Online courses and training programs hosted on learning management systems could learn a great deal from children’s online training courses. Courseware developers need to start paying more attention to what’s going on in online courses targeted toward children and young adults. The dynamic interactivity or “fun factor” of children’s and young adult courseware is, of course, the number one stealable characteristic. Online courses for young people are being used in all kinds of innovative and exciting ways to supplement, complement, and take the place of traditional, face-to-face courses. For instance, take Virtual High School (VHS), a Massachusetts-Based distance-learning program which started 13 years ago as a federal education grant project. It now has nearly 12,000 online students enrolled this semester. Why are programs like VHS so successful? They respond to real needs exhibited by their users–in this case, secondary schools. VHS’s online courses cater to schools that are otherwise too small to offer certain advanced courses and interesting or offbeat electives. AP and computer science courses are just two kinds of advanced courses that many smaller schools do not offer.
Learning management system courses cater not only to schools’ needs, but to students’ interests as well. For instance, VHS’s online courses give students the chance to learn about topics that are typically reserved for college level courses. These courses include more specific or quirky course topics such as criminology, zoology, or American multiculturalism.
Across the globe, people are more actively and independently learning, and more adults are taking online courses and training programs. Of course, the term “self-paced” can get a bad rap. People have worries like: don’t self-paced courses allow students to be lazy? Contrary to these concerns, students report that the independence online courses provide them makes for a more comfortable learning experience–one with less distractions, and more responsibility. There’s no one peering over their shoulder. Online courses respond to this call for new pedagogical attitudes and practices. Inspired by pedagogies like Montessori and Waldorf, more schools–both private and public–are allowing students to explore learning content in a more hands-on and individual way.
The trust in human beings’ drive to know is a critical part of this new pedagogical trend. “The Montessori Way”, a book by Tim Seldin and Paul Eppstein, explains this idea as follows: “Montessori teachers observe children’s exploratory patterns of behavior with an implication of trust and respect. Teachers trust that a child will ‘know’ and pursue what she or he most needs in order to become an adult.” As children become adults, the things they need to know change. But whether it’s choosing to go back to school or choosing a self-help book off the shelf, such trends are a testament to people’s natural curiosity. But, of course, people do need deadlines and motivation to keep moving ahead. Certain expectations need to be in place, and standards enforced. That’s why quizzes, exams, projects and deadlines are all important aspects of an online course. This goes for both young and adult learners.
Online content may supplement face-to-face course work, but it should never be tacked on superficially to an in-person course. Online courses should always fulfill a concrete purpose and benefit students in ways that are tangible and evident. Ultimately, a good learning management system course responds to the needs of the organizations and/or schools that will be using them, and also to existing trends and movements.
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