Monday, October 22, 2012

Deeper Learning by Design: What Online Education Platforms Can Do

English: Online Learning
Online Learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Dr Gavin Melles, Lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology, The Conversation:

FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: We continue our series on the rise of online and blended learning and how free online courses are set to transform the higher education sector. 

In the final part of our series, Swinburne University’s Gavin Melles looks at how we design online education.

Online learning not only needs good content from experts, it needs the right kind of system to support it. These online platforms need to be designed in a way that is intuitive, easy to use and that enhances student learning.

Systematic learning

There are two kinds of platforms that university students use. One is the learning management system or LMS and the other is the emerging open online course, also known as the MOOC.

An LMS is used across a university to put course content online for fee paying students. It’s used for administration, communication between students and lecturers, it also houses learning content, like text, video, and short quizzes or games. The open online course is much the same but free to any student, with a greater emphasis on peer instruction and feedback.

There are specific challenges that come with the design of an LMS or an online course site - its design can effect teaching practices and student engagement. We need to evaluate these systems in the context of a commitment to good teaching and “deep” learning - and that can’t just mean the ordinary student surveys.

Universities and course providers must understand the needs of an increasingly diverse student cohort, so that they can design their online course sites and LMS accordingly. As Lindsay Tanner in a recent article in the Australian suggests there has been lots of tech(nology) and not much ped(agogy) in responses to rising student numbers and new ways of learning.
Leveraging online open education platforms for meaningful evaluation of learning, openedconference

Barriers to learning

There are many potential barriers to online study. Research has shown that students can be stopped from learning effectively online because of administrative issues, social interaction, academic skills, technical skills, learner motivation, time and support for studies, cost and access to the internet, and technical problems.

This list suggests something of the breadth of human, technological, pedagogical and institutional issues that configure the problem facing universities.

Such questions cannot be answered by just finding the right platform. And as researchers Blass & Davis (2003) pointed out almost a decade ago this also does not mean simply putting existing teaching materials “on the Web” but rather a shift towards interactive learner-oriented use of technology.

Some but not all universities have taken the message about usability and purpose seriously.

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