Best practices for STEM online courses


A study reveals that active learning, interactive strategies, and solid assessment are key for effective learning in online STEM courses.

Photo: BigStock

What are the fundamental features of effective online courses in the STEM fields? A new study informs instructors and instructional designers on how to design more engaging courseware.

The study —published in the Open Learning Journal, part of the Open Learning Consortium— consisted of a survey completed by 537 students from 15 online STEM courses.

“The purpose of this study was to examine effective design practices for online courses in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (…). Our research questions addressed the influence of online design practices on students’ perception of learning and learning satisfaction.”

Students highlighted the importance of three course elements for successful educational outcomes: active learning, interactive strategies, and solid assessment.

For their part, researchers stressed the importance of assessment design as the key factor for student’s self-perceived learning and learning satisfaction.

“Online assessments have been shown to be useful for gaining, refocusing, and extending student attention during lengthy science lectures. This is particularly useful, as lectures are a predominant pedagogical approach in STEM instruction.”

After analyzing the students’ responses, researchers recommend these actions for a better online instruction:

  • Engage students with real-life problems and active experiences.
  • Provide students with a variety of additional instructional resources, such as simulations, case studies, videos, and demonstrations.
  • Provide online and face-to-face opportunities for students to collaborate with others, such as peers and teaching assistants.
  • Faculty should be clear, concise and consistent about instructions, assignments, assessments, due dates, course pages, and office hours, and improve communications with students.
  • Use Universal Design for Learning principles to design online experiences to benefit all students, not just students with disabilities.