The impact of open courses

Link to Open course:

The creation of open courses provided access to higher education to a larger and more international audience (Morgan, & Carey, 2009). An open course is “a free and open digital publication of high quality university-level educational materials. These materials are organized as courses, and often include course planning materials and evaluation tools as well as thematic ‘content’ “(“Benefits of OER and Open Courses –”, n.d.). The question today is to evaluate if those online courses are efficiently designed and matching the needs of the learners. For this analysis, I have selected a course of Elementary French, offered by the Carnegie Mellon University.

As mentioned in their course introduction, this course is targeting self-disciplined learners, with a strong desire to learn the French language, and that are comfortable using technology (“Open Learning Initiative: Register for a Course”, n.d.). We can imagine two different contexts in which learners will select this course: either to simply learn a new language, or to learn the basic knowledge needed in a specific situation (like moving in a French speaking country). Both of those groups of learners will have different specific needs, but all of them would need to be motivated to work the 6 to 8 hours per week required, for a total of 15 weeks. The course is clearly designed for adult learners, with a strong motivation or need to learn French. Knowing this, we understand that some of the characteristics of adult learners will need to be taken into consideration: the need for participation in their own learning process, the need for flexibility, and direct application of the knowledge acquire (Conlan, et al., 2003).

The course was designed to offer this flexibility to its learners. You can navigate through the various course chapters. The structure is offering a standard online delivery, using linear-programmed instruction, where students “review content, take a self-test, and if successful move to the next chunk/block of information” (Simonson, et al., 2012, p. 119). The structure was pre-planned to allow online students to follow the different modules in a logical and clear way, and to provide the flexibility required by those learners. The course starts with a table of content, with links to each chapter, and an introduction where the learning outcomes are stated for the learners to ensure they will find what they are looking for by taking this course. Those modules are sorted by “situation”, for example: greeting people, discussing age, when you go shopping, etc. This is allowing the learners to clearly understand when to concretely apply the new knowledge that they just gained. Those elements are satisfying the adult learners’ needs. This is also showing that the course design is following the constructivism theory of learning. In addition to allow students to acquire and store information, the delivery is engaging students in “the construction by the learner of schemes that are coherent and useful to them” (Ormrod, et al., 2009, p.18).

Even though it is impossible to design instruction in a way that will satisfy all learning styles (Gilbert, & Swanier, 2008), the online design of the course should try and reach out to most of them. The course content is delivered in both written and audio format. “Dual coding not only helps in terms of allowing a person to absorb information from the environment using two channels, it also helps in reducing cognitive load in a person’s working memory” (Uden, & Campion, 2000). However, some more graphics, pictures, or visual elements might help the visual learners remember better some of the elements. Simonson, et al. (2012) explains that an online design must be visual, however, in this course, the overall design is not very visual, and not appealing. It could be much more engaging for students.

An online course design should focus on the following elements: “learners, content, method and material. The interaction of these components creates the type of learning experience necessary for student learning” (Simonson, et al., 2012, p.152). Looking at this French online course, the activities are very basic as students go through the course content and at the same time take the self-rated tests. The students just need to select the appropriate answer to move to the next question. There is no interactivity, only one-way communication from the students to the computer. The lack of interactivity, as well as the basic design of the course, might be demotivating for some students as it is not helping the students be engaged with the course content. This is where the self-motivation characteristics of those learners need to be very strong. If it is not, I believe those learners will not continue with the course.

In our textbook, Simonson, et al. (2012) is using two questions to determine the quality of instruction: Is this approach going to work? How can I make it better? The answer to the first question would be maybe. It would work for those self-motivated students, really needing to get the knowledge (second group of learners mentioned at the beginning of this post). However, I do not think it is engaging enough for people that just want to get some knowledge in French as it is not engaging enough. This is link to the answer to the second question. The course is not creating active learning, and this is what I would change to improve. “Active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing” (Prince, 2004, p. 223). Students are mostly passive in the learning process. They learn vocabulary, work on their understanding of the French language, but are not encourage to reflect on their learning, or assess what would be the real use of it. Though, this might be created by the fact that this course is teaching language basics.

Overall, we can conclude by saying that the design of the course was pre-planned to match most of the online adult learners’ needs, and to generate learning. However, the design is not facilitating the engagement of the learners, nor producing active learning. Those elements will present an important limitation to learners’ success when following this course as the lack of engagement will result in demotivation, and some students will drop out of the course before the end!


Benefits of OER and Open Courses – (n.d.). Retrieved from

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Morgan, T., & Carey, S. (2009). From Open Content to Open Course Models: Increasing Access and Enabling Global Participation in Higher Education. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 10(5). Retrieved from

Open Learning Initiative: Register for a Course. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Ormrod, J., Schunk, D., & Gredler, M. (2009). Learning theories and instruction (Laureate custom edition). New York: Pearson.

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Uden, L., & Campion, R. (2000). Integrating modality theory in educational multimedia design. Retrieved from

One response to “The impact of open courses

  1. Pingback: The impact of open courses | IDT Thoughts·

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