Learning is skills or knowledge acquired through study, experience or being taught. Online learning is the reimagining of the educational process that maximizes available virtual classroom software to engage geographically-ranged students fully. This environment brings flexibility into the process regarding scheduling, content availability, and structures, which allows students to access the learning material when and where they choose.
The elements of e-learning and traditional learning include similar factors, such as motivation, content stimulus, opportunities to apply education, an assessment which may comprise of quizzes, tests, and demonstrations, and rewards, which are traditionally grades that support the achievement of a degree or certification. With online learning, engagement of students is also critical to keep them moving toward their goal.
Benefits of Online Learning
Both instructors and learners benefit from e-learning opportunities. A study conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that:
- The amount learned in an e-learning environment was higher than that acquired in a lecture-based course.
- Even those less prepared for the materials, based on pretest scores, showed the same level of increase in learning as other students in online classes.
- Not only is e-learning useful, but it is also lowers costs for students and provides greater flexibility in what, where and how they learn.
For instructors, online classrooms provide many unexpected benefits that include:
- Associate with other instructors and access excellent resources.
- Connection to students who have a passion for learning what they teach.
- Improved time management, which allows the person to teach while increasing the time to spend with family, on hobbies, other career objectives and more.
Also, it is anticipated that at least 50% of all classes will be delivered online by 2019, so being an online teacher increases job security.
Methodology of Online Learning
There are several methods to develop online classes, and these will depend on the topic, your target student, requirements of your affiliated organization, and the demands of the user. For example, many colleges and universities give their instructors great independence in developing online courses while others provide strict guidelines for their structure. Online learning methods can mimic actual classrooms, with required attendance at specific times, can be self-paced, or blended, and use a variety of tools to engage students and support learning.
There are four basic categories of online learning methods:
Asynchronous Online Courses:
The courses are often referred to as self-paced programs and are time independent, meaning that the materials can be accessed 24 hours per day/7 days per week. There is usually a component of teacher/student interaction in the form of virtual office hours, weekly or monthly “check-in” online conversations or emails, and other such communications. These courses can often be accessed from multiple devices, making it easy to learn on the go.
Classes consist of downloadable pre-recorded lectures or slide presentations with or without voice-over commentary. There are often interactive discussion boards or other designated forums that foster student to student interaction. Email communication with the instructor and possible virtual office hours are part of this process. Collaborative tools, such as Google Drive, may be used for coordinating group projects or other interconnected activities. Student learning support tools, including virtual tutoring and resource centers, are often provided.
Many K-12, college, university, and corporate learning and training programs offer this online learning method to provide the most flexible learning environment possible.
Synchronous Online Courses:
These courses take place in real time and can take many forms including a virtual classroom, live webinar, live webcast, and video/audio conferencing, instant messaging, and more. The instructor and students all log into the learning platform at the same date and time and the instructor delivers the lecture, demonstration or other planned learning activity. The process is live, and the students can ask questions in real time.
Attendance is often taken, and instructors post lecture notes and other materials for students who are unable to attend. Course books must be purchased, and syllabus will note due dates for reading assignments, course schedule, quizzes, tests, papers, projects and other relevant information. Virtual office hours, tutoring and resources centers are often provided.
These type of courses can be used for any topic but are regularly used with a demonstration or visually-based subjects such as chemistry, physics, engineering, art, photography, among others.
Hybrid or Blended Online Courses:
As the name implies, this type, of course, combines specific aspects of the synchronous and the asynchronous learning systems. They often have the scheduled, live classes several times during the semester, but use pre-recorded lectures or presentations to deliver additional course materials. In another type of hybrid learning called the Flipped Classroom Learning, the students are required to self-study a particular topic (mostly online) and interact with the teachers in the classroom to clear doubts.
This structure is most often utilized for soft-skills training that focuses on person to person interactions. In college settings, the blended learning method might be used for teaching students to become teachers themselves which they deliver through blended learning software. In corporate environments, it might be used to teach leadership skills, sales processes, or other situations where a face-to-face component is necessary to be truly impactful.
Competency-Based Online Courses:
It is a personalized approach to learning, where specific skills are mastered to support a particular employment goal. A faculty mentor oversees the process and evaluates if and when competencies are reached. It is a self-paced program, but unlike a traditional asynchronous learning course, there are no pre-recorded lectures or other materials. The student and mentor together create a learning process using the web-based documents, books, and job experience to help the learner develop skills and to define how and when competency has been achieved. Many colleges use competency-based learning to allow students who are already working in their field to achieve credit for skills they already have or can quickly develop. These credits included in the requirements for a degree.
Additional Methodology Tools:
The nature of an online learning environment allows instructors to go beyond traditional lecture modes to incorporate more engaging and interactive learning process. Successful learning tools include simulations and gamification. Simulations help learners to acquire skills in a safe virtual environment which mimics the real world and are cost effective. These virtual learning environments are beneficial for college, university and corporate classes that require specific mechanical or process training. Through gamification, learning is more fun and increases learner engagement, which decreases the amount of time people spend learning the topic. Among adult learners, there is a 9% increase in information retention when a subject is gamified.
Delivering Online Learning Methods
There are many choices for delivering e-learning, with the most popular structures including:
- General Learning Management Systems: LMS is the process by which you create and provide access to online learning programs. Choices range from cloud-based deployment to open source licensure, and many more. There are many choices in selecting an LMS, and you must consider price, connectivity and whether it supports the methodologies you want to use in the classes.
- Virtual Classrooms: Virtual classrooms require both the instructor and the students to be connected to the learning platform at the same time. The LMS platform may access user devices cameras and microphones to allow the participants to interact, ask questions, and conduct themselves as they would in a traditional classroom. There are many platforms designed to support virtual classrooms, and other tools are also available.
- Gamification Learning Management Systems: You can add a gamification program to an existing LMS, but there are several e-learning systems with a gamification focus. If this is a significant component of your online course, you can choose from several quality gamification MIS platforms.
Design your delivery structure to meet the needs of the majority of your students, or offer a range of formats to grow a broad user base.
Online learning is a growing industry that is quickly overtaking its traditional counterpart. As an instructor, you have several choices in the methodology of your online course, as well as various tools you can use to increase motivation, retention, and learning. Select the method that allows you to best present your materials and provides the best educational value. Your delivery structure may be dictated by the organization you teach for, but if you have a choice, find the one that provides the most flexibility and value to meet your needs.