New model of online teaching: A learning community for digital content training

As a summer project, I have started working on an “online learning community” for people seeking free training in digital storytelling skills. This project may prove to be a new way of online learning that is different from, or maybe better than, online college courses and other web-based trainings.

Existing online teaching models each has its cons

As I said in a previous post, there will be growing demands for web-based training in digital content creation. Currently, such training is available in three avenues: Online courses by college degree programs, online training by for-profit training organizations, and free web tutorials by volunteer creators.

However, the three avenues each has its limitations and does not suit needs of people seeking specific skills trainings:

  • Online courses by colleges: as I said in a blog post, very few colleges offer online courses in digital content creation; where such online courses are available, they come with a well-researched syllabus, which is a pro, but on the other hand, they will also be lengthy, costly, and come with “unneeded stuffs.”
  • Paid training by for-profit organizations: online trainings offered by for-profit training organizations are more focused and more up-to-date, but they come with a fee; for instance, a two-week online training in headline and SEO writings by Poynter costs $299.
  • Free tutorials: with some Google searches, one can find tutorials or tips on almost any subject or topic. However, learning all by yourself and on your own is not easy – there is no pressure, no support, no feedback, no interaction, and you really need a strong will to go through such a purely self-teaching process.

A learning community that has the benefits of all models

The free, open, online learning community will come with pros of the three above-mentioned online learning models: 1). each session has a well-researched syllabus and format to start with, 2). the topics are fresh and focused, and 3). learners follow a study plan, interact with group members and have access to an instructor when needed.

Mostly using Moodle, an online course management system on my site, I will experiment with the learning community model with an online, free, open course in digital journalism. This course will consist of modules such as “writing for the web,” “mobile content creation,” “digital content tools,” etc.

This online course has some unique characteristics; for instance, this is what I have on the drawing board for the first component, “Writing for the Web”:

  • An established syllabus: Instead of “instructor” or “teacher,” I would call myself as “course facilitator” or maybe “lead learner.” As a starting point, I will lay the ground work and set the ground rules. I will use a striped-down syllabus of a face-to-face web writing class for use in this module; I will create and structure the session following best practices in online teaching.
  • Self-directed study: A learner needs to follow a schedule, engage in group activities and finish required assignments.
  • Group interaction: Learners interact with one another through various activities such as forum discussions and peer evaluations. Course facilitator will design such activities and provide rubrics for evaluation and critique. Where appropriate, a course facilitator may provide individual instructions.
  • Community involvement: Participants are asked to suggest resources and improvements for future sessions of the subject. After successfully completing a session and after taking necessary training, a course participant can volunteer to facilitate other sessions of the same subject. With approval of the community administrator, a participant can even start his or her own session on a new subject.

A pilot session of the web writing component will go online in early June; it will be structured as a four-week session. I will solicit volunteer participants for a test run; based on the pilot feedback, the web writing module will be modified and offered on a larger scale with multiple sessions and on a rolling basis. In the meantime, I will continue working on other components such as mobile content production, multimedia content production, or other subjects suggested by the community.

So, stay tuned if you are interested in this experiment; I will put out the call for participants on this blog and on my Twitter @mututemple. Lastly, I thought of a slogan that I will use to promote the online learning community:

Learn by yourself, but not on your own

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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4 Responses to New model of online teaching: A learning community for digital content training

  1. Wale says:

    Looking forward to this learning community and hopeful it would take off early enough for my Mojo class commencing in about 2-week.

  2. eunice says:

    is this open to international interested students, and what are the prerequisites?

  3. This is VERY much in line with my plan or mission to enable as many as possible to access good content with useful practical knowledge (not information, not lectures alone) AND produced in the context of digital media language “potentials” (eg film language in video courses, digital storytelling in training design, etc)
    I am in Berlin, Germany and am both in training & coaching and web entrepreurship, we have made quite a few of (video) online learning portals as well as marketing sites, as marketing is essential to get the big numbers. Online biz can only be achieved by engagement, passion and big numbers.
    Best, Michael

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