When you buy a new car or buy a new TV you go to a showroom who deals in the car or TV, either it’s an official retailer for the item or it has a reputation you trust. Well, we used to at any rate. It seems these days, and I’m equally guilty of this, we go online and find the cheapest version. There, that’ll do. Even if we use a ‘reputable’ website we may find ourselves buying the £5 USB cable made by a company we’ve never heard of instead of the £15 cable from one we have. “It’s OK, it’s from Amazon, it’ll be OK.” (Other online retailers exist, try them out too sometime!)

Is it the same with our learning? When choosing a college or university we look at a lot of things about it, not only the details of the course and individual topics within it but things like accommodation, proximity to the town or shops, on-campus events, clubs, sports facilities, reviews from previous students, etc. I don’t remember even thinking about who would teach me my degree, I looked into everything BUT the teaching staff. Is this wrong?

It seems different when looking at the different MOOCs on offer, I find myself looking at the course team as much as the course syllabus itself. A MOOC on Shakespeare? Why, yes please … but who wrote it and who’s delivering it? Ahh, a ‘renowned Shakespearean academic’ in Professor Bate and it’s been developed by the University of Warwick (ranked consistently in the UKs’ top 10 universities). That kind of makes up my mind .. even though the course page doesn’t say much about the course contents, other than the promo video

I’ve worked on a number of MOOCs and online courses as well as blended and campus/classroom based courses. There are many differences in what I/we do depending on the audience and delivery method, but the courses that have an element of face-to-face contact doesn’t really need the teacher introduced as part of the designed materials. This is, or should be, done in person. Often the first lecture or contact point with the students will be an introduction made by the teacher on who they are, what their background is and why they are the one who should give the course. Often courses are taught by a team, sometimes led by the senior academic and supported by either junior academics or PhD students. Are they also included in the list of authors or facilitators? They have equal right to be there, especially if the learners have more contact with them (in person or online) than the ‘lead’. This is content given to the students and often not part of the slides they can download for each lecture. There may be some info on the VLE, but is it really enough to showcase the breadth of knowledge behind the course and it’s creation?

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For these courses with contact time it seems it doesn’t really matter that this stuff isn’t written in to the course itself. For online courses of any nature or audience it is imperative this information is front and centre. If you can highlight prior to the course (especially for MOOCs) the credibility of the authoring and teaching team it will enhance the authenticity of the course itself.

This is often overlooked in some online courses and is why I insist on having this information front and centre in the courses I work on. This gives the course and the whole course team the credibility to be the ones to deliver and facilitate the course, and it gives the content and materials the authenticity needed to demonstrate to the learners that this team has experience and background to be the best team to lead it.

There are so many options and ways to learn online, sometimes the number of courses on a similar subject exist. So, which one will you choose? The one that looks nice? The cheapest one, or the one that has been developed and delivered by the best team possible, therefore giving you the best possible learning experience?

Yeah, me too.

Image source: Ara Pehlivanian (CC BY-NC 2.0)