One of things I have noticed is how often much of what was done during the numerous lockdowns was described as online learning.
Let’s be clear you can describe what was happening as an emergency response to a crisis, even simplistically a pivot, but what was happening across schools, colleges and universities could in no way be described as online learning.
That’s not so say that universities took advantage of the web tools and other online services to deliver teaching online, and the students were learning, whilst online. However, to describe what was happening using an existing term such as online learning, has resulted in the term online learning now tarnished with the less than satisfactory experiences of staff and students during the pandemic
Prior to the pandemic, the term online learning was used in a positive way to describe how learning could happen online.
During the pandemic, there was an emergency response to the crisis. Students and importantly the staff were in lockdown, with all the requisite baggage that came with that, in terms of isolating, looking after family and all the other stuff that was happening as a result of the pandemic.
I do think, having spoken to students and staff who have been through this process, how hard everyone worked during the pandemic to do their best to deliver teaching and support learning.
The reality is though that despite the hard work, there wasn’t the training, the staff development, the research, the preparation undertaken that would have been needed to deliver an outstanding online learning experience. Combined with that, the fact that the academic staff were also in lockdown as well, the actual experiences of students and staff are in fact quite amazing. However it wasn’t online learning. What we saw was translation of existing in-person practices to online versions; they lost the nuances of what made the in-person experience so good, and didn’t take advantage of the affordances of that online and digital can bring to the experience.
What is online learning then?
Well, for one thing highly effective online learning is designed from scratch, it isn’t about converting, translating or digitising an original in-person programme. Experiences from universities across the UK have shown that, though this can be done, it isn’t necessarily the best and most effective way of designing an online course. Starting from a blank canvas and thinking holistically about the whole experience, and from a student perspective should result in a better student experience. It should not be constrained by the physical requirements of an in-person programme, such as rooms and timetables, likewise it can use the opportunities of asynchronous activities that digital can being to the table.
Designing and delivering online learning does require skills and knowledge, but over the last couple of decades there has been lots of papers and research on this topic, as well as people sharing their experiences of doing it.