The Do’s and Don’ts of Moving Learning Online

One of the clear messages to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis is that education has changed forever.

Single biggest pedagogical change in decades

Private school principals, state education secretaries, and education consultancy CEO’s all agree. COVID-19 has either brought the “greatest disruption to education in generations”, been the “single biggest pedagogical change of decades” or can be seen as “a defining moment for online learning”. However, educators of all types and learners of all ages – as well as their families – are now grappling with how online learning actually works and what’s the same/different from face to face learning.

Online learning defined

Jennifer Mathes from Boston’s Online Learning Consortium cautions that what we are experiencing is more accurately described as remote learning and should not be equated with true online learning. For Dr Mathes, “Online learning uses the internet as a delivery modality to offer thoughtfully designed, quality, student-focused learning experiences, built on proven best practices that create effective interactions between learners, peers, instructors, and content”. I’ve added emphasis on the keywords I believe set genuine online learning apart from the hastily built remote learning we’re currently seeing.

Best-practice online learning

I’ve been an educator for 3 decades and been fortunate to have nearly 2 decades of experience working with a variety of digital resources and online platforms. The shift to online from F2F learning has got me thinking about what’s the same/different between them regardless of whether it’s a workshop, residential program or full academic course. Here are my best practice tips to deliver online learning effectively.

  1. Focus on pedagogy first and then take advantage of the interactivity that online technologies encourage second. Sub-standard content/methods don’t work well F2F and digital simply amplifies those shortcomings. At the same time, digital provides greater opportunity for “lean in learning” that’s harder to do in the real world.
  2. Decide what HAS to be done synchronously (i.e. via webinar) and what COULD be done asynchronously (i.e. eBook, online modules). It’s not best practice to simply duplicate F2F training on Zoom. It’s preferable to split content appropriately so you can optimize time/value for participants.
  3. Live lecture formats should be avoided at all costs. Much better to break it up into a combination of pre-recorded and live bits with interaction interspersed. My rule of thumb is 10 minutes for video before a change plus pre-recording helps with potential bandwidth issues.
  4. Check-in regularly with the audience. You can’t read the room in a webinar like you can in a training room, but you can use digital functions like chat, hand raising, polls and breakout rooms to keep learners engaged.
  5. Ask learners lots of self-reflective questions and get them to record these reflections like a digital journal. You don’t have to talk all the time to deliver value. Similarly, encourage participants to share ideas/comments via chat with each other as well as maximize engagement.
  6. Take more stretch breaks than you normally would in a F2F training environment.

Finally, I would add one other criterion to the above list for effective learning that applies to both the virtual and real world. Support learners boost their self-efficacy beliefs – their confidence in their competence in the subject matter, their sense of personal agency and control to master the content and their focus on achieving attainable goals. Hundreds of studies consistently demonstrate the link between learner self-efficacy beliefs and educational/assessment/performance outcomes.

Fresh digital mindset first

The key to delivering digital learning well is to start with a fresh, digital-first mindset rather than simply replicating the F2F classroom. Then sprinkle in live interactions with the educator to enrich the learner experience and deepen knowledge transfer.

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