Online classes have been a cornerstone of modern higher education since the coronavirus outbreak. While the majority of universities, colleges, and other educational institutions have fully embraced online learning, teachers are still grappling with how to engage students online and students are faced with new challenges. They must make difficult decisions on a daily basis, such as whether to use asynchronous or synchronous learning or which educational tools they require from hundreds of options.
Prior to the mandatory changeover, online courses were available in a variety of formats, ranging from Massive Online Open Courses to single modules or whole online bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They were commonly utilised in blended learning and flipped classroom pedagogies. Teachers’ only choice for continuing to teach is to take online classes. This crisis is predicted to irreparably impair schooling, although it is still too early to assess the consequences. Fortunately, past research has found a link between the utilisation of online learning, student involvement, and learning results.
Higher education can use online learning to provide services to people who are continuing their education, to use technology to relieve the pressure on professors and to use improved pedagogies that are better suited to retaining student engagement.
The advantages of online classes
Online classes make education more flexible, making higher education more accessible to all. In order to attend education, many students, particularly adult or working students, require flexibility in their schedules and module selections. Students from traditionally underprivileged groups might also benefit from online classes. Students who are the first in their family to attend university, those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, people of colour, and students with disabilities all benefit greatly from the availability of online courses, according to studies.
Newer generations of students are increasingly drawn to online programmes. The so-called “digital natives” are now in higher education and are accustomed to having technology running through their daily lives. Flexibility, active learning, and digital tools are just a few of the millennials’ higher education aspirations. Millennials who are acquainted with technology and are used to consuming enormous volumes of digitally generated information will find online classes appealing.
Active learning in online classes
Active learning, which departs from the traditional static, unidirectional lecture, employs more interactive types of learning, such as:
Active learning, rather than focusing on knowledge retention, appears to focus on comprehending and other higher-order tasks. While not all active learning activities are possible in online classes, technology can help with a lot of them. These activities can be better coordinated and monitored by teachers because to the organisation and mass-to-mass communication made available by technology.
According to studies, online classrooms are especially beneficial for facilitating collaborative learning, and asynchronous exchanges between teachers and students aid to engage students and stimulate reflection. Both of these methods are based on the concepts of active learning.
Challenges of online classes
There are stumbling barriers with online classes, whether they are entirely online or part of a more traditional teaching technique. It is expected that, with the exception of Ivy League universities and colleges, the mandatory move to online programmes will result in reduced enrolment rates. Although there is a paucity of research regarding blended learning courses that incorporate both forms of teaching, previous studies reveal that online programmes have a lower completion rate than face-to-face classes.
The usage of online courses is hampered by technical issues. Complications annoy both students and teachers, and these challenges might cause pupils to lose interest in their classes. Instructors must frequently dedicate time to resolving technical issues, and content editing can be a difficult and time-consuming undertaking.
Some students may be turned off by online programmes, while others may benefit from them. Students are asked to take more responsibility for their learning in blended or online learning, converting them from passive to active learners. However, some pupils, particularly those who are used to passive learning in school, may find this difficult. To be successful, these students may require greater drive, organisation, and discipline.
Online course accessibility is a big issue with fully online learning. From student to student, the availability of a working internet connection, electronic gadgets such as laptops or cell phones, and even the existence of a proper learning environment varies. Students with disabilities may face difficulties as a result of the hasty move to online learning.
Absence of Essential Online Qualities
Successful on-the-ground training does not always translate to effective online training. The effectiveness of the online programme would be jeopardised if facilitators are not properly trained in online delivery and techniques. An instructor must be able to communicate effectively in both writing and the language in which the course is taught. If the facilitators of an online programme are not appropriately equipped to work in the Virtual Classroom, the programme will suffer.
An online instructor must be able to compensate for a lack of physical presence by creating a welcoming environment in the Virtual Classroom in which all students feel comfortable interacting and, more significantly, where students know their instructor is accessible. Failure to do so may result in the class becoming estranged from one another as well as from the instructor. Even if a virtual professor is capable of creating a pleasant virtual atmosphere in which the class can function, an online program’s absence of physical presence at an institution can be a restriction. Things like being left out of meetings and other events that require on-site interaction could be a limiting factor in an online programme for both professors and participants.
The Administration and Faculty
Some conditions make it difficult to implement an online programme successfully. Administrators and/or faculty members who are averse to change and working with technology, or who believe that online programmes cannot provide a high-quality education, frequently stymie the implementation process. These individuals are a significant flaw in an online programme since they can sabotage its success.
Administrations are sometimes unable to see past the bottom line, viewing online programmes solely as a means of increasing income, and hence are not dedicated to viewing online programmes as a means of offering quality education to those who would otherwise be unable to access it. In this scenario, an institution that is unaware of the need of good facilitator training, necessary facilitator traits, and class size constraints would be unaware of the impact these factors might have on an online program’s success.
How might online course delivery be improved?
Several strategies for improving the delivery of online classes have emerged. First and foremost, obvious issues such as inadequate integration, a lack of expertise, or technical issues must be addressed.
Digital specific course design
Instead of just converting offline content to a digital format, online programmes should be built expressly for digital devices. Students become disengaged as a result of sloppy course design. A recent study of Australian university teachers found that simply converting lecture content to video format was not enough to engage students. Teachers can utilise tools like Interactive Video to make their online lectures more interesting to combat this problem.
When possible, engage in face-to-face interactions
Poor retention rates are one of the most serious issues with online programmes. Retention rates are more likely to improve if online classes are skilfully mixed with face-to-face interactions. Face-to-face interaction does not have to be limited to teaching; it can also include support from teachers through video call, whether via Skype or Zoom. According to studies, students, particularly millennial students, require a sense of caring from their teachers, and that this feeling can significantly enhance their motivation.
Supported participation is critical
The online learning experience is improved in general when students and teachers communicate regularly and constructively. Supported engagement is a common term for it. According to a recent survey, “the quality and timeliness of lecturer feedback was the most highly appreciated type of learning connection recognised by students.” In online course delivery, the feedback loop that is present in face-to-face interactions must be considered. Teachers can provide feedback through discussion responses, regular formative assessment, and group activities, or they can use educational technologies like Assignment Review.
Establish defined learning objectives
Some students struggle with online classes because they are used to a more personal teaching style. Setting clear expectations for pupils is critical for teachers. Many pupils will have little prior knowledge of how to manage their own learning. With online education, this gap can be much more pronounced. Expectations like requiring students to give regular formative assessments might help students focus their efforts.
Online education is a new and challenging field. The employment of digital technology, whether as stand-alone courses or as part of traditional course delivery techniques, has both obstacles and benefits. However, it is evident that the teaching paradigm must shift in order for online learning to be successful. To appeal to new students and maintain a vital technical edge in a competitive marketplace, educators must move from a teaching-centred paradigm to a learning-centred paradigm.
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