This year’s DT&L Conference program includes many of the nation’s leading experts in distance and online education. We’ve asked a few of our speakers to share some practical and simple tips for improving online learning.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Thomas J. Tobin
Northeastern Illinois University
When it comes to accessibility, stop thinking ONLY about learners with disabilities. Think about all of your students and how they access your course materials. Give them more time for personal study through wider access to materials, interactions, and engagement throughout your course. Think of the single mother who put her kids to bed, but still wants to watch your video lecture materials. She pulls up an app on her smartphone, turns the sound off and the captions on, and the kids stay asleep. She finds an extra hour to study she didn’t think she had before. Offering just one more way to get or give information transforms “accessibility” into just plain “access” –for everybody.
Creating Online Instructor Presence
Simone C.O. Conceição
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Creating presence in an online course requires a psychological sensitivity to the dynamic interplay between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Too often online communication focuses on the cognitive aspects of learning, while ignoring the emotional dimensions. Because the online environment is elusive, there is a need to create a sense of being “real” in a text‑based environment. Using emoticons or words that communicate a sense of excitement can help stimulate discussion and provide a feeling of being present with others.Here’s one example: when giving feedback to students in an online forum, an unemotional and formal response might be: “Your comments were well-grounded in evidence‑based research.” Instead, consider adding a little emotional excitement by saying “I’m delighted to see that you included evidence‑based research in your posts.” Although subtle, conveying appropriate emotional excitement gives your learners an increased sense of your presence in the online environment.

Authentic task‑based learning in online courses
Thomas Reeves
University of Georgia
A common deficiency in both online and classroom courses is the presentation of content without context. One solution is to incorporate authentic, or real‑world, scenarios into the curriculum, typically by asking students to collaborate on a real‑world problem. Learners benefit by both working together to define the challenge and then preparing a plan that also documents individual and shared contributions. Through authentic tasks, students actively engage in the learning process and naturally collaborate.While these collaborations can be brief, the best authentic tasks tend to be more complex and time‑consuming, often requiring work spread over several weeks. Remember, most online learners need considerable structure and guidance from facilitators to both successfully complete the tasks and improve their collaboration skills.

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