We can get a lot of questions about how exactly an online learning course works. This article outlines the 5 elements needed for an awesome online learning course.

This article is for two people:

Students that want to take a course and want to know what to expect. Hello potential students!
Companies that want to start using online course material but can’t picture what exactly it is or how it works. Read more about why courses are better than webinars for teaching online here. If you want to learn how to create amazing online and blended learning courses, download HeatSpring’s online education playbook here.

Here are the 5 Elements of a Great Online Learning Course for you, the student.

Having material available all the time: When advanced material is being taught online, it’s key that the students have access to the material all the time. This is useful so they can be learning when they have time in their life. It’s also key so they can watch or read specific segments as many times as needed so they can understand the material.  The hard stuff doesn’t always sink in the first time.
Access to the instructor on a regular basis with office hours. Although the material is available all the time, the best part of face-to-face training is direct access to an instructor that can tell you that you’re right or wrong and share their thinking, thought processes and lessons learned. Access to an expert instructor is critical. This is done online in two ways. First is weekly office hours. These are specific segments of time when the instructor is free and the students can call them and have a 1 on 1 conversation. Second, for less pressing issues, is using the Facebook-style Message Wall for Q+A.
Constant quizzing. As a student, you WANT to know if you’re learning the most important material that the instructor is trying to teach. The best part of online courses is that it’s easy and effective to constantly quiz students on each element they are learning. This is impossible in face to face training. Frequent assessment gives you, the student, confidence that you’re learning each piece of critical information as you go. This way, when you get to the capstone project at the end (or the certification test), you won’t be shocked with the material.
Access to other students.  Sometimes the people in your class are experts too. Each comes with a different background and goal. Structuring the class to increase student to student interaction is another critical element for successful online training. We do this in two ways. The first is the Message Wall where students can talk back and fourth. The second is scheduling and moderating group conference calls.
A capstone project. At the end of an online training, you’ll be required to submit a capstone project (or take a test). A capstone project is key because it verifiable proof you’ve learned and have something to show for the class. In our LoopLink Certification course, everybody designs a full ground source heat pump system for a 25,000 square foot commercial building. In Marc Rosenbaum’s Net Energy Course everybody designs a Zero Net Energy home, including an complete energy model (click here to see some of the students projects).