Some Online Learning Truths

I haven’t written here for ages, but there have been plenty of things of late that I’ve wanted to engage with. Instead of that deep engagement in posting my (Twitter friendly) equivalent of me yelling stuff out of a car window as I pass by at the speed of life:

  1. Online courses don’t need to be massive. You can have a viable class with 15-20 people. In fact the bigger the course the less of a “class” it feels.
  2. If you keep the numbers small you can dedicate more time to more students/teacher interactions. Both will feel more nourished and engaged.
  3. You don’t need to have a quiz at the end of a topic. Have a conversation instead. Don’t discount informal assessment.
  4. A course doesn’t have to be content driven. Sometimes conversation and the generation of ideas and context are more suited and more beneficial to learning. Could you run your course with zero materials?
  5. You don’t need a course to learn. Guess what!? You can just search for stuff online these days and learn by yourself! Education providers don’t have a monopoly any more. In fact formal education – you’re more difficult to engage with than ever before.
  6. Making stuff that’s meaningful is a better tool for assessment than any exam or essay.
  7. Essays are an abstraction of writing for purpose & communicating an idea. An essay is a format, a style – and for this it fails to do its job. Why? Because in essence you’re actively hiding an idea under a ton of formatting.
  8. Word count is not a signal of proficiency. Challenge the learning by forcing a more succinct statement. A tweet, a 5 minute presentation.
  9. Text is not the only way to assess. It would be faster to mark 10 x 5 minute presentation than 10 x 3000 word essays. But from a students perspective, and in the assessment of learning – just as much time/effort is required – it’s not a lesser format.
  10. Don’t forget, there are a myriad of tools and tech out there that enable conversation and dialogue. The forum can be replaced. The forum often should be replaced. Get your students to talk to each other.
  11. Different LMSs are just like Coke vs Pepsi – neither is really good for you, they have no nutritional value and you should probably just have water. We need to Think beyond the LMS.
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2 thoughts on “Some Online Learning Truths

  1. Agree with most of the points, Tim.
    Smaller classes lead by an expert with years of knowledge in their field are the highest value thing a Tertiary Education Institution can offer. Inherent in that is access to the expert, and voluminous feedback from that same expert. Nothing about this scales, and trying to scale it up diminishes it until it is worthless.
    I disagree with the point about Essays though. The format has evolved from centuries of application which has categorically worked. It is a proven way to present a hypothesis and to support it with evidence in writing. Adopting free-form or alternate formats will make for students who cannot formulate their own theory about a topic, or worse, cannot provide facts to support their thoughts about why something is the way it is/was/should be. Argument, logic, and dialectic depend on this.
    This is how we end up with “alternate facts”, science denialism, and people celebrating ignorance over “elites” who can string coherent thoughts together.

    • Hi Rob,
      I take your point about essays and their structure, but I do question when this is appropriate and whether it is actually effective in the ways that you said. I’m not advocating free-form or logic free assessment or outputs – you can still have a logical argument presented in a variety of ways – from interview to narrative – I’d suggest a poem could quite easily fulfil the aims of getting a student to articulate and logical argument. The reliance on the essay for me is a problem and I’d question it’s effectiveness – if they were so good then why do we see the plethora of alternate facts”, science denialism, and people celebrating ignorance today? I think essay’s have a place in scholarship – but as a format they lack the ability to effectively communicate their ideas. They tie students into a way of presenting information that often doesn’t make sense or logic – because they’re preoccupied with the formatting requirements than with the conveyance of the idea. Formats like presentations, pecha-kucha provide a set of constraints that focus on communicating and structuring ideas which in many cases is more meaningful long term for students – because in the workforce they wont be writing essays.

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