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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Next Generation Online Learning

""Online education" takes many different forms.  It can be synchronous or asynchronous, self-paced or scheduled, video- or activity-based, free or for-fee, modularized or unchunked, and instructor- or learner-centered. An online class can be the size of a standard course, massive in scale, or somewhere in between." reports Steven Mintz, Executive Director of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning and a Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At one end of the spectrum of innovation are the online courses that are simply digitized versions of traditional lecture courses, sometimes supplemented with a discussion forum and various assessments, or real-time online seminars. Offerings from the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, and even from some of the so-called disruptive MOOC providers such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity, may take this video-at-the-back-of-the-classroom approach in an effort to replicate what goes on in face-to-face settings. 

While this approach may not break new ground pedagogically, simply having digital materials available -- for blending or flipping or as supplemental materials -- has real value for both instructors and students.

At the other end of the spectrum of innovation are a wide variety of richer approaches. As many blog posters in this series attest, it isn’t so much MOOCs and social media that are propelling changes in instruction, but the increased attention and time being paid to teaching and learning.  MOOC providers like edX and Coursera are not merely distribution channels; in the best cases, these platforms empower faculty to experiment and innovate.

The critical difference between replication (with enhancements) of the classroom experience and the potential for the transformation of the classroom experience lies not necessarily in technology, but in four aspirations: A learner focus, an emphasis on interactivity, scalability, and a quest to reduce costs while maintaining quality. We see transformation happen when faculty members don’t see themselves as mere instructors, but as designers, coaches, and members of a learning development team with particular goals in mind. 
Let’s look at five contrasting ways to achieve these next generation goals, and then let me offer yet another, more radical, way we might think of the educational experience.

1.  Instructional Courseware
In this modality, a student interacts individually with instructional software: with practice problems, learning exercises, and instructional activities.  Though sometimes dismissed as a digital version of “drill and kill,” in its most sophisticated form, computer-based learning is adaptive, presenting content and activities tailored to students’ level of competence, with embedded diagnostics triggering just-in time remediation, e-tutoring, and corrective feedback.

In this form of online learning, instructional software largely replaces an instructor, and generates real-time data based on a continuous assessment of a student’s understanding.  These assessment and engagement data, in turn, can drive continuous improvement of the learning experience.  An obvious advantage of this approach is that courses do not need to accommodate to a single start date and can be completed on the student’s own schedule.
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Source: Inside Higher Ed (blog)


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