Online education has radically changed the landscape of modern education. We’re learning in a new and more fluid environment, one ripe with opportunities for students of every kind. Below are seven current trends in online education. These emergent approaches to content and curriculum are part of a whole new wave of learning opportunities distinguished by web mediation. As these trends demonstrate, online education is producing a whole new set of strategies for improving engagement, retention, and mastery.
1. Virtual Learning Environments (Blackboard, Canvas, Renweb, etc.)
This innovation replaces an office-building’s worth of administrators, teaching assistants, file cabinets, and paperwork. Virtual leaning environments (VLE) such as Blackboard, Canvas, and Renweb extend both the classroom and the administrator’s office. Blackboard at once handles teaching duties such as gradebooks, auto-scoring, and attendance sheets, and administrative duties, such as enrollment, updating class lists, auto-sending emails for absent students, notifying people of unpaid bills, and tracking payroll and accounting information.
Blackboard is also user-friendly. Along with good technical support from its publisher, if your school uses Blackboard, there’s probably a technology or IT department you can call whenever you need help. The bad news: if you have any fundamental dislike for Blackboard, tough luck. Most every school uses it these days. As a student, it’s important that you get familiar with your school’s virtual learning environment. Typically, students have their own personalized account within the system. You should access your account often, at least during the early part of your school semester, so you can make sure you receive every email, every assignment posting, and can follow everything students and teachers are posting on discussion boards.
2. Flipped Classroom
Ever labored on homework, late on a school night, only to get stuck on one problem? You can’t finish your homework because the next ten questions are just like that one. You wrestle and struggle, but the solution eludes you. Frustrated, you pack it in. The next morning you awake to a headache, bags under your eyes, and your homework largely unfinished. This phenomenon is common in traditional classrooms. The flipped classroom aims to resolve this problem.
The flipped classroom turns everything around, switching the time devoted to homework and class lectures. You’ll complete assignments in the classroom instead of at home. This means that whey you get stuck on a problem, the teacher is right there to coach you along. Meanwhile, classwork and lesson plans can be done at home through video lectures and on-screen tutorials. Many math and science classrooms have adopted this model, made famous by the highly acclaimed Khan Academy.
3. Mastery Learning
Many online colleges and schools make heavy use of mastery learning. The concept has been around for a while, but it gained popularity in online education thanks to Khan Academy. Mastery learning requires students to master a concept or skill before moving ahead. Instead of treating a 60 or 70 as a “passing grade,” students are expected to demonstrate mastery in that topic by answering all questions correctly.
This standard sounds hard, but it makes good sense if you think about it. We wouldn’t settle for a cardiologist who is only ninety percent competent to perform heart surgery; or a dentist who cleans only seventy percent of your teeth. Likewise, mastery learning requires students to master the material with demonstrable one hundred percent competency. For Khan academy students, mastery is measured as ten correct answers in a row, with the questions drawn from a battery of subject-specific questions.
If your school utilizes mastery learning, then expect a lot of retesting. You’ll also want to make heavy use of online tutorials and any teacher assistance available to you. You can’t coast on a score of 70 and keep flowing through your degree program. You’ll need to fully grasp the material or else your college experience will be slow and painstaking.
4. Project-Based Learning
Online colleges can be surprisingly adept at project-based learning (PBL). Many conventional classrooms have long operated on a project-based model, where instead of reading chapters, answering questions, and taking tests, students work on subject-specific educational projects such as building a greenhouse, designing a website, or debating the specifics of the French Revolution — possibly in era-accurate garb.
Online colleges, of course, must operate a little differently, since you can’t exactly build a literal greenhouse entirely online. You can, however, construct 3D models of buildings, design web pages, write short stories, and solve puzzles.
Projects are often group work but they aren’ to be. Well-designed PBL programs cover all the main learning outcomes expected for a given subject area while also training students to share and organize responsibilities, give peer review, work in teams, engage in self-directed learning, break down projects into discrete and manageable parts, and solve complex problems. It’s important that, as an online student, you remain plugged into the process. You will need to learn how to communicate, cooperate, and be a good team player. A great deal of your success in a PBL setting depends on your ability to work with other students through the online medium.
5. Collaborative Learning
For many online students, isolation can be a serious challenge. They may drift collectively through their studies as strangers who never truly engage one another. Fortunately, schools and teachers are increasingly keen to this concern. A growing effort implements collaborative online learning strategies to confront this challenge.
Collaborative learning — sometimes known as “learning communities” or “cooperative learning” — refers to the commonsense notion that we often learn best by working with others as a group. Collaborative learning applies a deliberate goal-oriented focus to these exercises so students are not just working together on an activity, but are also actively learning from each other, through each other, and about each other, all while completing assignments together.
In online education, collaborative learning is powered by a wide range of social media technologies including videoconferencing, texting, email, teleconferencing, and workflow programs such as Trello and Slack. Each of these applications has helped to make the world a smaller place for students, making global collaboration a real possibility.
Collaborative learning is an increasingly popular option in today’s online classrooms. As an online student, don’t be surprised if you are called upon to collaborate with classmates on assignments. You would do well to learn how to use some collaborative platforms. In addition to Trello and Slack, commonly used applications include ClearSlide, GoogleDocs, and Skype. Chances are you’ll also eventually use one or all of these applications in your professional life as well.
6. Hybrid Learning
Hybrid or blended learning — where students utilize a mix of online and on-campus resources — is an attractive option for many students, especially those who live within reasonable distance of campus but still require the flexibility that comes with online classroom attendance. By taking a combination of both online and in-person classes, you can balance the convenience and accessibility of online attendance with access to campus resources, including professors, libraries, and your fellow classmates.
Some schools even demand the hybrid option because of state or schoolwide restrictions for online classes. In California, most online college programs require students to attend a portion of their classes in a brick-and-mortar classroom. For many students, the hybrid model is the more attractive model anyway. A program entirely online can be too isolating for some learners. You would do well to identify which model suits you best. Are you a self-starter? Then an all-online model may work for you. But if you find you learn best with social stimuli or simply the connectivity you feel in a physical classroom, then you may need a hybrid program.
One of the most surprising areas for innovation in online education comes from the homeschooling movement. Many homeschools utilize college-level online education, whether through dual-enrollment classes, dual-credit classes, or simply the administration of college-level courseware for middle and high school students. As such, online education has been particularly conducive to advances in the unschooling movement.
The premise that people are naturally curious undergirds this learning style. Instead of letting traditional schooling beat the fun out of learning, unschooling nurtures and encourages natural curiosity, allowing students to choose what to learn and how to learn it. For creative and adventurous learners, unschooling promotes a borderless world of exploration, one that online technology enables to expanded almost infinitely. This means that your conventional online class schedule might also be supplemented by formal learning around informal hobbies, pet projects, and personal adventures.
If you are studying aeronautical engineering, for example, perhaps you are also building virtual 3D models and participating in chat rooms on rocket design. You may be cataloging the best instructional videos on aerodynamics. You might also use this approach to audit classes, peruse free courseware, watch videos, or read lecture notes in your spare time. At it’s heart, unschooling is that stubborn conviction that education is not the same as schooling. Sometimes, you learn better by investigating the things that interest you, regardless of what the class schedule tells you to do. Online education significantly enhances and diversifies your opportunity to drive your own learning.
These trends in online education are creating new opportunities for learning and new models for success. Leave a comment and let us know which strategies have proven successful for you, either as a teacher or a student!