How Can An Online Course Be Presented Most Effectively?
Norm Archer and Milena Head
There is a growing interest in online training and education, given that a high percentage of the general population and most students attending institutes of higher education have Internet access. An advantage of Internet training and education is that it can be used virtually anywhere and anytime by to learn about innovative topics. The adoption of online training programs in business is growing very rapidly, and educational institutions also see this as a way to extend their market reach, since students do not have to physically attend the institution in order to access courses. In this project, we used innovative concepts to develop a highly effective online eCommerce course, oriented to managers and owners of small and medium enterprises. The course can also be of considerable value to entrepreneurs wishing to start their own online businesses, and to students at institutes of higher learning who want to develop an understanding of the issues that arise when eCommerce is applied to business.
The course consists of 12 modules that cover an introduction to the important aspects that a small or medium enterprise must consider in adopting some version of eCommerce. These modules are taken entirely online during a prescribed period of time, so students can communicate with and learn from each other as they progress through the course. Students communicate with the instructor and each other through an asynchronous conferencing facility. There are a number of multiple choice self-tests included in each of the first eleven modules (an initial test to allow a knowledgeable learner to bypass the content of the module, and three tests placed strategically throughout the module to test learning). An innovative feature is a continuing student project that runs throughout the course, involving the development and completion of a business plan that will support the adoption of eCommerce in the specific circumstances of the business in which the learner works. To develop the course, content was contributed by a number of faculty members (Norm Archer, Milena Head, Brian Detlor, Khaled Hassanein, Marcel Mongeon, Jim Tiessen, and Yufei Yuan) in the DeGroote School of Business, and David Nowell from Sheridan College. The project manager was Susan Barclay, a consultant. Innovations in course design and artistic content were also provided by consultants. The course is self-contained and runs under Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, using MS IIS and the MS SQL Server DBMS. Course information and registration is supported online.
Potential Benefits to a Sponsoring Organization
Concepts developed and used in this project can also be used as a template for developing online courses of any length in a variety of fields, to present advanced techniques and research results in a highly innovative and effective manner for the sponsoring organization. The project described above was completed in December 2002, and has been thoroughly tested and evaluated for one cohort of 27 students, resulting in very good student feedback. It is currently being offered on a regular basis through the Centre for Continuing Education at McMaster University, but it is also available for on-site licensing through TVOntario, which owns the rights to the course.