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Online Course Structure – Beneficial or Detrimental?

October 15, 2017 in Online Courses - 1 Comment

Online Course Structure – Beneficial or Detrimental?

October 15, 2017 in Online Courses - 1 Comment

I might be a little bit crazy, but I really enjoy learning. So much so that I spent a fair chunk of my school holidays completing an online course. What an odd feeling to be the learner again!

I don’t remember how I got onto it, I think it was an ad. Google Garage is a free online course where you learn about online marketing etc, and get a certificate out of it at the end. I figured it looked interesting, and I had the time over the holidays, so why not give it a go.

The course is designed in a very simple, gamified way. (For those who don’t know, gamification is a process of turning something (in this case a learning outcome) into a game.)

Google Garage 1

You choose a topic (I worked through them in series), watch a short video that gives you information (the longest was just over 5mins), then answer some questions about the content of the video. Once you’ve watch/answered all of the sections of each topic, you take an end-of-topic assessment. When you pass, you collect a badge, which gets added to your profile. Once you have done this for all topics, you take an end-of-course assessment, and if you pass you get a certificate.

(I passed!)

The assessments were all multiple-choice questions. Some were words, some were pictures, but none required you to compose your response yourself.

Each assessment also gave you real-time feedback – if you didn’t get the answer correct, it would give you a little screen with more information to read quickly before trying again.

I liked this format – while I got most answers right, I could see straight away if I got something wrong. Having this response immediately made me think then and there about the content, and what I was missing; having the information showing on the ‘sorry, you got it wrong’ page meant that I could immediately review the content and correct my mistakes. Even if you do get all the answers right, it gives you an option to review the content anyway.

Google Garage 2

I feel like this is something that is beneficial to the learning process, and yet it is something that is actively discouraged in schools. Students are expected to memorise content from who knows how long ago, sit the assessment at some point in the future, then wait around to find out how they went. Most of the time, they don’t even get told what the correct answers were, or why they got it wrong in the first place. If they are lucky enough to have a lesson to spend looking back at their assessment, maybe correcting the incorrect answers, they rarely ‘learn from their mistakes’. And they certainly don’t get an opportunity to learn more about the content and then re-take the assessment to prove their knowledge and progress.

I really like the idea of an online assessment like this, especially for the immediate response and chance at correction. I don’t feel like I was disadvantaged in any way by not studying the content for hours, that’s for sure.

I have worked with a similar idea with a math class this year – we did online quizzes, that gave immediate results, as assessment pieces. It didn’t have the capability of telling you the questions you got wrong as you went, or the extra information, or the chance to re-answer any of the questions. Even without all that, the students said they preferred to do their quizzes this way (they still wrote down their working) rather than sitting a traditional paper quiz. The bit they liked best was that as soon as the finished they were told their score. Even though they couldn’t do anything about it, it gave them some measure of relief to have an immediate outcome.

I wonder what schooling would be like if all topics were taught more like this. You learn a small bit of content, answer some questions to test your understanding, find out how you went at answering those questions, and have the immediate opportunity to review said content and self-correct where needed.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to replace ‘school’ with ‘online courses’ in entirety – students still need human interaction, and I still need a job – but perhaps aspects of this pedagogical approach could be incorporated into the classroom experience.

I know in Queensland, where I teach, we seem to be moving in the exact opposite direction – we are moving over to external exams that test 1 or 2 years worth of content at a time. Is that really the best way to distinguish student understanding of content? I have so many other issues with this concept, but that’s not the point of this post.

All the course was trying to do was see if I understood the content at the time. Will I remember it again in months to come? Who knows! Probably not. Does that really matter? Only if I want to use that knowledge later and realise I’ve forgotten it, and I can always go back to the course and look at any of the material again to refresh my memory.

Have you done an online course yourself? Or do you use gamification in your classroom? I’d love to hear of your experiences!


Feature Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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1 Comment

  • Dr Nic October 16, 2017 at 7:42 am

    Nicely written – it is really good for all teachers to be learners as well. I wrote a similar post about my experience with a MOOC a few years ago:

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