Teaching is as much an art as a science. Successful educators know that no two courses are exactly the same. Even two sections of the same course in the same semester may be different to suit student needs. Designing a course to fit those changing requirements is tricky.
The solution isn’t a single course that’s perfect for every situation. Instead, educators should consider course customization. Certain online course content can be personalized to fit your requirements instead of forcing you to change your teaching style to work with it.
Choosing customizable coursework lets teachers adjust it to fit their preferences, teaching style, student learning objectives, and classrooms. Keep reading to learn more about problems with inflexible courses and the many benefits of designing a course with customization in mind.
The Problems With Inflexible Courses
When you choose to teach a course with a rigid structure, you’re making things harder for both yourself and your students. Educators trying to teach inflexible coursework have no room for improvisation or creativity. The course content can’t be adjusted on the fly, forcing teachers to maintain a strict schedule without room for changes.
This isn’t just hard on educators. Students can struggle when facing a course with no room for customization because they have varying learning styles. A rigid approach that works well for visual learners is unlikely to support hands-on learners well, and vice versa.
The lack of flexibility makes it harder to teach what students need to know. It also makes it more difficult to present information in ways that all your students understand. Essentially, rigid course content prevents educators from responding to their students, removing one of the most significant benefits of instructor-led education.
Achieving the Benefits of Customizing Courses
Where inflexible courses limit teachers and students, a customizable course creates opportunities. Customization lets you present materials in a way that supports student learning within your unique classroom. With course customization, you can reap benefits such as:
- Better student comprehension
- Improved learning outcomes
- Improved instructor communication
- Increased course accessibility
The best way to accomplish this is through backward design. Designing a course “backward” is the process of determining the results you want then finding the paths you can take to get there.
For instance, in an introductory human anatomy course, your students should have a fundamental understanding of how the body is put together and what everything is called. There are many ways you can get your students to that point, from rote memorization to hands-on labs.
You can create a general course outline that includes a variety of assignments and projects that will help students achieve their learning objectives. Course customization is choosing the paths that work for you and your students each semester.
Customization and Life Sciences Education
The benefits of course customization are especially apparent in the life sciences. There are many reasons why students take life sciences courses and just as many backgrounds among life science educators. More flexible systems can improve learning outcomes by letting instructors make critical adjustments based on their students’ degree goals, learning styles, and their own teaching methods.
Customizing Classes Based on Degree Goals
Consider an introduction to human anatomy course. Students may take this one course as a stepping stone toward several diverse careers:
- Physician’s assistant
- Pharmaceutical researcher
- Physical therapist
- Research biologist
The basics remain the same. Still, how you teach human anatomy could vary significantly depending on whether you’re preparing a class of future nurses or aspiring surgeons or researchers.
Many textbooks present information out of context or with a specific focus in mind. Without modifications, these materials can make it hard for students to connect the course content with their future goals.
Customizing your teaching based on your students’ career goals is an invaluable tool. You can check an incoming class’s degree paths and tweak your course in advance to reference their chosen careers. Developing course content that supports your students’ actual learning objectives makes it easier for them to care about the material. The result is more engaged students and better learning outcomes for all.
Changing Courses Based on Learning Styles
Customizing a course based on student learning styles significantly improves their experience. This type of customization takes place over a semester.
As you get to know your students, you’ll discover how they approach materials and what seems to help them learn. One classroom may have many kinesthetic learners who benefit from hands-on projects. Another may have more visual learners who prefer to read or watch others do a task. As you find out these details, you can adjust homework assignments and projects to play to your students’ strengths.
This flexibility encourages active learning and increases accessibility. There are plenty of potential surgeons and researchers who just need the right learning environment to thrive. By including room in your syllabus for changes and altered assignments, you ensure that your course design doesn’t leave anyone behind.
Personalizing Courses for Teaching Styles
As an instructor, you can also benefit from increased flexibility in your syllabus. You’re just as likely to grow and change over time as your students. Higher education requirements will always include covering specific course content, but how you choose to teach it may evolve.
That growth is the sign of a great educator. Forcing yourself to stick to the single teaching style required by rigid course materials prevents you from giving your students your best efforts.
Designing a course with customization in mind gives you the freedom to adjust it to your current teaching styles. Whether you prefer to lecture, lead discussions, or guide students through online courses, that could change in the future. Designing a flexible course ensures you’ll still teach it well regardless of how your style evolves.
When designing a course, providing flexibility also supports others at your higher education facility. Other instructors may adopt the syllabus you create. By focusing on learning objectives instead of specific assignments and course materials, you give your fellow teachers room to tailor the course to their teaching styles, too.
How To Present Course Customization to Decision-Makers
There is one drawback to course customization. By its very nature, a customizable course is less standardized. That means that organizational administrators and faculty at higher education institutions may not immediately accept the benefits it offers.
Presenting course customization as an effective means of designing a course for institutional use is essential. You are more likely to receive buy-in from potentially resistant staff and faculty if you present this method’s many benefits. The three most valuable points to discuss are:
- Increased efficiency. A flexible course has room for growth. When accreditation standards change or new faculty join the institution, a rigid syllabus may need to be reworked from the ground up. Meanwhile, a customizable course is easily altered to fit the new situation. That makes course customization an easy way to increase efficiency within the department.
- Reduced costs. Customization also helps reduce costs in the long run. While setting up a customizable course may take more time and money to set up at first, it quickly pays for itself. The increased efficiency of a customizable system prevents the department from having wasting resources revising a curriculum every few years. Course updates can be quickly propagated across in-person and online courses alike.
- Improved learning outcomes. The impact of flexible course design on student learning experiences can’t be overstated. When students have a better experience, both instructors and the institution benefit. Educators are more likely to see high satisfaction marks on their end-of-semester surveys. Meanwhile, the higher education facility enjoys a better reputation among current and potential students and employers.
By focusing on the benefits the administration and faculty will receive, you can overcome hesitancy to change and increase the likelihood that course customization is embraced at your institution.
Embrace Course Customization To Improve Education
Customizing course content is a fundamental part of successful teaching. While the standardization of education has improved access to knowledge in many ways, it has also caused many educational institutions to lose sight of the value of flexible materials.
Implementing courses open to customization can help reverse that trend. Students and teachers alike benefit from changing materials to suit their needs. That’s why CIP prioritizes flexibility and customization in all of its courses.
CIP classes can be adjusted to different teaching and learning styles and various career focuses. There’s no strict requirement for how the materials must be learned or taught. The result is more effective education, better learning outcomes, and a student body prepared to face their chosen careers.