Tasks and online learning

On the online journey to learning, tasks are both milestones indicating progress and road stops allowing the information-wearied traveller to check bearings, compare experiences with other itinerants and generally pause for breath before continuing.

An online course with no tasks is a long road to a distant destination you eventually cease to care about.

Long Road
ong Road by Army Man Chaz: http://www.flickr.com/photos/army_chaz/845173739/

At present I’m working on materials for an online masters module for next semester and I’m struck by the number and variety of tasks used. Reviewing them has led me to wonder what kind of guidance I should be giving to academic colleagues who accept the importance of tasks but are unsure exactly how to approach them.

What kind of tasks should we have, and how many? If one task is good, are two tasks better? Notionally these students are spending ten hours a week studying on this module. Should we be directing that study closely, or giving them room to explore the literature? How about a different task for every learning outcome so we and students can be sure they’re hitting the mark? Should we aim for variety: a blog post, a quiz, a webquest, a discussion, a wiki? Or should some tasks be largely social in purpose, creating a context for contact among learners and between learners and tutors. Should we have interactive tasks for which tutors are absent entirely. Doest this create learner independence or foster resentment at absentee academics?

These are important questions and I’m surprised to find that I have few answers beyond a feel for what’s right based on many years of classroom teaching and designing learning materials. In forthcoming posts I will explore these issues.


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