The complex realities of higher education have become increasingly turbulent in the last month. It’s no secret that the path to higher ed paints a different picture for every student, but recently, the institutions students trust to guide their learning are grappling with the same uncertain feelings.
Still, true online education has a long history of research, with more than 20 years of modern best practices that have been adapted since the iPhone brought computing to the everyday user’s pockets.
It’s critical for today’s students to understand the ways in which online education was developed in order for them to feel confident in making informed decisions on how to proceed with their education — and take advantage of well-structured institutions to deliver on these best practices. Students should not only consider, but embrace, these key areas of effective online education in order to best approach eLearning in times of flux.
True online learning provides an innate structure of support
In today’s landscape, online higher ed has widespread structure and support. Because the model of online learning was built around an assumption of distance between student and teacher, when done right, eLearning is the epitome of organization. Online learning supports the process of student-to-teacher communication with explicit instruction on information, assignments and expectations. In fact, a Shift Learning report recently found that eLearning increases retention rates to 25-60 percent compared to an 8-10 percent retention rate in face-to-face learning settings.
Although an organized curriculum is a core function of online learning, it is something completely new to many educators. For example, in a face-to-face learning environment, instructors may have the ability to shift direction based on factors like retention or even body language queues in the classroom. With online learning, the instructor-to-student proximity does not always allow for this type of flexibility. Because of this, leaning on the innate structure of online learning is critical for instructors to stick with course direction and for students to understand when, where and how they are expected to move through a curriculum.
In a well-structured eLearning environment, students can seek out and embrace a comprehensive understanding of the current topic in the curriculum. Working through the assignments laid out through education technology and tools, students should see a clear path forward via the provided material to better understand the learning objectives and to work at their own pace to meet them.
Accessibility must be ingrained in online education
In an online learning environment, equity is critical. While open education resources can provide learning options for all, it doesn’t always guarantee a successful learning environment, including the varied accessibility concerns and accommodations. Because of how online learning is fundamentally structured, institutions have to ensure that it’s accessible. Often, faculty aren’t as plugged into the realities of an online classroom and rely on technology that they may have never worked with; a concern that can also be applied to the students in their online classrooms. Accessibility must be a universal concern in order to support every student, just as in a face-to-face learning environment.
Moreover, not all students’ digital literacy skills are the same. In fact, recent research found that there is an alarming disconnect in critical thinking skills and educated Americans. This can quickly create barriers to learning that can easily fly under the radar in an online environment.
While mining the internet for resources and research or discerning false information may be second-nature to some, this could pose a challenge for others. Accessible online learning can only begin to succeed when all students feel confident in their ability to be an active participant in their education journey with access to quality resources.
Learning from online education to better the future
Educators everywhere can find meaning in the lessons learned from the rapid implementation of online learning. Similarly, students have the opportunity to embrace online learning as an action and not a place.
Operating each day in a state of preparedness enables educators and administrators to lean on the structure of online learning and ease the uncertainty of disruption for students. Overall, this mindset will foster greater focus on what students need now, no matter the situation that puts them in a digital classroom.
Aside from the benefits of online learning in today’s higher-ed landscape, it is critical to acknowledge that online learning is not the only long-term solution. While this approach to learning can help higher-ed institutions scale eLearning in times of crisis, on-campus classroom learning will always be at the core of higher ed. Yet, in these unprecedented times, students can begin to welcome blended learning as a path forward in their education journey, fostering a learning environment that enables their success in the months and years to come.
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