The topic of online learning has interested me a lot, on a few different levels. For one, as a student: would it be effective for me as an individual? Another, as a potential future teacher: what would the differences be from teaching a course in person? Of course, there's a third angle as a web development professional: what web-based tools would most aid the process, and have they been developed yet?
As a student, I personally have some doubts. One thing that I have learned about myself over the years is that if I show up for class, I tend to learn the material (even if I end up being too busy to read the chapter beforehand). I think it is the in-person discussion and lecture that facilitates this. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that I've taught myself using online materials.
I have taken only one official course where there was a distance learning component, but I'm not so sure I learned much about distance learning from the experience. Almost half of the classes were in-person. It was definitely nice, not having to be anywhere for those nights, and being able to work on my own time schedule. I did notice that it was a bit difficult to connect faces with names, which was frustrating. Additionally, the software that was used to facilitate the online portion of the class (primarily "forum" based discussions on the chapters) was somewhat slow and clunky-feeling. Overall, however, my experience with the course was fine... the negatives and the positives seemed to balance out somewhat, and the professor was excellent. I'm not sure that the online portion of that class added anything, however.
I think as a professor, I would be intrigued by teaching an online course. A friend of mine has been doing just that, and hearing about his experiences with it have been really interesting. A strategy that seems to have worked well for his classes is to be very responsive and available as an online professor. This makes sense... if there is distance involved, one way to make up for the difficulties inherent in distance is to appear as available as possible.
One way that this is best accomplished, I think, is through video software. Although I have not participated in any online courses with a video component, I have attended a few webinars
, and had very good experiences. It seems as though a really great way to handle an online course would be through a live recorded webinar format. The live portion could incorporate questions and answers between student and professors, and the recorded portion could be for later notes and any students who couldn't attend the live session.
Overall, I think distance learning has a lot of hurdles to get through. I also don't think it's necessarily for everyone, but for some, it has a lot of potential.
Posted by on Tue, 13 Apr 2010