Online Course Authoring: Script a Learning Experience; Don’t Write a Book

Ever wonder why so many online courses are dull, uninspiring page-turners that put learners asleep? Much of the tedium comes from the way that some course authors create online courses. They approach writing an online course as if they were writing a book, academic journal article, or technical manual. The results are predictable: a very passive learning experience for learners who are then tested on what they have read. It’s time to move away from writing a book to writing a script instead.

Scripting a course provides learners with a first-person narrative that:

  • guides them through course material
  • highlights key tasks and milestones
  • lays out key learning activities
  • provokes thinking and reflection
  • makes connections between course content and real-life examples
  • includes related stories and anecdotes
  • makes clear connections between learning objectives, learning activities and how learners are being assessed on their performance, and
  • affords timely and useful feedback to learners on their work.

Think about teaching in the classroom. Do you just read content to learners? I hope not. You spend most of your time providing guidance and direction through the material and generating questions for debate and discussion. Why, then, is so much of this teaching narrative lost when we move to an online learning environment?

Maybe one reason that the narrative part of teaching gets lost is that so much of what teachers do in the classroom is done unconsciously, and they don’t really think about how best to translate this to an online environment.

Another issue with translating a face-to-face course to an online format may be related to the tools used to create online courses. Think about it….the content creation tools of most course management systems are virtual blank slates that cry out to be filled with content. There are no prompts asking what you want learners to accomplish, what activities will they do, how they will be engaged, how you will know they are achieving objectives, etc.

Here is the difference between writing an online book and writing an online learning script:

Writing an Online Book Writing an Online Learning Script
Focus is on… Content Learning
Voice is… Author’s, 3rd person, impersonal (e.g. “Learners will…”) Teacher’s, 1st person, personal (e.g. “You will…)
Learning is focused on… Reading / knowing Acting / Doing
Leads to… Memorization Discovery, exploration, reflection
Learners are… Passive Active
Vibe is… Formal, unwelcoming Informal, welcoming
Effect on learners… Boredom Stimulation and Engagement

Content is important, no doubt. But if this all there is, why do you need an online course site?  Why not just send learners PDF documents to download and read at their leisure?

When you write an online course, think about the conversation you want to have with learners and the pictures you will paint in their minds. This is the difference between writing a book that they will read, and scripting a learning environment that they will experience.

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