Yes, I just asked the un-askable question. The question that students, teachers, professionals, and educators of all sorts are asking themselves right now. The question that we're all scared to answer honestly when students worldwide from the youngest of elementary to the oldest of professional continuing education have no choice but to convert to this online model of teaching.
I know I've heard a lot of complaints that online learning isn't working. Complaints that it's not engaging, that it's too much screen time, that it's hard to handle, and that it's ineffective. Professionals complain, parents complain, teachers complain — 8-year-old screen lovers complain.
The truth is: online learning can work, if done right.
I have a lot of experience as an instructional designer and learning consultant, specifically in the realm of virtual delivery and online learning. I know that online learning can work — and people can actually learn well in virtual settings. But I also know the importance of good course design — we're not just talking pretty visuals— in making virtual learning palatable, maybe even enjoyable, but definitely learn-able.
Controversial, I know. So let's dig in:
Learning in a virtual setting has a lot of pros and cons. Pro: you can't get a virus virtually (a huge advantage right now). Con: setting up a virtual learning space takes more effort than setting up the right number of chairs.
Think of building your virtual learning setting less like setting up the small details of a classroom and more like constructing the entire classroom itself. While that may sound intimidating, I promise it's doable and entirely worth it for both you and your learners.
I've been working in this space for a long time and there are some incredible things I'm seeing being taught or practiced online right now that even I wouldn't have believed were possible a few years ago. Making non-traditional learning work takes creativity and commitment to the principles of effective learning design.
Keep these two core ideas in mind and there's a lot that can be done to create engaging, meaningful, and practice-based learning opportunities, even online.
Let's take a step back and reconsider some different methods for delivering online learning. Think of this as the large-scale structure of your virtual learning setting. Some common structures include:
These models don't always exist quite so distinctly. Often in online learning, these models overlap to compliment each other and fit your specific needs and limitations. Once you've decided the best-fitting model based on the gaps of your learners, and the outcomes you want to achieve, then you can get specific about how to structure your learning for the best online delivery. I'm going to share how to do this in Part 2 of this blog post.