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Summary: Online Learning

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What do we mean by online learning?

Online learning which is sometimes called “distance learning” is pretty much what it says – learning through accessing teaching, materials and support online as opposed to face to face. Some courses are delivered entirely online whereas increasingly many courses have elements of online and face to face provision.

Online, distance and e-learning would normally refer to courses that are delivered entirely online. Synchronous Online Learning is where the tutor and students will interact online at the same time. Students and lecturers interact via text, video or audio chat. Asynchronous Online Learning is where students are provided with content, tasks and assignments and are given deadlines for completion of each. Interaction can be encouraged via discussion boards, blogs, wikis and social media. Blended Learning seeks to harness the strengths of both online and face to face learning

Benefits of online learning

Online learning can have a number of benefits over face-to-face environments:

  • Flexibility – the learner can study at times and at a pace that suits them (when asynchronous).
  • Online learning doesn’t require attendance at a physical location.
  • Some learners don’t like the idea of face-to-face interaction.
  • Lecturers are better able to present content in multiple ways including audio, text, film/video than when in face-to-face environments.
  • May reduce the need for students to disclose disabilities.

Some of the general concerns and issues

  • Keeping motivated, managing workload and handling isolation and loneliness in online environments can be difficult.
  • Access to online learning is not a given – some students may lack the technical skills to fully engage and others may not have necessary equipment or resources.
  • Learners may find the amount of information available online overwhelming.
  • Tutors may not have the skills and awareness to produce good online teaching.

Points for reflection

  • How does your practice support the needs of students with regard online learning?
  • What changes to teaching and learning strategies could you make in these situations? Might you do things differently?
  • Who do you need to involve in order to make support for students effective?
  • What are the main barriers to you accommodating students’ needs with regard to online learning? How can these be overcome?
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