It is important to consider the course objectives in order to decide what activities will be self-directed. For example a course like MOA, unrelated to learning how to use media but taught online, students would need more support if they are asked to use media to complete an assignment. For example: instructions on how to use a particular tool. At the same time though, they can be encouraged to find another way e.g. if instructions were given about word press they would have the freedom to use blogger instead of word press. I think doing this would create a supportive environment for all learners. For such a course self-directed learning would be in a different form e.g. research on medical instruments.
These are all things I would have to implement in my online course:
To create a supportive environment for an online course if students need to explore and ‘teach’ themselves then this should be clearly stated at the beginning with the reasoning behind the approach. The ‘Water Cooler’ chat area is great for learners to support each other just as they would in a classroom or cafeteria. The ‘pay it forward’ comments are also a good way for students to learn from each other.
Setting the stage at the beginning so that students feel they know the instructor and can contact the instructor is also important. As Boettcher and Conrad said: be present at the course site, be available throughout the course, create a supportive online course community, and provide opportunities for students to collaborate (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 37). These all create a positive learning environment.
The majority of learning outcomes should fall into the application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation levels of thinking for an engaged learning environment. (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p.18). It is also important to consider carefully the right activity for the right stage of the course, for example, you would not have a group activity as the first assignment as learners would not yet know each other. Gilly Salmon outlines a five step model: access and motivation, online socialization, information exchange, knowledge construction, development (Salmon, 2008).
Boettcher, J. V., and Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Conrad, R. and Donaldson, J. (2011). Engaging the Online Learner. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Salmon, G. (2008). Gilly Salmon e-tivites. Review. eLearning Art. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z789GKOQqmU