of our incoming Duke students have smart phones and want to be able to access materials anytime, anywhere, so learning to design for mobile will be helpful with campus courses as well.
2. Keep it short!
Three years ago, we tried to design our MOOC courses to parallel semester long courses and started with the familiar 50-minute class lecture. But learners in those courses said they wanted shorter courses and shorter lectures. Data from millions of users backs them up: completion rates are higher for short courses, and video watching drops precipitously after six minutes. Interestingly, our data on recorded campus lectures shows that Duke students also rarely watch to the end of a 50-minute lecture and often fast forward to specific parts.
This year, we focused on producing short courses and short videos. Along the way, we encouraged faculty to rethink their course design so recorded content mapped clearly to their desired learning outcomes. We added more varied learning activities to encourage active student participation. Many of the lessons learned can also be applied to campus courses.
3. Flexibility benefits students and faculty.
Our online learners told us they wanted to start a course when they were ready to start, move at their own speed and repeat only the sections where they had difficulty. Some valued being part of a community of learners working in sync on course activities; others preferred to work independently. This year, we experimented with modular formats and both cohort-based and on-demand projects. We learned that some courses require carefully sequenced materials while in others it’s fine for students to decide which segments they need and when they need them.
As we developed flexibility in our online courses, faculty began thinking about the ways that short, modular materials could support campus learning. Online courses initially designed for non-credit courses outside Duke now help campus students review concepts before starting a regular campus course, provide alternative explanations while they are taking a course, or offer a chance to explore a topic of interest outside of formal course work. Modular materials are easier for faculty to mix and share.
4. Online activities have applications in a wide range of subjects.
From the beginning, Duke invited faculty from all of its schools to experiment with open access, non-credit online courses. That strategy has paid off: we have courses from many different disciplines and have tried a variety of teaching techniques to learn what works best in each. Developing courses from philosophy and writing, to engineering and neuroscience, to public policy and economics has pushed us to try new technology tools and find new ways of engaging students. Many of these tools and techniques can support campus learning, too.