The paper I presented at ATINER 2009 was about a short level 3 online course I was given the opportunity to develop and support. The title comes from the use of pheromone therapy (natural chemicals) in the management of problem and stress behaviours in small and companion animals (cats and dogs). The use of pheromones has increased in veterinary practice in recent years but there was no supporting course or qualification. It was an opportunity to identify some of the challenges of distance delivery (retention, resources and socialisation) and look at possible solutions.
Retention: build in time for induction with activities designed to ensure students have the prerequisite skills to be effective online learners.
Resources: these need to work twice as hard if they are to stimulate, motivate and inspire enthusiasm. Formative assessment opportunities enable self assessment of new knowledge and application to practice.
Socialisation: difficult when students are learning at a distance in isolation but essential for support and encouragement.
The opportunity to ask the first cohort of students about their experience of learning online seemed too good to miss. An initial evaluation was carried out by online survey and a second phase conducted via telephone or email interview. While students appreciated the induction and interaction with resources, they were less enthusiastic about opportunities for online socialisation preferring instead to focus on practice based communication. This may have been unique to this cohort, or common to all practice based short courses, and will be investigated again in the future.