Learning together

Smart usage of exercises in online courses

Johanna Pellinen 03.01.2018

Exercises form an essential part of a learning experience – sometimes the most important one. In online courses the exercises may play a more important role. Here are some ways to benefit from exercises and how to create good ones.

Validating and rehearsing

Exercises are often used for testing the understanding of the topic. Simple and fast multiple choices are popular and efficient to validate learning and rehearse the topic. Testing the understanding on more complex topics can be done by submitting text, image or video answers to the questions, but grading those answers can be laborious.

Mapping out the current level of understanding

Using exercises it is easy to map out the current level of understanding already before the training. Many trainers send some material with exercises beforehand to test the knowledge level and thoughts about the topic. Utilizing those answers and results, it is easier to know what are the most impactful things to focus the valuable on site time during following trainings.

Orientation to the topic

Making quizzes and reflective assignments help evaluate one’s own knowledge level and orient to the topic. Once one has an updated understanding of his own knowledge level and practical needs, it is easier to understand where to focus on. Also, learning more complex topics easily takes more time and reflection.

Reflecting and activating

Exercises bring diversity to the course content and accelerate thinking. Activating elements in course content can help focus and prevent losing one’s attention. Learning at its best is an active process of thinking, questioning and applying, instead of learning facts by heart. Exercises are an easy way to enrich the learning experience.


How to create good exercises:

1. Focus on content

Learning happens by thinking and doing, not clicking around. Exercises can be technically very simple as long as the content is well designed. A technically too complex exercise or instructions will distract the learning process by driving the attention away from content and may frustrate the learners. What is needed for learning will happen in the minds of learners – the focus should be on learning instead of technology.

2. Immediate feedback will support learning

Feedback from the exercises will form a valuable part of the learning process. In the feedback, it is good to elaborate why the answer was right or wrong and what should have been included. Quality feedback will support learning way more than summing up points from exercises.

Feedback from the trainer will feel rewarding and motivate, especially after the more laborious exercises.

3. Prefer small, achievable tasks

A group of small tasks is often better than one larger one, as it makes answering easier, and submitting the answer feels more achievable. Exercises can also guide the learner and little by little build the answer to a larger assignment. If one is, for example, giving a course on digital marketing, in different modules of the course the different aspects of marketing and opportunities to personal improvement can be reviewed with small, simple questions. In the end of the course it becomes an easy task to build a concrete action plan of digital marketing based on these answers. It is way easier to deliver a task that requires lots of thinking if it can be done step by step.

4. Learning from peers will accelerate the process

Reading and reviewing the answers of other course participants is a very educative process. We tend to be very curious on how other people think and answer in the same questions. Writing a reviews for the answers of peers is an excellent learning experience.

Utilizing peer reviews also reduces the work of the trainer. With the help of peer reviews learners can receive feedback and grading to their answers in even the large courses where it may not be possible for the trainer to write individual feedback for all the answers.