Distance learning is increasingly popular at colleges and universities across the United States. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, roughly six million students take a distance course from a degree-granting post-secondary institution each year¹. Yet despite this surge in popularity, many distance learning courses are failing to meet their objectives, due to low student engagement and other factors. Moving distance learning online is one way to avoid such pitfalls — and ultimately make these courses more successful.
Let’s take a deeper look at why these courses are gaining in popularity, why so many are falling flat, and three ways colleges can help these courses better serve student needs.
The rising popularity of distance learning
Online university programs and other distance learning offerings are finding favor with students because they are convenient and economical. Students can access class materials on their own time and terms. Students also don’t have to worry about the time and cost associated with traveling back and forth to a physical classroom – a key benefit of this approach.
Administrators, too, benefit by not having to use a dedicated physical space to teach students. Distance learning courses are efficient and can save colleges considerable amounts of money when used effectively.
The perils of poorly-designed distance learning
While distance learning offers myriad benefits for both students and administrators, these benefits are often left unrealized because of poor course planning or design. Often, students fail to engage with the material because the presentation lacks interactivity. Distance learning programs without on-demand instructor intervention or the opportunity to collaborate with a group can also depress student engagement. This lack of engagement can lead to elevated rates of course non-completion and other significant problems.
So how do colleges and universities optimize their distance learning offerings to prevent these outcomes? Listed below are three key ways to make such courses more successful.
1. By moving online
There’s no denying it – online distance learning offers substantial advantages in terms of flexibility, engagement, and convenience for both students and administrators. Rather than adhering to a pre-determined schedule, this approach allows students to learn when they feel they are most ready to handle the material. Students also have the opportunity to engage with instructors when the need arises and may take part in real-time collaborations and discussions. Unlike older distance learning models, a modern online college program keeps students fully engaged.
By moving courses online, colleges help students receive the best of both worlds: The convenience and flexibility of distance learning paired with the same level of engagement and collaboration seen in a traditional classroom setting.
2. By delivering courseware on mobile
The virtues of cross-platform mobility are keenly understood across a wide spectrum of industries and education is no exception. College-aged students and those even younger have grown up in an era where mobile has become the primary platform by which people access digital offerings. In order to maximize student engagement and promote convenience, distance learning courseware should be available on mobile devices.
It’s important that these materials be universally accessible via different devices and operating systems to ensure that all students can participate seamlessly. Course materials should also be delivered with mobile presentation in mind. This means smaller, mobile-friendly segments that can be easily accessed and completed on students’ devices.
It’s also important to bear in mind the limitations of mobile devices — and where and when students will be accessing this information. Simple, straightforward design will help make mobile offerings as user-friendly as those found on a desktop or laptop. Because students can (and will) access coursework on their mobile devices from any location, it’s also a good idea to focus on topics that aren’t excessively complex and can be absorbed in busy environments such as subways, trains, etc.
3. By introducing “flipped learning”
The traditional pedagogical model of having teachers lecture in front of a class and then assign homework is so ingrained most people accept it as a matter of course. Yet does that model — venerable as it is — truly inspire the most student engagement? Or would students be better off if the model was flipped?
The concept of “flipped learning” is often described as “homework at school, schoolwork at home” — in essence, the standard model of hearing a lecture at school and working on the material in a home setting is reversed. In a flipped learning setting, students often view video lectures and other materials at home then take quizzes in real time, in an effort to ensure they are retaining the material. Classroom time is then used for group discussion or projects.
This model is being adopted by a growing number of learning institutions and it confers a variety of benefits. Students no longer have to strain to keep up with what the instructor is saying; instead, the student can pause the lecture to consider the implications of what’s being said, or hit rewind if something is missed.
Students taking advantage of flipped learning by using flipped classroom software programs are better able to learn at their own pace, and can study the material where and when it best suits them. This, in turn, helps drive student engagement, as there is little reason for missing a class when it’s available 24/7.
Flipped learning also helps in the classroom, as group discussions and projects serve as an incubator of ideas and a place to address any mistakes or misapprehension of the material. Instead of working through homework alone, students participate in a kind of “intellectual hothouse,” where new concepts can bloom in an environment that promotes feedback, collaboration, and creativity. Moving distance learning courses online and using the flipped learning model is one of the best ways to achieve this goal and this can only be done by distance learning system.
While distance learning keeps growing in popularity, many of these programs are falling short. Yet by moving distance learning online, offering courses via mobile, and taking advantage of flipped learning, today’s colleges can optimize their courses for success.