This is the fifth, and final, in a series of blog posts addressing key steps for creating high-quality online learning content. After discussing in the first post (Step 1: Discovering Good Content), the factors to consider in locating usable learning resources, we looked in the second (Step 2: Reusing and Repurposing Learning Content) at the role that context plays in preparing content for student access. In the third post (Step 3: Making Content Pedagogically Effective), we considered approaches for making content pedagogically effective and in the fourth assessment issues (Step 4: Assessing Learning Outcomes).
Instructional Design for Online Learning (Step Five): Delivering Content Online
So now you've found or created content, configured it to be pedagogically effective, and built in ways to assess student learning. The final step is to make the learning content available to students. This can be done in a variety of ways, and what works best depends on teachers' individual contexts, namely what online platforms or services are available to both teacher and students. Different options fit particular needs and institutional settings:
Learning management systems (LMS)
If your institution is using a system such as Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn, or Moodle, this will likely be the first choice for integrating teacher-created materials into a class website. If the content is a single file, it can be uploaded easily into the appropriate section of your course site. For lessons with multiple files, it's usually easiest to combine the files together into a zip package (with a.zip file extension). When uploading a zip file to an LMS, it will normally be necessary to indicate the starting point/file, usually "index.html". Most LMSs today support the LTI standard, which allows content to be housed within an LMS or elsewhere on the web, and have assessment scores sent to the LMS gradebook automatically. Using an LMS is an attractive choice, as it is likely a system students and teacher know well. It does, however, limit access to enrolled students, which may in some cases be an issue.
The open web
An LMS offers a built-in set of course management and content distribution tools, making it a convenient service for teachers. However, an LMS restricts teachers in terms of the user Interface and overall course site design. Designing one's own site allows for maximum flexibility and customization, however, that may come with the need to learn HTML (as well as other web authoring languages). That is likely to involve as well knowing how to upload and manage files on a web server. While this may be beyond what many teachers have the time or inclination to do, some have argued that this kind of digital literacy is today a necessity for both teachers and students. The connected learning community argues as well that student learning is enhanced by the opportunity to interact with individuals and online communities beyond the confines of a class or school, something not likely to be possible within the walled garden of an LMS. Blogs are often used by advocates of connected learning, which can be hosted for free with services such as WordPress or Blogger.
Template systems and content repositories
An alternative to managing one's own web site is to use a template-based system which makes it much easier to create webpages. Free services for teachers are available such as SiteGround or Weebly for Education. Google sites allows creation of websites hosted on Google and may be an attractive option for educators using Google apps. An option that provides design flexibility as well as more help in authoring content is to use a service that offers both an authoring tool and an associated web repository. The Merlot Content Builder allows for creation of basic webpages that can be hosted by the Merlot system. SoftChalk offers a powerful but easy to use authoring tool, with an associated content repository (SoftChalk Cloud). All of these options make it much easier to create and upload webpages than learning to code HTML and use FTP (file transfer protocol) to upload and manage files on a Web server.
Whatever system you use to make content available, it's a good idea to check to see how the content works from a student perspective. You should not only preview the content for accuracy and navigational effectiveness, but also complete any assessments or other integrated learning activities, to make sure they are working correctly. Checking how content is displayed in different web browsers is also recommended. That includes browsers on mobile devices, an increasingly important consideration today. It's also a good idea to invite your students to provide feedback, both on the content and on the user experience.
SoftChalk Cloud easily integrates with many Learning Management Systems for seamless online delivery. Visit our LMS Integrations page for additional information.
About Robert Godwin-Jones, Ph.D.: Robert Godwin-Jones, Ph.D., is a founding partner and responsible for product research and design. Prior to SoftChalk, Robert was a founding partner of madDuck Technologies where he was a co-developer of the Web Course in a Box Learning
Management System. He is the former Director of the Instructional Development Center at Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently a faculty member in their School of World Studies. His principal areas of research are in applied linguistics and international studies. He writes a regular column on emerging technologies for the peer-reviewed journal Language Learning & Technology (llt.msu.edu) and blogs on intercultural communication at http://acrossculturesweb.com/wp/.