Maybe it shouldn’t be a course at all.

You have evidence-based information and resources people want on topics they care deeply about, so they sign up for your course. But without a “carrot” or “stick,” when is the last time you completed an online course (or signed up at all)?

There is a great deal of agreement that online learner engagement and course completion rates are often low, especially in the non-credit setting. While there is a breadth of research on how to engage online learners in traditional online courses, the literature does not address the inherent challenges in assuming online courses are the primary way to provide educational content to specific audiences online who are not seeking credit or certification. It also fails to adequately describe the way people learn online informally in daily life. As a result, when people across Extension asked me (time and time again), “Why won’t people complete my online course?!” my answers came up short.

So this spring, I started working on a theory-building metasynthesis that aims to pick up the conversation here. I’ll jump to my findings here, but to learn more about the study methodology, get a copy of the associated rubric I created, or to generally nerd out with me on this topic, follow up with me during the Program Conference poster session (or any time!).

Online outreach education should be/have:

Learner-focused Content

The information and learning needs of a community should come first, rather than the implementation of the technology or selection of a specific tool or format.

Search & Navigation Friendly

In self-directed, informal learning, discoverability and easy navigation are critical elements to attracting and retaining potential learners.

Flexible Levels of Engagement

It is important to provide opportunities across the engagement spectrum (e.g., passive information acquisition, personal reflection, discussion-based processing, and building or generating something new).

Generally speaking, we Minnesotans don't need courses and workshops like we did “back in the day.” We rely on Google and our social networks when we want to learn a new skill or troubleshoot an issue in our homes, gardens, communities, etc.

How can your program be a part of the new paradigm?

Every once in awhile, I run into a video that refuses to play on my computer or it won’t import properly into a PowerPoint document. A solution that works for me is to convert the video file to an MP4 file format. I use a University supported tool called MediaHub to convert videos to a usable format.

How it works:
  1. Go to
  2. Upload one or more video files at once
  3. Select the type of video file you want for playback: IOS/Android/Mobile, PowerPoint or Web. All of these options will produce an MP4 file but in the appropriate size/resolution for your playback choice.
  4. A download link will be emailed to you in a short time. Files are stored for 15 days and not recoverable after that.
You may not use this tool often but it sure is handy when you need it!

A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a brainstorming session where some people couldn’t attend in person. Our in person plan was to bring different colored post-it notes and use an in-room whiteboard. I set out to find us an online solution so everyone could participate.

I’ve used a few sticky note apps in the past, for organizing my own work and for online collaboration so I looked at those apps first. After considering Google Keep, and Stormboard, I settled on RealtimeBoard for our meeting.

RealtimeBoard is an endless virtual whiteboard that can be accessed from anywhere. You can:
  • Add files, notes, stickers, icons, draw, comments, images, video
  • Collaborate together at the same time or on your own
Here is an example of our whiteboard (zoomed out):

You can start with a blank board or from a template:

Once you are on your board, use the toolbar to add files, text, notes, boxes, arrows, lines and comments. You can upload documents from your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, capture a web page, create a chart, add wireframes, icons and images:

I was able to copy/paste an entire column from Excel and it created notes for every single cell. That saved me a bunch of time!

When you add a sticky note, you can change the size, format text, change color, add tags and emojis. You can layer your notes or drag them anywhere on the whiteboard.

You can view a map of your whiteboard and use the zoom tools or your mouse to move to different parts of your board.

Use this app for your projects, visual planning, building wireframes, consensus workshops, presenting, creating infographics, brainstorming and visualizing ideas. I downloaded the app for my iPhone which will be great for times I don't have my computer with me. Check it out for yourself! It’s an awesome tool. Best of all is that it’s free for educational use.

It worked great for our meeting. I'd love to hear how a tool like this could help your work. Share your thoughts in the comments.