A version of this article first appeared in the Harvard Graduate School of Education Teaching and Learning Lab blog on October 28, 2015.

Ask anyone who has taken an online course what they thought of the experience, and you are likely to hear words like “impersonal”, “boring”, “tedious”, “ineffective”, or “monotonous”. The modality has unfortunately earned itself a poor reputation due to a plethora of such examples.  Unfortunately, the majority of online courses available today embody a passive approach to learning in that they provide lecture-style videos followed by multiple-choice quizzes with automated grading. This “talk and test” strategy is reflective of some of the least effective face-to-face classrooms, with the only potential advantage being that learners can access material in their own space and at their own pace.

Still, the cost savings, flexibility, convenience and other perceived benefits of learning online have combined to ensure that the modality is not going away anytime soon. An unprecedented number of Americans have enrolled in online learning experiences in recent years, whether formal courses for post-secondary credit, professional development courses for career growth, or non-credit experiences such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). As of 2015, key leaders at nearly 70% of American post-secondary educational institutions consider online education to be a critical component in their long-term strategies (Allen & Seaman, 2015).

While the promise of flexible, personalized and highly engaging online learning has yet to be realized at scale, the pieces are in place. New technologies with the potential to enable and enhance learning experiences are developed at an overwhelming pace. Leaders in the corporate world are beginning to recognize the impact that quality development opportunities can have on the bottom line, particularly when achieved online. Educational leaders face increased pressures to offer online learning experiences that not only generate revenue, but also standout in an increasingly cluttered landscape of such products.

Course Kitchen is engaged in these challenges on a regular basis. One of our primary motivators is the drive to improve the reputation of online learning experiences such that organizations will more readily embrace the affordances provided by today’s technologies. We work with clients to understand their learners, identify the challenges that training and education can and cannot address, and design experiences that keep learners motivated and connected to one another, to instructors, to the content, and to the organization. For more information on how we approach our work, visit our page on Learning Design and drop us a note with any questions you may have.

Have you participated in an online course or module? What adjectives would you use to describe the experience? What would you have done to make it the best experience possible?

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