Happy’s Essential Skills: Online Instruction and Long-Distance Learning


Reading time ( words)

Planning Tools and Inter-team Communication

Developing online activities and resources requires consideration and planning. A complete online learning development team would consist of the six individuals in Figure 3. 

Creating (and Finding) Content—Tools for creating content for online learning have improved significantly over the last few years. Articulate Presenter, Audacity, Engage, Flash, Jing and Camtasia are tools that new users can master easily and in a short time. Online learning resources are available from MIT’s Open Courseware initiative, Connexion, Open Learn and many more. 

Planning for and Fostering Interaction—Supporting online learning, like development of online courses, requires a team-based approach, consisting of these six individuals seen in Figure 4.

Happy_Fig3.jpg 

Figure 3: Online learning development team[2].  

Happy_Fig4.jpg        

Figure 4: Teaching online support team[2]. 

Self-Paced Online Courses (SPOC)

It seems every university has its courses available online. Many of these are available through commercial companies that specialize in distance learning. That isn’t quite true—there are some universities or departments that hold out that all courses have to be face-to-face. Unfortunately, that is not supported by research, but there is a portion of the population that does not have the discipline, disposition or electronic know-how to use the Internet. I have listed some additional criticisms of E-Learning here: 

  1. Relying on user-generated content can create a chaotic learning environment.
  2. These courses have been criticized for a perceived lack of academic rigor as well as the monetization strategies adopted by providers.
  3. Digital literacy is necessary to make use of online materials.
  4. The time and effort required from participants may exceed what students are willing to commit to a free/low cost online course.
  5. Once the course is released, content will be reshaped and reinterpreted by the massive student body, making the course trajectory difficult for instructors to control.
  6. Participants must self-regulate and set their own goals.
  7. To create an online learning course requires more work than a face-to-face or webinar course. An additional 50 hours has to go into Internet platform software and features.
  8. Many academics are reluctant to contribute personal resources to publicly-available repositories.
  9. Only about 10% of the students who sign up typically complete the course: 30% attend partially for knowledge only; 20% were exploring the topic rather than wanting to complete the course; 20% dropped because the course required too much time, or was too difficult or too basic;10% dropped because of poor course design, clunky technology (software) or abuse on discussion boards; 5% cited hidden costs like expensive textbooks authored by the instructor; and 5% were ‘just shopping around.’

What is interesting about the research into online learning is the number of users who are not interested in getting a degree or even completing the course, as stated in the numbers above. If you are interested in the conditions for online courses, you can look at the Student Handbook for Self-Paced Online Courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

There is even a free college course on “Effective Online Instruction—Principles and Practice—HEO547” from the Open College of KAPLAN University[3]." This self-paced online course consists of four modules:

  1. eLearning Design & Practices
  2. Web 2.0
  3. Bridging Theory and Practice
  4. Management & Design 

To finish writing this column, I enrolled in this free course. I completed the course in 20 days, even though the live seminars are spaced over a 10-week span. Only two of the live seminars were conducted after I enrolled, but the series cycles again and I can join them any time I wish. I can also go back to any part of the lectures and courses to review materials in the future. What is interesting is the textbooks and other materials I received even though the course was free! Like any college course, there was a lot of reading involved; there were also assignments, discussions and quizzes. The courses ended with a “Project Assignment.” I could, if I elected to pay a fee, get university credits for the course. I encourage you to sign up for one of the many courses that are free to get a better idea on how distance learning works. It is clear that a distance learning course has a lot more up-front time for the instructor than a normal face-to-face course! But once accomplished, it is now available to anyone around the world. 

Happy_Fig5.jpg
Figure 5: Distance learning has existed with face-to-face learning and the Open Education programs. MOOCs have come along recently and continue to evolve[4]. 

Distributed Open Collaborative Courses (DOCC)

DOCC recognizes that the pursuit of knowledge may be achieved better by not using a centralized singular syllabus, that expertise is distributed throughout all the participants and does not just reside with one or two instructors. 

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the Internet. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, quizzes, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants. MOOCs were first introduced in 2008 and emerged as a popular mode of learning by 2012 (Figure 5).

MOOCs are still evolving (Figure 6) and Table 2 shows a number of providers of MOOC courses. 

Happy_Fig6.jpg

Figure 6: MOOC is an evolving open-access method of distance learning and every letter is negotiable. It has two variants, x-MOOC and c-MOOC[4].

E-learning (another name for distance learning) has become so pervasive at universities and colleges that many now offer full graduate engineering degrees. If you want to develop your own e-learning course, most of the commercial sites in Table 2 have an “Affiliate Program” that will help you to create the course and then market it for you. Take for instance, Udemy—they have 20,000 instructors supplying 11 million students in 190 countries. The instructors average $8,000 USD income for their classes. If you want to learn more, there are three free E-books referenced at the end of this article[2, 5, 6].

Summary

We now have a generation in college, and more coming up through K−12 schooling, that have grown up with digital devices, video gaming, mobile phones and social networking. The effect of all of this has changed the nature of how they learn. To continue their education in electronics manufacturing (and specifically, printed circuit fabrication and surface mounted assembly), we will have to adjust our training and education to this new generation of learners. For someone as old as I am, the challenge is to adapt my style of teaching to this new digital learner. 

I have a compendium of 45 Educational Research Reports, e-Books and statistics put together by the USDLA. E-mail me if you would like a copy.

References

  1. Flores, J.G., “Distance Learning: Enabling the Race to the Top”, distributed by the USDLA, Nov. 16, 2009.
  2. Siemens, G., Tittenberger, P., Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning, March 2009, University of Manitoba Press.
  3. HE547: Effective Online Instruction – Principle and Practice” OC@KU.
  4. Massive_open_online_course, Wikipedia.
  5. ”Emerging_Technologies_in_Distance_Education”, Veletsianos, G., ed., aupress.
  6. ”Theory_and_Practice_of_Online_Learning”, Anderson, T, ed., aupress. 

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