Quality in On-line Learning: Learners Views
Joan Cashion and Phoebe Palmieri
Phoebe and Joan will present some ideas arising from their current research project on "Quality On-line Learning: The Learners View". This research has been funded by NCVER as part of the 2000 EVAG projects. They will facilitate discussion around on-line learning and a new discussion topic and different questions will be posted every five days.
Quality in on-line learning conjures a picture of excellence but that picture will present different facets to different people. Educational organisations have implemented quality frameworks with procedures to comply for quality certification and the provision of quality learning is one aspect of this. It is a difficult aspect to assure, as the quality of learning rests with the learner so it is very important for educational organisations to understand the student perspective. Educators endeavour to provide a quality learning experience for all students and the current VET agenda of flexible learning has moved educators to a broader and more inclusive educational focus.
For each learner will there will be critical factors which influence the learning experience. In the traditional classroom context the learning experience is seen to be the teachers’ responsibility, with the teacher-student interaction being the critical component. There are many different styles of teaching and different methods to engage students, most of which work for some of the learners. Exceptional teaching occurs when most of the students are engaged in the learning experience most of the time. Questionnaires to evaluate the learning experience will often uncover the problems and the negative factors - and interestingly, factors which continually surface are the physical facilities, with chairs and the food being the most common!!
The scope of on-line education adds a degree of complexity. What is on-line education? We have defined on-line education to be the delivery of an educational program which is mediated by a computer at a destination distant from the teacher – be that across the country or across the campus. For many learners, hybrid delivery may be the best option where there is some face-to-face delivery and some that is delivered over an intranet or the Internet.
Where does the learning experience start and where does it finish? Do students consider the enrolment process to be part of the learning experience? If some of the values students place on traditional education are mirrored in the fact-to-face environment then results will be an important aspect of the learning.
On-line communication is often considered to be the critical component of on-line learning. Teachers and tutors develop a community on-line through email, on-line discussion and chat. Some of the strategies used are ice-breakers, virtual rewards, group assignments and assessment which relates to the contribution different members add to the discussion. Our focus group discussions with educators have highlighted the importance communication has in achieving quality on-line learning. If educators can project their personality down the line and reach the students, then the students engage in the learning and have much greater chances of completion and of successful learning. Many teachers are grappling with the work load required to do this and are developing techniques for successful interaction.
There is some very interesting work being done by Dr Gilly Salmon (ii) of the Open University on e-moderating, the essential aspects of communicating and teaching through Computer Mediated Conferencing (CMC). http://oubs.open.ac.uk/gilly As a result of substantial work and research Gilly has put forward a five stage model for the use of CMC based on work at the Open University. The stages she has identified are:
Another aspect of on-line communities relates to the time factor. Asynchronous discussion provides time for thoughtful responses. Students can consider the problem or discussion and give their response when they are ready to do so - rather that needing to respond immediately and trying to get in a word in edgewise as so often happens in the class room. This can provide a more equitable environment for quieter students.
Please share your thoughts with this discussion group and comment on the introduction above or respond to one of the following questions. What makes quality on-line communication?
On-line educational technologies provide many possibilities for catering for different learners. Some work has been done by Motorola University in developing different materials for different types of learners. This has included a matrix of nine possibilities for three learning styles and three types of cultural difference. Other work by Susan Montgomery (i) has involved the use of multimedia through an interactive web-site for different learning styles. The styles she has catered for are based on Soloman's inventory of four dimensions for learning styles - processing (active/reflective), perception (sensing/intuitive), input (visual/verbal) and understanding (sequential/global).
There are many tools available to teachers in the on-line environment and the scope of on-line education can include the many hybrid options. What aspects of the course are best taught face-to-face? What can be best learnt from on-line simulations? How should students work together? The potential is there for teachers to have a palette of new learning technologies and techniques at their fingertips, a spectrum of possibilities and to be able to choose the best technology and the best learning environment for each learner. Teams of instructional designers could develop materials that would suit a range of different learning styles and these could stand alone or enhance face-to-face based instruction. A model such as this would require a substantial professional development program to support the teachers and one of the issues would be how best to provide teachers with the competence and confidence that they could choose the best method of instruction for each learner.
Please share your thoughts with this discussion group and comment on the introduction above or respond to one of the following questions.
Present research is trying to determine what are the critical factors for quality learning in the on-line environment. It is important to get the student perspective, but also to see if educators views are congruent with those of students. At the time of writing we only have some of the educators’ perspectives and are still waiting for the return of questionnaires from students. The diagram below summarises these views.
FACTORS FOR QUALITY IN ON-LINE LEARNING
We – Phoebe and Joan – would really like to hear from you regarding what your thoughts on the factors determining quality on-line learning for students.
What do you consider to be the five most important factors for students in quality on-line learning? Please list them in priority order and post them to the discussion. Also, please post any relevant demographic detail – such as whether you are a teacher, manager, support staff, and any factors which influence the quality factors.
In considering the above diagram - what other factors are important? What else should be included? Are there any aspects that should be deleted?
(i) Montgomery S. Addressing diverse learning styles through the use of multimedia
(ii) Salmon, G. "E-moderating: the key to teaching and learning online" Kogan Page 2000
Last updated: 2 October 2000