Online Learning Reflection

Relevance and Importance of Online Learning

Online learning properly developed offers tremendous benefits for students. In relation to the course I have developed in particular, it offers remedial students the ability to gain understanding of key concepts to prepare for college-level work as well as offering non-traditional students the ability to refresh themselves on key concepts quickly. In addition, short mini-courses like this allow students to take a quick refresher if they need additional support while working through college-level courses. While this type of support is not the best fit for every student, I believe it can help a great many students to succeed in college without feeling like they are being labeled as “the dumb kid,” which study after study has shown simply is not effective.

Learning Theories

While an online learning environment can be effectively developed using any learning theory (or theories), I tend to think in terms of constructivist/constructionist or connectivist theories. For this course in particular, I tended mostly toward connectivist ideas. Connectivism “is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”  Since this course was focused on remediation–making connections that students have missed or forgotten–the first two modules focus on connecting familiar concepts with order of operations. With that background then, the course moves on to methods often associated with behaviorism,  explaining the material and practicing problems. After demonstrating understanding of the concept, then, the last module connects the newly learned concept with other concepts that will build on the new understanding.


Having previously developed a detailed 3-column table (3CT) and Understanding by Design (UbD) template, developing the actual course was mostly a matter of locating appropriate resources, writing the introductory and connecting text. I also added the last connecting module, which wasn’t in the initial 3CT OR UbD template. Future areas for improvement would be to include an introductory video and possibly introductory and/or connecting videos to add some more direct, personal connection to students.

Lessons Learned

While developing this course, I was struck in particular by the importance of robust preparation. Having already put in several hours developing the 3CT and UbD made developing the course itself dramatically easier than it would have been otherwise. However, the inverse of that was also interesting. Even with all that preparation, it was not until after the course was taking shape that I noticed some areas that needed improvement. I’m confident as well that teaching the course will require constant re-evaluation and revision of the course. If online learning is to effective, it will be because of many hours of preparation, evaluation, and research.


Order of Operations: Online Course

Building on my 3-Column Table and UbD outline, I wanted to create an online mini-course for order of operations. This course primarily has two types of student in mind, a student preparing to go to college trying to “brush up” rather than take developmental education classes or a non-traditional student who needs a refresher.

Screen Shot of Schoology course designBecause of that, the course takes a little extra time looking at the concept from different angles with some fun analogies and exercises. Then, having established the need for order of operations, the next module goes into explaining order of operations on a more technical level–the way students have likely heard it before–before moving on to sets of practice problems so the student can try and self-assess.

A final, ungraded quiz helps students assess whether they are ready to move on or not. Finally, then, the last module connects the current mini-course on to another, related skill. It introduces the FOIL method, which is related to order of operations and can help bridge the student into further algebraic concepts.

There are many other subjects which would be good to cover with mini-courses like this. In looking at Stigler, Givvin, and Thompson’s (2009) research, the two most commonly missed types of problems related to fractions (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, mixed with other whole or decimal numbers) and least common multiple/greatest common denominator. Both of those seem like good candidates for a course of this type.


Mathematical Order of Operation Course Design

In a discussion with a math professor at SVCC, he mentioned that one of the common concepts he sees students not understand is order of operations (Megill, 2017), so I thought I would use that as a subject to develop a course design.

Course Design Tool Comparison

Having worked with both Fink’s 3-column table and the UbD template, I can see why each would have a following and why both are useful in developing significant learning environments. The 3-column table is most useful in putting down broad, learner-centered goals and aligning activities with those goals. UbD, with its maddening level of detail and specificity, forces the designer to fill out those goals and activities and develop a much more well-rounded course.

I certainly prefer starting with the 3-column table. It’s much less rigid and allows me to get down the learning goals and connect them with activities and assessment. I generally prefer to move from goals to learning activities to assessment because I that helps me frame the activities around authentic learning rather than crafting them to suit the assessment. I would much rather adjust the assessment activities to fit learning activities than the reverse.

Once the broad goals are sketched out, disassembling the structure and rebuilding it in the UbD framework forces me to look at the activities and goals in a different way, helping me to find and fill holes in the course design. Honestly, I find it difficult to imagine going through the whole UbD process for every lesson, module, or even every course, but I can certainly see that at least thinking through the process will result in a better course design.

Updated 10/1/2017 to a new version of the 3-Column Table (prior version) and added the UbD template and course design tool comparison.