Tuesday, October 2, 2012

10 Things about... Online Learning

I am currently completing an online course about Mentoring.  Thus, my slight aversion to the word "mentee" has become ever more contemptuous.  But, I digress.  Learning by correspondence is far from "new" but the online aspect has changed it almost beyond recognition.  While the digital natives among us simply explore the territory of online learning with relative ease the digital immigrants that we are, have to navigate a different kind of classroom (said the teacher).  Besides this course I have completed two other online courses (that I can remember) and gained considerable skills through online exploration.  Most of my professional reading is sourced online too.  If you are considering online learning for yourself or your students here are 10 things to consider.  

10 things about Online Learning

  • 1. Online Learning can happen at any time and anywhere

Well, technically, it can happen anywhere you can access the internet.  These days, if you are participating in an online course, internet connection is probably the least of your concerns, so let's say it can happen anytime and anywhere. 

  • 2. There is no dress code or being late for class

The great thing about anytime, means that you can study online in your PJ's at 5am or 10:30pm.   We all know that I love my PJ's, so I'm sure you understand why this might be my favourite part.

  • 3. Learning becomes self-paced

That’s right, the internet is responsible for time warping.  No more sitting in a cold echoing room with strangers, writing furiously to get down the notes on display AND trying to take in what the lecturer is saying.  You can read course info as many times as you like.  On the other hand, if a concept is particularly easy (or you have already done it) you don’t have to sit through a boring lecture or wait for slower classmates to catch up to you.  I should also mention that in this newly time warped learning environment a “ten week course” can take anywhere from a week to 6 months (or longer in my case…. 6 months and counting).

  • 4. Online Learning is Multi-modal

That means that the course facilitator can present the information in several formats in one place.  You can fast forward, rewind, replay or pause the lecture videos.   If you were learning via traditional correspondence it would be much harder for the facilitator to send you video to access or connect you with other students.  Now, participants all join a chat room or message board and converse about course concepts. The tutor can live stream a lecture, and ask you to do any number of online activities such as; visit a website, complete a quiz, view a video, contribute to a dedicated blog/ message board or email them a written task.

  • 5. Learning is Self-directed

This can be a good thing and a bad thing.  The first time I participated in an online course, I felt quite lost.  I was not used to directing my own learning in such a way and was constantly concerned about not doing “enough” work.  This time around, I know expectations are much lower and I am almost far too relaxed.  It is up to me to find the balance between simply “doing the task” and actually learning something from the experience.

  • 6. Technical Difficulties can interrupt learning and mess with motivation

Once, I was quite annoyed with the weaknesses of the technology available to me when I was supposed to be signing up for teleconferences and commenting on message boards.  As a result, I ended up ‘wagging’ the teleconference and leaving lacklustre responses on comment boards.  Again, it was up to me to stay motivated and see the value in the experience rather than becoming frustrated with the limitations of the technology.

  • 7. Feedback is Faster

You can decide if this is good or bad.  But before internet, correspondence courses were assessed when a student had completed paper and pencil “tests” or answered questions and then posted them back to their tutor.  Feedback could take weeks or months to return to a student.  In some cases, students did not receive feedback at all.  They were simply told if they had passed or not.  If a student had somehow misunderstood a vital foundation concept their entire course could be jeopardised because the misconception was not noticed and addressed early.  On the other hand, students learning online expect almost instant feedback and when they don’t receive it they can become frustrated.  Lags in response time could be due to tutor time constraints, technology issues or incompatible scheduling (e.g. Just because you are working on your assessment at 1am in your PJs doesn’t mean your tutor is online and dying to answer your question about word length or recommended reading).

  • 8. Automated Instruction is sometimes unhelpful

The course I’m currently studying provides reading material followed by online activities such as matching or multiple choice questions.  When these have been completed, I am provided with the correct/ sample responses to these activities to check my own understanding.  Sometimes the “explanation” provided is no less helpful than the original reading material, which obviously didn’t help me cement my understanding in the first place.  So, if motivated, I am forced to conduct a google search for the concept and rely on Wikipedia for an over simplified and possible WRONG explanation to support me.  I call this a problem.

  • 9. Online Learning is NOT for Everyone.

Do you like walking into a traditional classroom and following the “rules” of the learning environment and performing to a “teacher set” standard? If your answer is YES, then online learning is going to require a huge adjustment for you.  Learning online is more focused on sharing information, knowledge and skills with other learners than it is on students “impressing” the teacher.  If you are a social butterfly who learns better through face to face interaction you might also struggle to learn in an online environment, regardless of your technological prowess or number of facebook friends.  Hands on learners who like to literally get their hands dirty, might also struggle with online learning as much of the “practical” activities are actually simulations rather than real life experiences.

  • 10. Online Learning is here to stay

Much like instant coffee, computers and inappropriate shoes; online learning is here for the long haul.  Unlike my students, who believe that teachers will one day be replaced by robots, I don’t think that communal learning environments where students AND teachers are expected to attend class are on the way out.  The internet simply provides another way to teach and learn.

As with all technology, convenience is the key here.  Online learning environments allow people to train/ study while still working full-time.  Students who are unable to attend school can still learn.  Stay at home parents can learn while the kids are napping.  Teachers can complete professional development in their own time.  All of this can happen without anyone passing through a school gate all because of the internet and its virtual learning environments. 

Thanks for sticking with me. 

Happy Learning! J

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