eLearning opportunities are a reality in our world now. Regardless of how they are provided across industries and institutions, it is likely to expand in our futures. There are careful considerations that we need to look at to help learners get the most of online learning opportunities.
Communication and Behaviour
Beyond thinking about the tools and the platforms for this online learning, we really need to consider human behaviour and communication strategies. Effective Computer-Mediated Communication is an important foundation of online learning. It is this communication that forms the foundation of engagement among learners and helps learners to become active and lifelong learners. In a strong online course, the communication strategies are key to promote the types of behavioural interactions that may not exist within the traditional teacher-based classroom.
Online learners need to be able to build on their current identities, create new identities and their social presence online. They will carefully consider these in ways that they may not even think about on a daily basis in a traditional classroom. That is because computer mediated communication is more deliberate, and takes more time to create. Therefore, these online spaces need to be treated with care. They are non-neutral situations. They need to be safe and the instructor needs to have strong guidelines and an ongoing presence to support all learners to help elaborate on the contexts of messages.
The skills required in eLearning also transcend the actual content of the course. These essential skills are important to foster personal inquiry, personal goal setting, research, reflection and other presence cues that allow for learners to take ownership of their own knowledge building and become reflective in how the content is filtered through their own lenses of knowledge and experience. In addition. MANY more messages, (and more timely messages), and more rich media to support interpretation of messages are required in an online course versus in a traditional classroom.
Design of Activities
eLearning can be very difficult especially helping learners to feel part of a learning community, and to feel that one’s personal identity can be heard.
As demonstrated in the video Systematic Reviews of the Research on Emerging Online Technologies: What’s Been Done; What’s To Come, it is important to design activities that allow the stories of learners to be expressed in activities, in addition to helping learners make connections to other aspects of life, and to not just ‘receive’ the task, but also to expand on it.
In terms of content, the activities need to be even more integrative and interactive in online learning environments. We can no longer accept the static knowledge bases of certain fields because learners need to dynamically locate the resources they need to continue learning. The tasks also need to be worthwhile, where everyone can see themselves in the task. In an eLearning course this may mean that there are opportunities for choice in task, and/or opportunities to bring one’s own identity, knowledge and experiences safely to the task.
Online learning can be a struggle with resistant learners as well, so the learning needs to be designed to continually provide feedback that is actionable and helps learners improve on an ongoing basis.
It is also easy for learners to feel anonymous in an online platform, therefore if an instructor is not able to find strong opportunities to connect, then this can become a struggle to engage learners. Our identities have the opportunity to be included with the help of co-creating knowledge and meaning, reflecting, and opportunities for worthwhile tasks and collaboration.
Just as with learners, I think it is important for instructors to also have a support team so that they don’t feel anonymous. A team to help the instructor see the impact that they are having, and the ability to professionally consult with colleagues as needed to help with an array of learner variables like motivation.
A great reason for workplaces and education systems to embed the online learning either in a blended format within courses, or as modules that enhance learning in various subject areas.
I think that as our online learning systems grow and evolve, they will become more seamless and user-friendly, and continue to provide options that mimic social media, but within the safety of a Learning Management System (LMS). Learning is hard and makes people vulnerable. When people are vulnerable and open to risk taking, they need to know that their mistakes will not be public and open for embarrassment.
As with any learning environment, online or face-to-face, there is always room for miscommunication. Especially online. Learning cultures are changing with new technologies, and as such there is room for miscommunication in our education system which could decrease productivity and increase stress. As stated in this video of Elizabeth Benz, when we communicate online, we generally feel very confident about what we write, and assume that others can read the tone that we are writing in. Yet, this is generally not the case. If the recipient of the text is unclear in any way, they will always read it from an egocentric point of view, and therefore will likely interpret the message negatively. This can cause a lot of negative feelings about learning and must be attended to when teaching and designing courses online. Especially with our most vulnerable populations.
Other important considerations include when designing eLearning Opportunities:
· Provide opportunities to engage with recursive assignments, and to keep coming back to the work to improve and expand — a key skill pattern that we all need to be lifelong learners.
· Consider the ‘hidden curriculum’ — which most students infer as being the most important in a course, because it is dependent upon what is assessed. Therefore, we need to be clear and explicit about what we assess. What is assessed is what ends up being deemed important.
· Deconstruct complex assignments into smaller chunks and deliver each chunk at different times throughout the course. This is also a great practice to set learners up for ongoing feedback that will support them toward greater success by clearing up misconceptions early.
· Ensure that opportunities for reflection and peer and self assessment are at the forefront of all eLearning opportunities.
The fact is that there are many key skills that learners need to have as effective online learners. The purpose of education is to provide a range of tools to help people become lifelong learners. Online learning is not an option in our world anymore.
I think that a number one strength in engaging students and peers via online learning is the fact that we now have opportunities to provide a range of tools that will help learners to become and/or remain lifelong earners. There are great opportunities to include content and experiences that are inclusive, and we can make conscious efforts on design strategies that elevate how the material is received and reciprocated.
Online learning goes beyond thinking about knowledge as static, but rather treats knowledge as always being built and understood from the lenses of our personal experiences, backgrounds and current knowledge bases. Therefore, online learning is more than learning the pre-existing content, it is also about constructing new content knowledge and learning how to ask the questions that need to be asked online, and how to build new skills for seeking and understanding new knowledge in an eLearning platform.
Other resources for consideration: