By Seth Crandall |

Are you in the position where you are taking your course or campus online for the first time? Perhaps you’ve been debating and cautiously probing at it like you would a mysterious plate of food, reluctant to take the first bite. As we take stock of the shifts in education during the Covid-19 experience, there is a convincing enough reason to move courses online. Faculty, schools, and administrations are quickly needing to re-tool to the new online educational environment.

As we transition to designing courses online, the most effective courses will focus on having the learner perform authentic tasks.

Focus on Tasks and Let That Determine Content

I recently had the opportunity to review some online courses that were part of a university’s MBA program. Generally, a module would go much like this: read a chapter, watch a video, respond to a graded discussion, take a quiz, sit through a live session, repeat. I’m guessing we’ve all been in a course that was more or less structured this way. The focus of these courses is on providing knowledge or content to the learner. Sure, you’ll learn something, but this course type can certainly be more engaging.

Authentic tasks are things one would do if they had a job, position, or role related to the subject of the course. If the course is accounting, the learners should be making balance sheets and filling in mock tax forms. If the course is on experimental design, they better be designing experiments. All courses have authentic tasks associated with them. I don’t know of an exception.

When the focus of a course is on performing authentic tasks, everything in the course supports, prepares, and enables the learning to perform the task.

Let’s look at the example of moving a marketing course online; what would that look like if the focus is on performing authentic tasks? First, we need to identify an authentic marketing task, such as launching a social media campaign.

The following steps will map out the learning sequence needed to get the learner to perform this authentic task.

1. Provide Content

2. Evaluate Examples

3. Demonstrate Steps

4. Practice and Formative Feedback

5. Receive Final Product & Summative Feedback

Analyzing the above example, notice that the learner is actively doing something to practice and perform the authentic task in most of the steps. Everything is building up to the learner performing the entire task at the end of the module.

This instructional pattern dictates what content will be presented. The content serves the purpose of supporting the learner in performing a valuable task making the learning more memorable and meaningful.

If you are in a position where you are transitioning online or simply tweaking your online course, evaluate your course with the steps and examples shared above and identify how you could improve. If you see that your course is focused on content instead of tasks, start by revamping one section of your course to a task focus.


Seth Crandall

Seth CrandallLearning Designer