ONLINE COURSE TIPS



Online course tips are suggestions for parents of a learning disabled student who may be thinking of taking an online college course.

The following is a summary of an article in Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Winter, 2014 (Jan. - Feb. - March) Vol. 40, #1; Applying Principles of Text Complexity to Online Learning Eviornments by Diana Greer, Mary Rice, Don Deshler

These authors noted that while online learning and virtual schooling is experiencing a surge of interest with the public, at risk studentsdon't usually choose technology based classes (online courses).  If they do, they are the ones who will opt-out or drop the course before it ends.

These are some components of online learning that an at risk college student or parents need to consider before buying an online course.

These are also practical suggestions that parents who are considering an online course for elementary and secondary students should think about.


  1. TEXT COMPLEXITY:
    a.)    text structure:  how the text is organized.  For example: is the text about an historical event such as the Civil War organized in a chronological order or is it more in a narrative form.

    b.)    What kinds of words are being used?  Is it appropriate for the targeted grade level?

    c.)    Are the phrases used an appropriate length for targeted reader?


  2. READABILITY: 
    According to Dale Chall (1948) readability is the ease with which text can be read and understood.  Here are some basic tenants about readability that was developed by Sherman* in 1895 and still in use today:

    a.)    shorter text is easier to read and understand than longer text.

    b.)    the more the written word resembles spoken communication, the easier it is to comprehend.

    Many reading word lists have been developed to help determina the readability of books, papers and other written communication sources.  The Lexile formula is one of the more recent formulas being used in schools.


  3. COHERENCE:
    The definition of coherent text has "a unified, succinct, main idea or purpose with relevant and logical supporting details."

    Coherence has been studied two different ways; qualitative and quantitative.  Qualatative studies have looked at the reader's background knowledge.

    Quantitative reading studies looked at 5 aspects of the written word.

    a.)    Narrativity:  This means that the reading material has story like characteristics.  Does the text resemble oral language?  If so, it has a narrative quality to it.

    b.)    Syntactic Simplicity:  Coherence is achieved when a sentence uses simple sentence structure such as "The dog chased the cat."  A more complex way of saying this would be "The cat was chased by the dog."  Using fewer words and simple sentence structure lends itself to readability and coherence. 

    c.)    Word Concretenes or Imagability:  The word with fewer meanings will be easier to comprehend.  Words that can be imaged in the mind are more concrete and therefore makes the sentence clearer.


  4. REFERENTIAL COHESION:  This refers to how words are related and referred to throughout the text.  Pronouns such as she, it and they are words that refer to a previous mention.

  5. DEEP COHESION: This is similar to referential cohesion but deep cohesion uses words such as therefore, meanwhile, and because as connectives to help the reader see consequences of behaviors, actions and events.


Technology allows the reader to see and interact with the written word.  For instance a page about the Civil War might have hyperlinks (links that when clicked on takes the reader to another site).  Pictures can also be clicked on and either takes the reader to more pictures or another new site.  Readers can hover over any word and instantly know the definition.

These are tools that would grab the attention of most "at risk" students and would keep them engaged.  However, even with these technology possibilities, most educational online materials aren't using any of these tools. 

These are things parents and students need to be aware of before they sign a costly  contract for an online course.



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