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Online Learning Benefits During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Today, the advantages of online training are more important than ever. School closures and other disruptions to your daily life don’t have to prevent you from growing and learning. Online learning makes it convenient and straight forward to keep building vital skills for your future.

With the vast majority of states under a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus, you may have started to hear a lot more about the benefits of online training.

Over the last decade, e-Learning has grown exponentially. It comes in many forms, but it’s primarily used for college education, certification training and professional development.

 Learn from the Safety of Your Home  Greater Flexibility  Train at Your Own Pace  Save Time and Money  Online for All Occasions

Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning.

Online learning is the newest and most popular form of distance education today. It has significantly impacted postsecondary education within the past decade, and the trend is only increasing.
In this workshop, we will explore what the experience of online learning is like for students and how it has changed the role of the instructor. 

What is Online Learning?

Online learning is education that takes place over the Internet. It is often referred to as “e-learning”, among other terms. However, online learning is just one type of “distance learning” – the umbrella term for any learning across distance and not in a traditional classroom. Distance learning has a long history, and there are several types available today, including: 
Correspondence Courses: conducted through regular mail with little interaction.
• Telecourses: where content is delivered via radio or television broadcast.
• CD-ROM Courses: where the student interacts with static computer content.
• Online Learning: Internet-based courses are offered synchronously and asynchronously.
• Mobile Learning: through cellular phones, PDAs and digital audio players (iPods, MP3 players). 
By far, the most popular approach today is online learning. According to the Sloan Consortium, online enrollments continue to grow at rates faster than for the broader student population and institutes of higher education expect growth to continue increasing. Some of the key findings: 
• Over 1.9 million students were studying online in the fall of 2003.
• Schools expect the number of online students to grow to over 2.6 million by the fall of 2004.
• Schools expect online enrollment growth to accelerate — the expected average growth rate for online students for 2004 is 24.8%, up from 19.8% in 2003.
• The majority of all schools (53.6%) agree that online education is critical to their long-term strategy.
• A majority of academic leaders believe that online learning quality is already equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction. (The “no significant difference” phenomenon.) 

How It Works ?

In years past, instructors had to create their “virtual classrooms” from scratch, which was difficult and often led to poor results. Today, an entire industry has emerged to do this for us. Course Management System (CMS) software is utilized by just about all colleges today. CMS allows instructors to design and deliver their courses within a flexible framework that includes several tools to enable learning and communication. 
Any of these CMS offer functionality which allows instructors to deliver course content, enable communications, and conduct evaluations. The most common tools offered by CMS include:
Schedule For posting and viewing deadlines, events, etc.
Announcements For posting current information to all students.
Syllabus For creating and posting the course syllabus.
Modules For publishing and viewing course content in sections.
Assignments For posting, submitting, and grading student work.
Discussion Board For asynchronous discussions, group work, and collaboration.
Private Messages For private communication between students and/or the instructor.
Chat For real-time, synchronous conversation in written form.
Tests & Quizzes For authoring and administering exams, quizzes, surveys, etc.
Gradebook For posting and managing student grades. 

A New Paradigm for Teaching and Learning

Online learning catalyzes a pedagogical shift in how we teach and learn. There is a shift away from top-down lecturing and passive students to a more interactive, collaborative approach in which students and instructors co-create the learning process. The Instructor’s role changes from the “sage on the stage” to “the guide on the side.”
This point of view maintains that people actively construct new knowledge as they interact with their environment. This is a student-centred approach in which students “co-create” their learning experience. This approach empowers students as active learners instead of passive recipients to absorb information and reproduce it for standardized tests. 
Derived from the work of Swiss philosopher, Jean Piaget, constructivism emphasizes:
• The learner is a unique individual.
• The relevance of the learner’s background and culture.
• Increased responsibility for learning belongs to the student.
• Motivation for learning comes from the successful completion of challenging tasks.
• Instructors as facilitators help learners develop their own understanding of content.
• Learning is an active, social process.
• The dynamic interaction between task, instructor and learner. Synergy! 
Constructionism asserts that learning is particularly effective when constructing something for others to experience. This can be anything from a spoken sentence or an internet posting to more complex things like a painting or a presentation. For example, you might read this page several times and still forget it by tomorrow – but if you were asked to explain these ideas to someone else in your own words or produce a slideshow that explained these concepts, you would gain a deeper understanding that is more integrated into your thoughts. 
As an instructor, you focus on the experiences that would best generate learning from the learner’s point of view, rather than just publishing and assessing the information you think they need to know. Each participant in a course can and should be a teacher as well as a learner.
Your job changes from being the sole source of knowledge to being a guide and role model. You connect with students in ways that address their own learning needs by moderating discussions and activities that collectively lead students towards the more important learning goals of the class.

