Building Online Short Courses

From E-Learning Faculty Modules

Contents

Module Summary

Online short courses are a kind of Web-based training (WBT) that tends to be automated, although some are human-facilitated. These are created to meet the needs of professionals in a number of fields who want to continue their professional development and who are required to attain continuing education. Oftentimes, short courses are built to the requirements of various regulatory agencies that oversee particular professional fields. This module highlights what short courses are, the typical structures of short courses, and some design strategies for the creation of short courses.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • Define an online short course
  • Consider the types of topics that are often taught through university-supported short courses (and the respective targeted learners)
  • Review the typical structures of online short courses and relevant short course “standards” (for accessibility, for intellectual property, and for “metadata” labeling).
  • Review some common types of assessments for online short courses
  • Consider the technological infrastructure for the delivery of short courses
  • Develop some strategies for the creation of short courses from existing full-length online courses. Consider the possibilities of digital re-use.

Module Pretest

1. What is an online short course?

2. What topics are taught through university-supported short courses? Who are the respective targeted learners?

3. How is an online short course structured? What are some common standards used in the building of online short courses (in terms of accessibility, intellectual property, and metadata labeling)? What are some common types of assessments for online short courses?

4. What sorts of technological infrastructures are used for the delivery of short courses?

5. What are some strategies used to “excerpt” short courses from full-length online courses? What are some of the options for digital re-use?


Main Contents

1. What is an online short course?

An online short course is a focused and limited topic-based training that is delivered wholly online. The learning may consist of an hour’s worth of learning up to about a day or two of learning, depending on the context and learning objectives. In general, such a course is automated and pre-recorded, without instructor facilitation. This means that the learning tends to be convergent around known facts vs. divergent (more open-ended, ill-structured, and creative).

The Typical Usages of Online Short Courses

Short courses are most often used by workplace professionals who have to maintain professional development trainings and evolving credentialing (such as for safety or hygiene or new standards of any kind). Short courses may be supplementary to formal degree learning (Newberry, Austin, Lawson, Gorsuch, & Darwin, 2009). They may be used to fulfill a personal and professional lifelong learning need (Friesen & Anderson, 2004). Universities and colleges also use online short courses for various time-based trainings. (At K-State, automated online short courses are used for trainings on the following: serving on a grievance committee, abiding by export restrictions, abiding by national guidelines for human-based research, and others.)

Some Human Facilitation Possible

This form of learning is flexible. Some online short courses may be human-facilitated and live (Marrero, Woodruff, Schuster, & Riccio, 2010). These tend to be for more high-value learning that requires moderating. The expense of shared real-time for all participants also highlights the importance of the particular training. In some cases, some decision-making may occur. Such short courses may be deployed to train national responders to a particular complex real-time threat, for example.

The Relative Size of Online Short Courses

One way to conceptualize online short courses is to visualize them in relation to other elements of digital online learning. In the continuum below, at the left are the atomistic, small, and stand-alone pieces—like individual photographs. Digital learning objects are slideshows, videos, and more integrated multimedia. Modules contain a full sequence of learning, often with pre- and post- tests. Online short courses contain more in-depth contents than modules and tend to be even more structured. Then, there are quarter or semester-length for-credit online courses which contain a variety of digital contents and strategies. Finally, at the far right are knowledge spaces—such as digital repositories, ontologies, taxonomies, immersive simulations, wikis, and blogs—or even combinations of these elements.


image:RelativeSizeofOnlineShortCourse.jpg


2. What topics are taught through university-supported short courses? Who are the respective targeted learners?

Online short courses tend to be succinct and practical. Professionals may not have the time for theory, history, or background information. They may not need complex analytical or design or innovation skills. Rather, they need what is pertinent and applied to their particular work.

There may be three general tracks conceptualized for short courses.

Professional Track

• Work-place knowledge and skills enhancement and credentialing • Skills refreshment against skills and knowledge decay • Courses to enhance live-office business practices (like virtual teaming) • Maybe self-evaluations for individuals in particular work places • Credentialing (such as on new laws, standards, practices, and so on)

Academic Track

• Courses for supervisors to understand the work of the technology experts who work under them • Courses to help individuals understand new technologies (particularly new versions or releases) • Simulations (or models) that depict particular aspects of an ecosystem or context • Courses that acclimate learners to some of the practices of a domain field or profession • Supplementary to formal courses • Short courses for non-majors / amateurs / novices

Hobbyist Track

• Book club discussions • Wiki connections • Travel • Language

The respective learners clearly vary depending on the contents. It is important to consider who the targeted learners are during the design, though, to ensure that their needs are met by the learning.


3. How is an online short course structured? What are some common standards used in the building of online short courses (in terms of accessibility, intellectual property, and metadata labeling)? What are some common types of assessments for online short courses?

