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‘Sizing up’ the online course: adapting learning design to meet growing participant numbers

Online course design and development has experienced something of an upheaval in the last year or two with the arrival of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). MOOCS have rather turned the model underpinning many online courses on its head. In contrast to MOOCs, conventional online courses have often been designed with a specific, quantifiable group of participants in mind and have given them access to closed content supported by online tutors who are able to tend to individual needs and provide some personalised feedback on assessed tasks. What principles underlie these different practices? And what options might lie between these different designs?
At one UK university, the elearning unit of one department of Modern Languages has experience of designing and running regular distance learning online courses for international students preparing for postgraduate study since 2005. These culture transition and English language development courses initially catered for small tutored cohorts of c.50 students with a five week fixed schedule for delivery, but have now metamorphosed into open student-driven courses catering for 2500+ participants delivered over an extended time-frame. Over the years, the model for the tutoring and delivery of these courses has changed significantly to allow them to flexibly meet needs in a changing educational context.
As a case study, this presentation will chart and describe the changes made to the learning design of these online courses between 2005 and 2014. These changes have allowed design progression from small restricted online courses to large-scale online courses exhibiting a number of the features of emerging MOOCs. An historical overview of the development of the learning design will first be presented supported by examples of different online courses. Then specific features in the learning design will be identified; those which have changed and those which have remained constant. Adaptations made over time to aspects of the tutor’s roles and course delivery to meet the demands of growing numbers of participants will also be highlighted.


Julie Watson    
Modern Languages
University of Southampton
United Kingdom

Julie Watson is Principal Teaching Fellow and head of eLanguages, a small elearning research and development unit in Modern Languages at the University of Southampton. She has a background in teaching EAP to international students in the UK and overseas. She designed and led the development of the Prepare for Success website for international students; designed the LOC authoring tool for teachers, developed eLanguages commercial toolkits and a range of online courses. Her main research interests are learning design, the implementation of new technologies in language learning, and the role of the online tutor.


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