Leaders discuss taking online learning from an alternative to a “must”

Advocates say going online in higher-ed allows for educator collaboration, competitive advantage.

online-teaching-learningUntil recently, online learning has been viewed as either solely for those interested in adult education or as a branding tactic for innovative institutions.

And though online learning is still one of the most accessible ways of providing quality postsecondary education to those with diverse backgrounds and commitments, the popularity of blended learning models, and recent trends in cross-institutional collaboration, online learning is experiencing rapid implementation in today’s colleges and universities.

Here, eCampus News asked distinguished online learning advocates to give their thoughts on why it’s imperative to take higher education’s perception of online learning from an alternative to a “must.”

[Listed in alphabetical order by last name]

One size doesn’t fit all

Tom_arnett300By Thomas Arnett, The Clayton Christensen Institute

Students learn differently. They have different interests and they approach new learning experiences with a range of background knowledge, cognitive ability and grit. Yet despite their wonderful individuality, the lecture-based classroom treats students like identical receptacles of information. It’s hard to blame schools and teachers for relying on traditional instructional methods; one-size-fits-all lectures are economically practical for disseminating information to large groups of students. But unfortunately, they fail to ensure that each student masters the content they are taught.

This is where online learning has a powerful role to play. Online learning gives teachers greater ability to personalize their instruction to individual students’ needs. Good online learning is far more than holding classes using teleconference technology or recording lectures and posting them online. Rather, high-quality online learning enables teachers to truly differentiate their instruction and frees them up to provide more individualized support to their students.

For example, the Relay Graduate School of education has leveraged online learning to reimagine traditional approaches to training teachers. Relay provides approximately 40 percent of its instruction through online videos and digital material. With core instruction happening online, face-to-face sessions can then focus more on discussing concepts, practicing teaching skills and providing teachers-in-training with individualized support. Many of Relay’s course assignments also require teachers-in-training to integrate their new skills into real-life K-12 classrooms and then upload videos of their lessons onto Relay’s online learning platform for prompt, detailed feedback.

Relay’s graduate students not only receive the learning benefits of an online approach, they also become better equipped to implement online learning in their own classrooms one day. Thus the great instruction of today prepares the great instructors of tomorrow.

Thomas Arnett is an Education Research Fellow from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. His research focuses on changing roles of teachers in blended learning environments, the evolution of teacher education and professional development, and policies and innovations affecting technology access and infrastructure.

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