Benefits of Online Teaching and Learning

Why online distance learning and why now? Online distance learning meets the needs of an ever-growing population of students who cannot or prefer not to participate in traditional classroom settings. These learners include those unable to attend traditional classes, which cannot find a particular course at their chosen institution, who live in remote locations, who work full-time and can only study at or after work, and those who prefer to learn independently.
The minimum requirement for students to participate in an online course is access to a computer, the Internet, and the motivation to succeed in a non-traditional classroom. Online courses provide an excellent method of course delivery unbound by time or location, allowing for accessibility to instruction at any time from anywhere. Learners find the online environment a convenient way to fit education into their busy lives. The ability to access a course from any computer with Internet access, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a tremendous incentive for many of today’s students.
Some of the main advantages of online learning include: 
•Convenience: 24/7 access from any online computer; accommodates busy schedules; no commuting, no searching for parking.
• Enhanced Learning: Research shows the increased depth of understanding and retention of course content; more meaningful discussions; emphasis on writing skills, technology skills, and life skills like time management, independence, and self-discipline.
• Leveling of the Playing Field: Students can take more time to think and reflect before communicating; shy students thrive online; anonymity of the online environment.
• Interaction: Increased student-to-teacher and student-to-student interaction and discussion; a more student-centred learning environment; less passive listening and more active learning; a greater sense of connectedness, synergy.
• Innovative Teaching: Student-centered approaches; increased variety and creativity of learning activities; address different learning styles; changes and improvements can translate to on-ground courses as well
• Improved Administration: Time to examine student work more thoroughly; ability to document and record online interactions; ability to manage to grade online.
• Savings: Accommodate more students; increased student satisfaction = higher retention and fewer repeats.
• Maximize Physical Resources: Lessen demand on limited campus infrastructure; decrease congestion on campus and parking lots.
• Outreach: Give students options; reach new student markets; appeal to current students, thus increasing enrollments.

Online Learning FAQ

Those new to online learning are often unclear about what to expect. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about online classes.
Is an online class the same as a self-paced class?
Answer: No. While some online classes are similar to independent study, most online classes are not self-paced classes. The due dates for documents and class participation reflect those of a “regular” campus class. Preset dates and times must complete homework, other activities, and online class participation.
How much time do I have to spend online?
Answer: You should plan to spend at least the same amount of time you would spend on a face-to-face class. And probably more, at least at first, as you get oriented to the online CMS.
Do I have to log on to class at a particular time?
Answer: No. You will have deadlines by which to post your work, but when you complete that job is up to you. It would help if you tried to do your work daily to avoid being overburdened at the end of each unit. 
Is taking a class online more accessible than a “regular” class?
Answer: No. The course content in an online class is usually identical to that of a face-to-face class on the same topic. Some people think the workload is even more demanding than a regular face-to-face class in that you have to be a self-directed learner, stay motivated, and stay on top of your workload independently. It has been shown that the most successful online students/teachers tend to share the following characteristics: 
• Self-motivation/self-starter
• Good organization and time-management skills
• Familiar with computers and the Internet
• Resourceful and actively seek answers and solutions to questions and problems
What Internet skills would be helpful in an online class?
Answer: The most successful students have the following Internet skills:
• Familiarity with Web browsers and an email program.
• Some familiarity with Web-based interactions such as email, discussion boards, listservs, and chat rooms.
• Proficiency with typing and word processing.
• Experience in successful Internet searches using a variety of search engines.  
How is online teaching different from traditional classroom teaching?
Answer: The online model emphasizes an interactive learning environment designed to stimulate dialogue between instructor and students and among students themselves. The online process requires both instructor and students to take active roles. The instructor will often facilitate activities that engage students directly rather than relying too heavily on lectures and memorization. 
When and where do classes take place?
Answer: We don’t really “meet” in a real-time or physical face-to-face sense. Instead, we interact regularly through the CMS and via email. Courses take place wherever your computer is: at home, at work, on the road – anywhere you can connect to the Internet. Classes are typically organized by week with specific due dates. The model is primarily asynchronous, which means that you and your students may log in whenever it is most convenient within each week.
Generally, logging in four to five times per week is necessary to give timely feedback and interact sufficiently with students. Although communication is primarily asynchronous, real-time chat is also available.
How will I be able to communicate with my students?
Answer: A lot of instructors mistakenly assume that they’ll feel isolated from their online students. To their surprise, most instructors find that online courses provide a high degree of personal contact, and many say that they get to know their online students much better than their students in on-ground classes. This is because asynchronous, online courses offer many more opportunities for reflection, in-depth discussion, and interaction than traditional courses that meet only once or twice a week. Not only will you and your students communicate directly, everyone in the class can be involved in the group- and class-level discussions contributing as much and as often as they want. Far from impeding communication, the online format facilitates and enhances communication and interaction in ways that would be impossible in other situations. 

