It’s hard to predict with 100% certainty how the pandemic will permanently alter higher education, but one thing is clear: remote learning tips will be in demand for the foreseeable future. According to the sixth Changing Landscape of Online Education report, released in June 2021, colleges and universities will likely embrace online learning in a post-pandemic world.
When asked whether online courses “developed as a pandemic response” will evolve into “permanent online degree programs,” 59% of Chief Online Officers said it would be very likely for some programs but not others, the report reveals.
While a permanent shift to online learning all the time doesn’t seem to be in the cards, there are many reasons why colleges and universities should start incorporating more online courses into their curriculum--even as they offer in-person classes.
As professors Vijay Govindarajan and Anup Srivastava argue in this HBR piece, the shift to hybrid learning could yield some significant benefits. By “freeing resources from courses that can be commoditized, colleges would have more resources to commit to research-based teaching, personalized problem solving, and mentorship,” they write.
General courses with high numbers of students per class are great candidates for online delivery models. They could be tied into a hybrid education model that can potentially be delivered at a lower cost to students. And it’s hard to argue against a learning model that makes education more accessible.
But here’s the rub: It’s no secret that the abrupt shift to online learning during the pandemic didn’t always yield great experiences; in many cases, it was downright terrible.
Some instructors found themselves overwhelmed by new tech. Others lamented the loss of rapport with their students in a digital milieu. During endless Zoom or Google Classroom lectures, many students fell into a disengagement zone, finding it harder to resist the lure of social media.
Online teaching and online learning are not destined to fail, however, and institutions now have an opportunity to design and plan new online learning programs more thoughtfully and strategically. It just takes the right approach. If you are a learning leader who wants to make online learning more effective and engaging, check out these six top tips:
Video call lectures can be draining, and students who grew up with interactive digital media might find it hard to stay focused for long periods. For example, instructors can deliver one lecture in three pre-recorded segments that students can watch at their own pace to break things up. Delivering material in smaller increments in this way enables instructors to unlock the power of “distributed practice,” which has been shown to boost learning and memory retention. This is one way online learning gives instructors more options in delivering their lectures in a format that suits learners’ best.
On-the-fly adjustments are critical for new online courses. With survey tools, instructors can check in regularly with students to get feedback about how the course progresses and make changes immediately. Not all class content is the same, and not every cohort is the same, so having a flexible remote learning strategy that considers student opinions is key to success.
Another excellent resource for instructors is real-time data delivered via e-textbooks usage metrics. Reading engagement data by class, for example, gives instructors an understanding of which passages students are struggling with so they know where to take more time when explaining key concepts. This can be particularly useful when they don’t see students face-to-face and have fewer opportunities to gauge student engagement and comprehension through visual cues. Good courses can become great courses. Sometimes, all it takes is a little tinkering here and there.
Digital texts can be a cost-effective alternative to textbooks and are a natural fit for remote learning environments. But there’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to dive into reading about ethnocultural art histories or the legacy of Karl Marx--only to encounter missing and broken links. To conquer conundrums with digital materials, try a universal learning solution with single sign-on (embedded in the discovery layer and visible as a link in the LMS students use every day), making accessing digital readings a snap. With this level of integration, students don’t have to create new accounts and passwords to access digital materials or worry about finding error messages when they go to access critical content.
From TikTok dances to kitty cat memes, instructors have a lot to compete within the digital world. But the key isn’t to force students to abandon multitasking behaviors. As scholars from the University of Nebraska point out in this paper, “digital device distractions may be minimized by imposing multitasking behaviors in classrooms that can more strategically allocate students’ cognitive resources.”
Instructors can also use this approach outside of this classroom and impose multitasking behaviors to help students as they read digital materials. For example, e-textbooks provide instructors with the opportunity to embed short pop quizzes into the material, particularly after critical passages that delve into complex topics. By quizzing students immediately after reading a particular passage and giving them results right away, instructors can provide students with an opportunity to assess whether they are retaining new ideas and participate in a more dynamic learning experience as they absorb new content.
Just because students are online, it doesn’t mean they have to stay chained to their desks. Whether it’s a museum, grocery store, city hall, or the local courthouse, the real world is full of opportunities for students to apply key concepts they learned in class. They can snap pics (when appropriate) and share their experiences with their instructors and peers during virtual Q&A discussions.
If real-world outings aren’t popular with students, then virtual field trips could be another alternative. While many virtual field trips are geared towards younger students in elementary school, it’s worth exploring how a virtual trip to the Smithsonian, for example, might benefit an undergrad class in history.
In remote learning environments, students might find themselves craving a break from the glare of their screens. Speechify is an app that turns any text into audio and allows students the opportunity to give their eyes a rest--a must for courses with a lot of assigned readings. Text-to-speech also comes integrated with the most robust e-textbook platforms, like BibliU.
Not only can it give the eyes a break, but text-to-speech can also be used as an assistive technology that is particularly useful for students with dyslexia or visual impairments. When students encounter a challenging block of text, they can select the text they want the platform to read aloud or choose to have the entire textbook read aloud to them.
Remote learning in higher education requires a significant amount of advanced planning and organization at first. But as instructors get into the groove and have more experience to draw from, they can develop an approach that they will only have to adjust occasionally. This way, higher learning leaders can conquer the challenges and reap the benefits of virtual learning, making learning more accessible to everyone.
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