A good online course permits individualized instruction
By continual assessment of learning progress of each student; and
By stressing content and pace as appropriate to each learner
Individualized instruction is a very good thing for learners. It permits a learner to have the best of both worlds –by being a member of a class so that she or he learns with others and can benefit from their comments; and yet have the content and pace of the course individualized for him or her. This is very difficult to do in any substantial way in the ordinary classroom course – though good instructors do try to meet the needs of individual students (both the gifted and the lagging) as much as possible. But the essence of individualized learning is the continual assessment of the progress of each student in learning. This can be done quickly and efficiently with the use of computers; while it is very awkward in a classroom environment. In a traditional classroom course too much classroom time is used for assessment and too much of the instructors’ time is used in grading and feedback to make individualized instruction practical. Also, it is difficult for a classroom instructor to alter a course’s structure or timing to fit an individual student’s need. But online a student can be given extra explanation and extra assignments when his or her performance indicates the need. This can also be done at the student’s request for additional learning opportunities.
It follows that a good online course should include individualized instruction. For individualized instruction to be effective, the ideal class size of an online course is similar to that of a classroom course – that is from fifteen to thirty students. If the online instructor is supported with teaching assistants, the course size can be increased proportionately. It should also be recalled that many online courses are designed to permit individual students to self-pace themselves without classmates.