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Online Sexuality Education at the College Level – What Are Best Practices?

Source:
Ryan McKee, Eli Green, Amelia Hamarman, "Foundational Best Practices for Online Sexuality Education," American Journal of Sexuality Education (December 2012).

Description:
As colleges and universities move toward increased online course offerings, sexuality educators at institutions of higher education will inevitably need to develop effective distance-learning activities and assignments. Proactive, rather than reactive, embrace of online sexuality education strategies will best serve instructors who teach undergraduate and graduate students. The authors draw from real-life experience and observation, backed by published research, to recommend foundational practices that will advance online sexuality education and preserve the field's commitment to addressing cognitive, affective, and psycho-motor learning domains.

Key Findings
  • Nearly 1 in 3 higher education students enrolls in at least one online course (in any subject).
  • Previous studies involving a range of course subjects conclude there is no significant difference in learner outcomes between online and face-to-face courses.
  • Online courses can provide greater privacy, safety, and anonymity for students engaging in discussion of sexual issues – potentially increasing student participation and widening the range of perspectives and experiences to be shared among learners.
  • Successful online sexuality education courses are carefully mapped-out in advance (not 'taught on the fly'), include clear ground rules for participation, and appeal to different learning styles by incorporating slides, video, audio, polling, and bulletin-board-style asynchronous discussion forums where appropriate.

Analysis:
The authors have broken ground with what is believed to be "the first publication to focus exclusively on best practices for formally teaching sexuality education courses online in the college and university setting."1 Although much has been published about general online instruction in higher education settings, the topic of sexuality education has not been addressed in depth until now. The authors, all trained, experienced sexuality education professionals, argue for the potential of online courses to increase the audience of college-level learners – some of whom would not have considered enrolling in a sexuality education course taught in a traditional classroom setting.

Online sexuality education courses will only increase in number going forward – the question is whether such courses will fulfill their potential to engage more – and more types of – learners. The authors demonstrate their commitment to achieving this goal by advising future course instructors to plan thoughtfully and account for a variety of factors for success: instructor training, course planning, content availability, time management, course policies, teaching students how to take the course before the course is underway, honoring confidentiality, accommodating disabilities, and managing sensitive issues.

The authors have included a useful glossary of online instructional terms to assist the reader with understanding the evolving lingo of distance learning. This is a long-overdue contribution to the sexuality education field, as a new generation of educators and learners populates the world of higher education. Established sexuality educators who have had reservations about using online technologies will find encouragement and specific instructional guidance in this article.


1McKee RW , Green ER, Hamarman AM (2012). Foundational best practices for online sexuality education. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 7:4, 378-403, <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15546128.2012.740949>.

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