Basic Structuring of an Online Short Course

The basic structure of an online course is developmental and temporal. Foundational understandings need to be offered first. Simple ideas are addressed early, and more complex ideas and practices are applied later.

There are some basic components to a short course:

  • Course Introduction (a short description, the general audience, and the topics addressed)
  • Pre-learning priming (learning context, course principles, and the organizational setup of the course) (optional)
  • Pre-assessment (typically T/F questions, matching, multiple choice, drag and drop, and sequencing)
  • Learning objectives (usually 2-3 measurable objectives per short course and phrased as verb phrases.)
  • Digital learning contents (videos, audio, readings, cases, simulations, slideshows, and / or others)
  • Post-assessment (typically T/F questions, matching, multiple choice, drag and drop, and sequencing)
  • Post-learning debriefing (clarification of main points, and applications of the learning) (optional)
  • Downloadables (relevant files for later reference)


4. Some Standards

There are no current set protocols or standards for online short courses. What is done depends on the local leadership and the standards that they support. Regulatory agencies in certain fields will also have input on the standards of online course builds.

Standards: Accessibility

Online course contents should be fully accessible, with multiple information streams (visuals, sound, and text) of multimedia contents. This means that audio and video need to have text equivalencies for those who have hearing acuity issues. Visuals like still imagery need to have a textual information equivalent. Textual information needs to be structured effectively for machine-readability. Tables need to be properly introduced and described, and the information in tables need to maintain coherence even when read by a machine (through proper cell labeling and other strategies). Live virtual events would benefit from live closed captioning and communication access realtime translation (CART).

Standards: Intellectual Property

The commercial standards of intellectual property apply to online short courses. (Academic “fair use” does not apply.)

That said, if the subject matter experts (SMEs) / instructors have a clear understanding of where all the digital contents come from in their online course, then it may be possible to re-use e-learning contents so as to not incur more costs, given the high expenses of digital content creation. It is very helpful to be able to re-use e-learning contents (Libbrecht, 2008). Faculty do version course materials for different types of delivery, including short courses (Pettit & Pullar, 2009).

Standards: Metadata Labeling

Various metadata standards require different types of information to describe the online learning course. Some possible metadata fields could include the following:

  • Applicable course fields and domains (cross-domain and interdisciplinary focus)
  • The topic of the learning (with multiple terms for easier searchability)
  • Learning pre-requisites
  • The amount of continuing education unit (CEU) credits available
  • The estimated length of time for the learning
  • The structure of the learning
  • The language(s) of the learning
  • Costs and required resources
  • The ownership and intellectual property within the online short course
  • Byline credits for the course developers
  • Any regulatory agency approval or oversight

Assessments

The most common types of assessments for automated short courses involve the traditional true/false and multiple-choice options. Some human-facilitated short courses involve more complex assessments like short essays and group projects.

Learning Aids

Some learning aids may include electronic resources to help learners articulate and reflect on their learning. Relevant downloadable files may be made available for further learning.


5. What sorts of technological infrastructures are used for the delivery of short courses?

Online short courses tend to be housed in three types of spaces.

Websites

They may be housed on websites, with varying levels of authentication required for various levels of access. Some courses may be free, for example, while others require some membership.

Digital repositories

Other online short courses are delivered through digital repositories. These are often proprietary and protected. They are used by multi-national companies that deliver automated trainings to various skilled workers around the world, for example.

Learning / course management systems

Most universities tend to use either websites or learning / course management systems (or a combination of the two) to deliver the learning—so they are able to track learners and offer sequencing of learning. Automated opt-in help may also be more readily available in a learning / course management system.

Add-on complementary sites

Complementary sites to online short course learning may include wikis for collaboration, blogs for additional value-added learning, social networking sites / computer supported collaborative work (CSCW) sites for collaboration, web conferencing sites for live interactivity, or some combination of the prior.

Ubiquitous short course access via mobile devices

For all the complexities of online short courses, these should generally include anytime anywhere access (Bourne, Harris, & Mayadas, 2005), which suggests deployability of the learning on modular devices in ubiquitous settings (where wireless connectivity to the Internet is available).

No matter how the short courses are delivered, the digital contents will need to be updated for technological suitability (Duc & Haddawy, 2004).

What are some strategies used to “excerpt” short courses from full-length online courses? What are some of the options for digital re-use?

Excerpting Topics

Subject matter experts (SMEs) may identify topics for online short courses by considering some of the following questions:

  • What parts of this course are very fresh and required for work places?
  • Are there new technologies that people who’ve graduated in the last few years would benefit from? New guidelines? New policies? New laws?
  • What topics will benefit new employees in a field? What aspects of a field are surprising and not “textbook”?
  • What unique, value-added learning may be offered for “experts” in a field? Are there specific topics that would enhance work?
  • What sorts of learning would people in the workforce want to train more on?
  • Are there interesting cases or simulations that could be used as a core for a brief training?

