Understanding online learning
2020 marks an important milestone for Athabasca University (AU). We have been around for 50 years now. Over the years, we have been at the forefront of distance education and been a part of its evolution. AU started with what was a “course in a box.” We would package up printed course material, send it to you through the mail, and when you were done, you would pack it all up again and mail it back to us.
Things changes with the introduction of the internet in the early ‘90s though. The internet allowed for new innovations in teaching, scholarship, and programming. Our faculty are global leaders in distance education scholarship and are committed to excellence in teaching and research. The opportunity for blended learning and fully online learning is something we’ve been exploring and innovating ever since those early days.
Today, the current response to the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust many people, institutions, and businesses into remote life, learning, and work. Physically, there is distance between us, but thankfully, technology has allowed us to connect with one another. This isn’t to say the move to quickly going fully online is necessarily seamless. Although there is flexibility and openness, there can be challenges to overcome.
AU is a global leader in distance education
AU has been a global leader in distance education since those early days and are committed to nurturing the development of supportive learning communities. To help support our community during the COVID-19 response, AU is offering three massive open online courses (MOOCs). While we offer these yearly, we are running them now to help support learning communities.
Understanding challenges to fully online learning
To gain a better understanding of what some of the challenges are and identifying strategies to become better equipped to manage fully online learning, these MOOCs give learners information that they need to be successful in fully online learning. Drawing on the work that has been done for the MOOCs by members of AU’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences‘ Centre for Distance Education, Dr. Marti Cleveland-Innes, Dan Wilton, Dr. Nathaniel Ostashewski, and Carmen Jensen-Tebb, below are some of the challenges to consider when shifting to fully online learning:
- Technology access: What resources are available? What is the internet connection like? Is there internet at all? Does the person have the device they need (i.e., laptop or smartphone)? Understanding access and how to enable it is important before coming up with solutions to create and move learning activities full online.
- Design: Creating online learning activities means designing the courses with pedagogical principles of integrating technology that supports learning and the learner in a meaningful way.
- Safe and security: This speaks to an understanding of cybersecurity best practices as well as academic integrity and the more social aspects, including bullying. Having systems built-in, awareness, and mechanisms for intervention are crucial.
- Skill development, support, and training: Students and instructors need to have a certain level of technological competency and literacy.
- Individual mental and physical readiness: This is particularly important in considering the shift to online. Motivation and well-being all factor into the ability and willingness to move fully online, especially in light of the current pandemic response.
Identifying and overcoming challenges can help the shift to fully online learning. If you’re wanting to learn more about how to better equip yourself, the below listed MOOCs may be right for you!
Learning to learn online runs March 20 – April 26, 2020 and is a free course. You can register at any time while the course runs. This course is recommended to both students and teachers who are looking to understand how learning works in an online space.
LTLO explores the fundamentals of the learning process and various models of online courses to determine your learning preferences and which forms of online learning are best for you. Activities will address common misconceptions, frustrations and fears about online learning, and introduce techniques to help overcome such obstacles and gain confidence as a learner.
Introduction to technology-enabled learning runs April 5 – May 9, 2020 and you can register in this free course at any point during its run time. This course is primarily aimed towards teachers who want to build on their knowledge and practice in teaching and learning with technology.
Designed to accommodate teachers’ busy schedules, the course offers flexibility with options for learning the content. You will learn from readings, videos, discussions with other participants and instructors, meaningful exercises, quizzes and short assignments.
Blended learning practice runs April 19 – May 16, 2020 and you can register at any point during the course. This course is an introduction to blending technology and distance education teaching strategies with traditional, in-person classroom activities. This course is open to teachers and other educational professionals considering implementing blended learning practice into their own classrooms or programs.