Important Questions for New Online Instructors to Conside.

• How can you accommodate different learning styles online?
• How might you convert the learning activities you use in the traditional classroom to the online environment? Is it possible to use your materials “as is,” or will you need to rethink how your material is presented?
• Lecturing is the most common method of presenting content in college classrooms. Why is lecturing a less productive way of teaching in the online environment?
• In the virtual classroom, lectures are short and few. With this being the case, where will the students get the information they need to obtain the learning objectives?
• Are video, audio, and real-time activities a benefit in a text-based asynchronous online course? Why or why not?
• How will you inform your students of online expectations and realities and help ensure their success?
• What problems can you anticipate that students might have when beginning your course? How might you smooth the way for your students?

Quiz: Is Online Teaching Right for Me?

The online instructor plays a vital role in developing and maintaining an effective online learning environment and must possess a unique set of tools to perform successfully. Some instructors from the traditional classroom environment will quickly adapt to the online model, while others may find the transition challenging. Reflect on your teaching style, circumstances and technical skills to see if teaching online is right for you.
Computer skills
• Do you have (or are you willing to obtain) access to a computer and Internet connection at home and work?
• Are you willing to upgrade your computer equipment or purchase new software if needed?
• Do you know how to use email and access the Web using a browser?
• Can you download files from the Web and save them to your computer?
• Can you attach a document to an email message? 
Can you cut/copy and paste from one program into another? 
Experience in the online learning environment and qualifications
• Have you ever taken an online course as a student (i.e. the ETUDES-NG training course)?
• Have you used Webpages to supplement your on-the-ground course or seminar?
• Have you used online quizzes, a discussion board or a chat room as part of your teaching?
Attitudes towards teaching and learning in the online environment
• Do you believe that high-quality learning can take place without interacting with your students face-to-face?
• Do you believe lecturing is the best, or only, the method for delivering education in your field?
• Do you feel that discussion is an effective teaching strategy for your subject matter?
• Do you believe it is essential to structure activities to learn from each other via interactivity and collaborative learning?
• Do you believe increased learning can occur when work/life/knowledge experiences are shared among peers?
• Do you think creating a sense of community amongst learners is a priority in your teaching?
Teaching style and habits needed to teach online.
• Can you dedicate a significant number of hours per week (any time during the day or night) to participate in the online teaching process?
• Are you willing to log on and contribute to your online classroom discussions and interact with students online at least four times a week, and ideally more?
• Are you able to create schedules for yourself and stick to them? In other words, are you a self-disciplined, independent worker?
• Are you flexible in dealing with students’ needs (due dates, absences, make-up exams)?
• Are you comfortable in communicating almost entirely through writing (since online courses are text-only environments)?
Training and commitment
• Are you willing to invest a significant amount of time and energy in preparation for teaching your course online?
• Are you willing to spend time rethinking and redesigning your teaching materials to fit the needs of the online environment?
• Are you willing to invest time in professional development to continue learning new online teaching and technical skills in the future?