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, Grenoble, May 2009

How to create an on-line course? Learning how to do so and why.

Since experiencing is an important part in learning, The Network University (TNU) felt that the best way to learn how to make an on-line course was by doing one. It therefore developed in 2003 the on-line course « How to create an on-line course? ». In this file you can find information about the steps in creating an on-line course and why you might want to do so.

Keywords: Internet and peace | New technologies for peace | | | | | Searching peace. Acting in favor of peace in a situation of war. | | | |

The on-line course “How to create an on-line course” exists of four parts.

  • 1. Preparation

  • 2. Content

  • 3. Interaction

  • 4. Evaluation

The first focuses on the decisions and questions that arise during the preparation of an on-line course. The second discusses how to develop content that is most conducive to on-line learning. The third looks at means to create on-line interaction among participants and the last part points out the wider implications of using e-learning as a tool for networking and institutional strategy. This course can be followed on demand. A demo can be found at

At the beginning of the course TNU formulates four basic reasons to start an on-line course. The first is to get access the a target group. The second reason is that it can be used as a method to cooperate with other institutions, the third is cost effectiveness and the fourth reason is that it offers a different way to learn. Reading the text below will help you asses whether these reasons also apply to the needs of your organisation and will give you an idea of whether developing an on-line course might be an effective tool of information dissemination for your organisation [insert link fiche information dissemination].

1. Access to target group

on-line programmes reach and connect target groups that could not be reached by traditional methods of learning. Travel costs can be an obstacle in bringing people together. But even if potential participants live nearby, other obligations can prevent them from participating in a traditional course. As a matter of fact, working adults with time-constrains are the fastest-growing segment in higher education. This busy target group is well served by the flexibility provided by on-line learning. on-line courses are not hampered by many of the constraints related to time and space. With this comes an increased and well-suited flexibility for the student and teacher alike.

Independence of location and time

on-line programmes enable exchange of opinions, documents, data, plans, maps and more without an actual gathering of people at the same place and time. An on-line seminar can last for days, or even for weeks, giving participants the opportunity to plan in their own time the submission of their contribution, or potentially to re-articulate their position on a topic. An on-line community of practice allows participants to share their valuable experiences and insights at any moment. One should keep in mind, however, that in order to keep members of a virtual community interested and ‘active participants’, constant interaction and motivation is required. The course has to be ‘lively’. Hence, the downside of on-line flexibility is the necessity to keep a certain level of activity. When interaction and progress stop, participants tend to quickly loose interest.

2. Cooperation with other institutions

When using the Internet, you are basically a small part of a large worldwide network of people, organisations, and information. It is easy to invite new participants to look up extra information, to create global alliances or to share the results of your work with others.

On-line courses provide ample opportunities to cooperate with experts and institutions all over the world:

  • Course material can be integrated;

  • Students can receive feedback by experts;

  • Co-operating institutions can realise economies of scale;

  • Co-operation can help to achieve a critical mass.

3. Cost effectiveness

An on-line course provides the possibility to involve a large number of experts from all over the world, without draining resources on time and travelling. Cost reduction was the major reason to introduce computer-supported training from the 1970s onwards.

Nevertheless, in comparison to conventional learning, cost saving related to on-line learning has formed a far smaller advantage than initially assumed. The development costs of on-line learning software and the resources affected by the design of a course, both contribute heavily to the overall costs. These are especially high when one considers the rapid developments in the field of software design.

« Saving money is also an attraction of e-learning, if executed properly, but it should not be the main factor, says Claire Schooley, an analyst with Giga Information Group. « It cannot be the only reason or web-based training will fail. » Schooley’s advice to companies is: « Put learning on-line because it is better. It may be cheaper, too, but the critical point is to have training that accomplishes objectives and makes employees more productive - the cost savings then become secondary. »

(Financial Times, Supplement « Understanding e-learning », spring 2002)

Presented with the attractive opportunity to cut the costs of training, many organisations decided to implement on-line training facilities. The opportunity was mostly offered by technology firms, specialised in technology and not in didactic issues. This led to a proliferation of on-line training courses, which were exact copies of existing off-line training material. They did not consider the need for a different approach. This resulted in many dissatisfied users of the initial on-line training programmes.

4. A different way to learn

Contrary to what many people think, on-line education is not simply a digital version of conventional education. It is a way of learning that provides the learner with new possibilities of acquiring knowledge. Students have a need for an increasingly flexible and dynamic curriculum that will allow them to anticipate and quickly respond to developments in today’s rapidly changing societal landscape. What is considered the best way of learning, depends on who you are, what your learning needs consist of and what you would like to learn.

Advantages of on-line courses can be:

  • Learning pace: each learner can determine his or her own pace of learning;

  • Clear presentation: The possibility to present information in a multi-layered way ;

  • Flat organisation: Internet allows for a non-hierarchical learning environment;

  • Recording: Communication is recorded;

  • Accumulation: Learning is cumulative, people build on each other’s knowledge;

  • Action learning: Participants learn by doing.

On-line communication takes place without the usual hierarchy of face-to-face encounters. It gives people the opportunity to formulate their arguments in their own pace and thus makes the participation more equal. The absence of a social environment does not necessarily lead to alienation. Experience has shown that participants of on-line courses get to know each other rather well and are often more inclined to share their thoughts than ‘in real life’. Moreover, an on-line discussion is more equitable for participants of different gender and culture than a face-to-face discussion.

Contrary to what happens in face-to-face situations, in on-line courses, good ideas are all recorded in written form and can therefore easily be integrated in the programme. This way, on-line education becomes a cumulative collective learning exercise, in which each group of participants can build upon the work of former participants, instead of merely going through the same processes again. Besides that, links to a large number of relevant projects throughout the world help the participants to tap into a vast body of continuously updated information that can be used in their own work.

The on-line training course enables the participants to apply the acquired knowledge and skills as the course unfolds. Participants are stimulated to put the ideas into practice immediately. They can report the problems they encounter and get advice from fellow-participants, trainers and experts. In this way, they do not experience the emptiness, which often occurs after a face-to-face training course when participants return home and realise that the learning experience during the course in a classroom took place in a ‘laboratory situation’ removed from their own reality.

Determining whether on-line education is a suitable way of learning, depends on the target group and the particular situation. The following table gives you an idea about some of the advantages and disadvantages of on-line learning compared to classroom education.


For more information on the didactics TNU adheres to please read New Knowledge Frontiers, by Lara van Druten The paper explores the two central approaches that TNU applies in its programmes to increase interaction and effectiveness: collaborative learning and competence based learning.