For many of us, a new year is an opportunity for reflection – a time to evaluate and identify areas for improvement.
It is no coincidence that this is also one of the times of year when our inboxes are full of messages from organisations suggesting methods for self-improvement, not all of which are related to health and fitness. Over the last five years there has been a steep rise in the number of organisations providing a wide and varied range of online courses offering opportunities for personal and professional development.
Many people hesitate at the the thought of attending an online course. They feel it can never provide the same effective learning experience as face-to-face training.
As my job title would suggest, I am a keen proponent of online learning. I would like to suggest that in some respects, online learning has distinct advantages over face-to-face courses.
Online learning focuses more on the learner
Online learning environments provide students with greater flexibility and more opportunities for personalised learning than a face-to-face classroom.
Online, students can study at a time and in a location where they feel most comfortable. They can study at their own pace, in chunks of time that best suit them, taking breaks when they need them without disruption to their fellow learners.
Students can decide how much to learn in one sitting. Online learning allows time for reflection and assimilation. Learners can take their time to review what they have learnt, and its relevance to their existing knowledge and circumstances.
A well designed online course allows learning to be differentiated in a non-threatening manner. A course can include activities that help and stretch learners of every ability. It can also be accessed as required, discretely and in the learners’ own time.
Online learning encourages richer collaboration and reflection
Collaboration and reflection are key to effective learning. As I mentioned above, online learning technologies allow time for student reflection. In addition, they provide tools and spaces which students can use to collaborate with each other and their teachers.
Students learning online are able to express their thoughts without judgement or interruption. Not being physically present in a classroom can help people who feel nervous about speaking or asking questions. Learners often feel braver when they know they cannot be seen by other members of the class.
The slower pace of online conversation also tends to encourage more thoughtful and contemplative responses. This is because learners have time to formulate their response to a question or consider more fully their contribution to a discussion. In addition, the fact that an online conversation is recorded can encourage a more measured response from those taking part on the course. This permanence also has a more practical benefit as learners can revisit the conversation at any time to retrieve information or develop increased understanding.
One of the greatest benefits of online learning is the opportunity it brings for personal growth through the development of global connections. A successful online learning environment provides a safe space that allows learners to exchange views and share ideas and experiences with people from around the world.
Most of these advantages are equally relevant to adult as well as school age learners. You could think about taking an online course yourself or offering online learning activities to your students.
What are your experiences of online learning, as a teacher or as a learner? Do you agree with any of my points? Come and join the conversation.