4 things you should look for when choosing a distance learning course

distance learning course

In this third post in his series of four, Mike Rost explains what teachers and learners should look for in an online distance learning course.

Read our first two posts here:

How to choose a distance course

In addition to being a course writer for learners of English as a second language and a teacher, I’ve also been a lifelong second language learner myself, as well as a bit of a tech geek. This means I’ve experienced online learning from a variety of angles.

As a result, I have something of an insight into what students are looking for, as well as what teachers should be evaluating when it comes to choosing a good online course for their learners.

So let’s have a look at the four things you should take into account.

1. The learning materials

The first thing to look at is the learning material itself. Ask for a sample or demonstration of the course for the level you are teaching and get a feel for it. Is it the kind of thing you would enjoy working with?

When you’re evaluating it, it’s important to get a sense of learner engagement too. Does the course offer compelling content that aligns with your students’ needs, interests, or preferences in some way? You’ll find it much easier to work with it, adapt it and hold your students’ attention with it if so.

Also see if there is enough content. If you think you’ll struggle to find activities for your students to do in the lessons – including additional fast finisher activities and extra practice – then it might not be the right course for your students.

Similarly, if you are worried that you’ll have to pad out the lessons with lots of additional materials, then perhaps it’s just not the right one.

2. A quality multimedia element

Secondly, you should also look for high-quality video and visuals. Across the board, learners are coming to expect a slicker experience in online learning than ever before.

It’s much harder to hold a learner’s attention when the materials are lacking in production value or feel like they are 1990s television reruns.

Other questions you might consider are:

  • Is there some kind of story I can latch onto?
  • Will students find it fun? Is it light?
  • How easy is it to get into?  
  • Will my students want to keep coming back to it?

3. The learning outcomes

When you are evaluating lesson materials for an online course, it’s important to think about learner progress. Will your students make some tangible progress by using these materials?

I have to admit: I’ve wasted a lot of time – and money – trying to make my way through online courses as a learner that, frankly, just seem like a random set of exercises, leading nowhere in particular.  

If you feel a course offers a series of clear objectives for your students and an accessible pathway to achieve them, then it might be worth taking into consideration.

4. Course features and structure

Last, but not least, it’s important not to get sucked in by some of the cute elements you see in online courses. There might be some interesting bits of gamification (like badges and mascots and scoreboards), but this doesn’t tell you how well structured or engaging it really is.

Virtually all courses now give you some form of immersion in the language and practice elements. But if the course is lacking a coherent system of scaffolding that leads you to some bone fide progress, it’s eventually going to feel disappointing to learners.

Although I may be a bit more discerning than most online learners, I do think most students choosing a distance learning course will look for these same two things: compelling content and a coherent sense of progression.

Distance course checklist

In addition to these four things to watch out for, you can pose several specific questions to inform your final decision:

  1. What level is the course?
  2. What age is it appropriate for?
  3. How many hours a week does it offer?
  4. Does it cover my students’ interests?
  5. What areas are my students most interested in? (Speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.).
  6. Is there easy live interaction between students and teacher?
  7. Does it look fun to teach?
  8. Does it have any weaknesses?

Next time Mike will be looking at the challenges for teachers in extending a class beyond face-to-face time, using blended learning strategies – so keep your eyes peeled!

Don’t miss his last two posts:

To find out more about how you can use distance learning in your own teaching practice, check out Pearson English Interactive, an online course designed for adult learners that incorporates technology with the latest teaching methodologies.

Do you teach online or blended courses? We’d love to hear about your experiences! 

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