Digital Content Re-use

  • What digital contents were created by the instructor and involve clean intellectual property (signed media releases including for commercial use; copyright clearance for commercial use)?
  • What links to online resources may legitimately be used in a commercial training?

Examples

A range of online short courses exist in a number of fields. Many of the short courses available online require user registration. These also vary in terms of quality and design based on the sponsoring organization or institution of higher learning. Learners are encouraged to explore the WWW and Internet in order to find what is available.

How To

1. Get proper approvals for the work.

2. Create a short course description for the learning public.

3. Write measurable and appropriate learning objectives.

4. Create pre-learning (learner priming), if desired.

5. Write a pre-assessment.

6. Create the digital contents for the learning (slideshows, video, audio, multimedia, article, or other elements). Ensure that the learner contents relate directly to the pre-assessment and the post-assessment.

7. Create a post-assessment.

8. Create a post-learning debriefing, if desired.

9. Create digital downloadables, if desired, to further enhance the learning.

10. Make sure to have copyright clearance on all contents used, based on commercial standards.

11. If media captures are made—such as through photography, audio capture, or video capture—make sure to have proper media releases from all those featured.

These are just a start. These parts may be accomplished in a different order than that listed here. Still, for a comprehensive online short course build, it would help to touch on these main points.

Possible Pitfalls

Some possible pitfalls to the creation of online short courses are several-fold. A few of the concerns are mentioned here.

There are several pitfalls in the design of online short courses. There may be challenges in properly focusing the amount of learning for the named short course. Because short courses are delivered (generally) without instructor facilitation, each short course has to be comprehensive and stand-alone. Diverse learner needs have to be anticipated.

If various short courses are linked in a sequence, there should be clear segues between each of the short courses, and there cannot be gaps in knowledge.

Creators of short courses need to continually monitor the field in order to know when to update the contents. Administrators have to know when to retire a particular short course or sequence of short courses.

Because short courses are not considered a college-credit-bearing sort of learning (but may involve continuing education units or CEU credits), the contents are generally not protected under the “fair use” clause of US copyright laws. More restrictive Creative Commons and open-source sorts of copyright releases do not include derivative use or commercial use; only the most liberal releases include this commercial use, so it’s important to read the fine print. This means that stricter commercial guidelines of intellectual property apply. If digital contents that are being re-used are not properly vetted and provenance and “cleared” for commercial usage, then there may be legal liabilities created.

Short courses are not vetted for the proper amount of background learning, so some learners who self-select into a course may lack the sufficient foundations for effective learning. Proper metadata labeling of the online short courses may help channel learners. The proper types of branding and outreach to potential learners is also important. Some private-public partnerships between companies and organizations, and the higher education institution, may lead to improved development of online short course contents. It will be important to define the “ownership” of all such courses, too, to protect all stakeholders (the course developers, the university, and the learners—among others).

Module Post-Test

1. What is an online short course?

2. What topics are taught through university-supported short courses? Who are the respective targeted learners?

3. How is an online short course structured? What are some common standards used in the building of online short courses (in terms of accessibility, intellectual property, and metadata labeling)? What are some common types of assessments for online short courses?

4. What sorts of technological infrastructures are used for the delivery of short courses?

5. What are some strategies used to “excerpt” short courses from full-length online courses? What are some of the options for digital re-use?

References

Duc, P.T. & Haddawy, P. (2004). A modular approach to e-learning content creation and maintenance. In the proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Web-Based Learning: Beijing, China. LNCS 3143, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. 217 – 224.

Friesen, N. & Anderson, T. (2004). Interaction for lifelong learning. British Journal of Educational Technology: 35(6), 679 – 687. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2004.00426.x.

Libbrecht, P. (2008). A model of re-use of e-learning content. EC-TEL 2008, LNCS 5192: 222 – 233.

Marrero, M.E., Woodruff, K.A., Schuster, G.S. & Riccio, J.F. (2010). Live, online short-courses: A case study of innovative teacher professional development. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning: 11(1), 1 – 9.

Newberry, B., Austin, K., Lawson, W., Gorsuch, G., & Darwin, T. (2009). Acclimating international graduate students to professional engineering ethics. Science and Engineering Ethics: 1 – 24. DOI 10.1007/s11948-009-9178-6.

Pettit, C.J. & Pullar, D. (2009). An online course introducing GIS to urban and regional planners. Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy: 2: 1 – 21. DOI 10.1007/s12061-008-9014-4.

Extra Resources

The following site offers opportunities for K-State faculty to build short courses.

Using Qualtrics for Online Trainings (2016)

Kansas State University's Global Campus "Faculty & Staff" Page

“Building Online ‘Short Courses’” (2010, Apr. 14) (Educational Technologies Blog, IGI-Global)

Strategies for Modular Builds in E-Learning