Friday, March 01, 2013

Creating Interest in Online learning

A recent article in the NY Times on online education expressed concerns over the idea of education going  online. The article went on to suggest that low performing students actually found it harder to perform when  classes went online (with facts based on a 5 year study over a range of 50,000 students). These students  reportedly lacked confidence in the absence of their teachers and hence were struggling to put up a fight. 

The first thought that came to my mind when I read that was isn't it always hard before it becomes easy, no matter what it might be? But then the same piece also stated on a positive note that students in hybrid classes - those that blended online instruction with a face-to-face component — performed as well academically as those in traditional classes. As a fan of online learning I must admit I was relieved!

So is it truly the future?

I would say yes it is. But online education is something that is likely to evolve under the shadow of conventional learning before it can stand up on its own. After all it doesn't always mean that someone who knows how to use a computer would necessarily love the idea of online education automatically. Students will have to get accustomed to the process of learning online content.

It should not be much of a problem since they spend a majority of their time online these days. (But when you ask them to do something useful like learning a lesson online, they might push back and not take to it so easily! “Ok, so you want to start using my iPad to take lessons and do homework?”) On the other hand, it might take some effort convincing parents, most of whom are naturally inclined to assume that their kids are “goofing off” when they  are in front of their computers or using their handheld gadgets. They will have to come to terms with the fact  that the future of learning  is going to involve a significant amount of online learning.  Likewise, Instructors/ teachers have to understand that online learning could eventually minimize their own workload though in the short term it might appear to be overwhelming. So its best if the adapt to and acknowledge the new  system with an open mind.

They’re easily distracted. What can we do?

The next big question of courses is: How will you make students sit in front of the machine without intervention from all those distractions in the form of Instant messengers, Social networks and Email/Chats etc.?  And instead make them focus on their learning? The obvious idea would be to make the learning content engaging in every possible way. Teachers will be required to put in the extra effort in creating the course material that appeals to all kind of students.

For instance, an imaginative video with rich animated content and a well scripted audio narrative, something that is not very formal but more on a friendly tone can boost any course material. Do it the right way and it might even make the learner feel that they are in fact getting that extra attention from the teachers that they were missing in the actual classroom. Bring in expert views and videos from different parts of the world (online of course) to spice up the course material. Add more inputs like music, short quizzes, knowledge checks and voila! You have something that draws their attention. Anything and everything that keeps them glued to the screen needs to be thought off.

You think it still would not work? Well, then as an extreme measure you can even think of integrating social sharing within the course content itself. You can encourage them to share ideas, post comments and feed backs on course materials, provide feedback on tutors, and to participate in various online group activities and discussions. My view is that they will eventually start to like the idea. 

But it’s so technical…

Do not worry about how to go ahead and create such an engaging course. With technology moving at a rapid pace in order to make life simpler for us, course creation too will become an easier task over time. You just need to be patient.  In fact, it is almost there even as you read this post. The course building tools that are available in the market itself are pretty much easy to understand for the non-technical users.

So in summary, Online learning: you might like it or hate it but you cannot ignore it (especially with everything going online these days). If we are willing to give it some time and space to grow, online education has the potential to become a global revolution. Patience, flexibility and openness to a fundamentally new way of learning are key. Wouldn't you agree?

Contributed by Anoop Mukundan (Product Specialist at Vitalect)