The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a massive shift in the way we work, learn and connect with others.
While there are a number of well-known organisations within Australia that offer online formal qualifications, Open Colleges being one of them, not all schools were prepared to make the shift to a fully online learning environment.
At the start of the pandemic in Australia, there was a rapid transition from physical classrooms to virtual classrooms. Many campuses had to scramble quickly to convert their courses into a digital, remote-friendly format.
But as difficult as this rapid transition was for bricks-and-mortar schools, it was an even more jarring experience for students.
However, despite the online learning curve for students and schools, there are many benefits to online learning. And this shift away from traditional classrooms could be the new normal for many Australian students.
Is online learning the new normal?
Online study could be the new normal for the future of education in Australia. And one of the most compelling arguments is big data.
In the right hands, big data can be used to uncover trends and gain vital insights. For example, in education this data can be used to improve student outcomes, personalise curricula and reduce the student dropout rate.
Through the use of machine learning and algorithms, it’s possible to track how students are progressing.
If a certain student is lagging behind, then the algorithm can identify the areas where they’re failing and send an alert to the student’s Teacher or Trainer. This would signal to the Educator that this particular student needs help in a certain area, and the Educator can then work to help bridge that knowledge gap. This could help to prevent students from falling through the cracks.
On the other hand, the algorithm could also be used to identify students who are excelling quickly. This would mean that students who are performing above average would be given the support they need to reach their full potential, instead of having to wait for their classmates to catch up.
The education system needs to reflect our changing needs
Our lives are changing and its imperative that the education system can keep up.
The average Australian is likely to change jobs once every 3 years or so. It’s no longer common for people to commit to the same career path for their entire working life, and people now have the freedom to change careers when it suits them.
To facilitate this need, it’s important that the right kind of formal online courses are available. For many Australians who are working full time and wish to change careers, it’s just not practical to attend a physical campus full- or part-time. Instead, online education is the most obvious and convenient choice.
Engagement plays a big part in online learning student success
Despite the obvious benefits of online learning and what it can offer students, modern students will need to develop new learning strategies to navigate online education.
The higher education learning environment can be very different to what high school students have previously experienced in terms of workload, time management and time spent interacting with their peers and Teachers. The same can be said for an online learning environment.
How well a student adjusts to their new learning environment can have a direct effect on their academic success. This is part of the online learning curve, but it’s crucial to a student’s grades.
A student’s engagement is also critical to their success. A recent study found that students in New Zealand who had to quickly transition to an online learning environment ‘adopted a learning strategy that coordinated their online LMS engagement with course assessment due date. Students had a 388% (SD 58%) greater specific engagement with the LMS on the assessment due date and the day prior, than throughout the remainder of their course.’
However: ‘a clear relationship between the level of student LMS engagement and student course grade existed. For every additional week of zero LMS engagement, the odds of a student achieving. a grade lower than B were 1.67 times higher (95% CI 1.24, 2.26; p < 0.001), regardless of the course.’
This clearly tells us that engagement is critical to a student’s success.
Higher education learning strategies for the new normal
There are a lot of pros to online learning. But it also comes with its own unique challenges. With this in mind, how can online students prepare for the new normal and find effective online higher education learning strategies?
Teachers and Trainers need to be the primary force driving this change and promoting engagement.
Here are a few higher education learning strategies Teachers and Trainers can use to increase learner engagement online:
1. Planning is everything
Ensure that you’re always organised and have a plan laid out. Teaching a class without a plan is difficult enough face-to-face. But with an online class, you also need to think about new and different ways to keep your class engaged.
Synchronous and asynchronous learning both have their place. You could think about mixing things up to ensure that students are engaged with their online lessons.
Also remember to break up your lessons into digestible pieces so your students attention spans to waver.
2. Lead by example
Present yourself well, look into the camera when you present and don’t multi-task while you’re presenting. If you want your students to be engaged, then you need to be engaged, too.
If your students have suddenly had to go from face-to-face lessons to online learning, you don’t want them to think of online as potentially lesser than a physical class. At home, there are more distractions for people. Just because everyone is learning from home online doesn’t mean they can divide their focus between their class, thinking about what to cook for dinner and shopping online.
This means you as the Teacher need to lead by example and set expectations.
3. Think outside the box
There are other ways to teach online that go way beyond delivering a livestream lecture or converting documents into a PDF. Technology today allows us to connect in so many different ways. And Teachers can use this to their advantage in the virtual classroom.
You could start by encouraging students to take part in online polls or real-time online knowledge tests. You could include audio files or videos as part of your lesson. You could
OC’s learning management system, OpenSpace, has been designed with student engagement at its core. Through OpenSpace, students learn through a variety of mediums, and some courses even have interactive tools.
4. Encourage social interaction
Switching to an online learning environment can be tough for some students. But if Teachers can encourage social interaction, the same as students can expect when in physical proximity to their classmates, then this could help to keep them engaged.
Instead of logging on and launching straight into the day’s lesson, encourage students to spend time socialising before you jump into the learning materials.
You can also check in with students on an individual level, just like you would in a classroom environment.
Study tips for online students
When it comes to online learning, there are generally two types – synchronous (when you study alongside other students at the same time) and asynchronous (when you work at your own pace).
Both have their pros and cons. The main benefit of synchronous learning is that you’ll have the support of others in the exact same situation as you.
Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, means you can study at your own pace. You’re not locked into a strict study routine, so you can dedicate as many hours as you want to study each week. This means you can space your study sessions out, or you can power through and complete your online course in record time.
To learn more about online study tips, you can read out blog, ‘8 study tips for online students.’
Is online learning the future of higher education?
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us, if nothing else, that things are not as impossible as they seem. Teachers found ways to convert their lessons into an online format. Students grew used to learning online. While the ride has been far from smooth, and the rapid transition for many physical classrooms into an online environment has been difficult, the Australian education system was able to adapt and pivot in record time.
Does this mean that online study is the new normal? While it’s unlikely we’ll see our bricks and mortar classrooms disappearing for good any time soon, there has been a definite shift in attitudes and perceptions when it comes to online learning and how it can benefit students.