One of the various changes COVID-19 brought those in education was an almost immediate switch to online learning.

Overnight, institutions scrambled to maintain education moving, while bridging the physical distance between teacher and learner. Traditionally trained teachers made valiant efforts to regulate to digital by recording lessons, posting videos and creating breakout rooms, using whatever technology that they had available.

These efforts resulted in digitally mediated physical classrooms using the web — not online education.

While these two options sound the identical, they are usually not. Bridging physical distance through technology alone doesn’t address additional adjustments required to deal with learner needs. Posting materials online, recording lectures and discussions themselves don’t create a coached, collaborative and supported learning environment.

So what have we actually learned about online education? And what can we do now?

Online learning isn’t latest, and lessons might be drawn from existing research and experience. Athabasca University — where we’re all professors — pioneered the world’s first online MBA, M.Nursing and M.Ed progams over 28 years ago. And today, it’s one in every of Canada’s leading online universities.

The experience of online pioneers highlights 4 distinct elements of online learning that ought to stick post-pandemic: learning to learn online, designing online teaching with purpose, mixing space and time online and continued disruption with AI.

1. Learning to learn online

The pandemic highlighted that one-size-fits-all educational approaches fail to deal with student needs. Younger learners may seek physical spaces to advertise socialization, with supervision and teacher-led content delivery. Others, like Athabasca’s mostly adult learners, value the convenience of connecting with classmates and instructors online during times of their selecting.

Common inequities like poor access to the web, lack of monetary resources and needed digital competence plague online learning. However, online education offers access for college kids facing geospacial barriers to traditional classrooms, and further problems with inequality are addressed via multi-modal distance education, financial support structures and orientation on how to learn online.

Emergency online education used blunt-edged instruments, ignoring student and program differences. The pandemic takeaway, nonetheless, is the importance of preparing all students to learn, whether online or in a physical classroom.

2. Designing online teaching with purpose

Quality teaching and learning design must incorporate energetic, engaging roles for individual students, whether designed for traditional or distance education.

Meaningful teaching varies by setting and requires different approaches. Online course and teaching design is learner moderately than content centred, incorporating high engagement in collaborative learning groups that fosters energetic learning.

Producing effective online course materials requires an approach involving each instructors and expert course developers and takes months moderately than weeks. Course materials are painstakingly detailed, and include writing the whole lot the trainer would expect to say in a physical classroom, clearly describing all course requirements and linking students to readings, video and online resources.

Because of the pandemic, instructors needed to translate classroom delivery into technology-mediated delivery — it worked for some, but was not easily tailored to unique learning needs.

Technological tools, combined with independent and joint working opportunities, must be brought back to the physical or hybrid classroom along with online pedagogical approaches that increase energetic, collaborative learning and learner-generated decisions.

The pandemic revealed how education approaches can change.
(Giovanni Gagliardi/Unsplash)

3. Blending space and time online

Pandemic education popularized the vocabulary of “synchronous” and “asynchronous” learning. Synchronous replicated physical classrooms through real-time, digitally mediated teaching, while asynchronous meant working independently, often with materials designed for a physical classroom. Moving forward we want to take into consideration how timing and presence impacts learning.

At Athabasca, students come together in time and space through blended, collaborative, synchronous and asynchronous online learning. Instructors coach students individually at a student led pace.

This is different from traditional undergraduate classrooms, where students absorb material on a set schedule. Our graduate programs use paced programming, requiring students to work independently while commonly coming together in energetic online discussion.

More flexible teaching allows students to receive instructor support once they need it. Building in synchronous, collaborative learning allows for reflection, moderately than real time responses.

4. COVID-19 began the disruption, AI will proceed it

The pandemic revealed how education approaches can change after instructors had to go looking for modern ways to enhance student learning outcomes outside the physical classroom.

At Athabasca, a virtual co-operative program allowed us to introduce a co-op program in the midst of a pandemic.

Students accessed a simulated work experience in a paced structure, no matter location. They were capable of practise working as a team, problem solving, conflict resolution, ethical reasoning and leadership while working on an assigned project. Students received immediate, detailed feedback from an AI coach, allowing for extensive experimentation and revision to master concepts honed in reflective discussion with the trainer.

Research suggests that adopting online and AI tools must be deliberate, coupled with supportive digital infrastructure and highly responsive student support. Planned fastidiously and brought together, these steps improve on traditional approaches by making education truly open, accessible and inclusive.

Now, the query for all educators must be: How can we capitalize on COVID-19 initiated change to construct higher education systems for the longer term?

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