Online learning has been enjoying a newfound popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Prior to this time, online learning was sometimes seen as inferior to face-to-face training. However, necessity has meant that organisations that once never would have considered online learning are now looking at how they can keep their courses running in an environment of frequent lockdowns and border closures.
There are many different forms of online learning, and what works for one organisation (or industry area) may not work for another. Depending on the type of online learning model adopted, the student experience will vary.
I have documented a number of phases related to the “Learner Experience Continuum” and how an organisation might transition into the world of online learning. It is important to note that these phases are my own observations only. They are not formally researched, but anecdotal based on a number of years working with training organisations in their move online.
Phase 1: Repository Based System
When moving to online learning for the first time, many organisations adopt a repository-based system where they will provide learner guides and assessments online for the learner to access and download, then they need to upload to the portal when they have completed their work.
Advantages of this approach: Fast to implement and cost effective as it is utilising documents the organisation already has.
Disadvantages of this approach: Being document based there is very low engagement for the learner. There is no oversight on learner progress as their actual work is done offline.
Phase 2: Basic Access
The next step is to make use of the downloaded documents, but supplement with some online quizzing tools for the students to respond to knowledge assessments.
Advantages of this approach: Fast and cost effective, as per the repository based system, with the added advantage of auto-marked assessment for knowledge via the quizzes.
Disadvantages of this approach: The same as the repository-based system, with no oversight of learner progress unless they complete a quiz.
Phase 3: Text on Page
A big leap can be taken to a phase where the resources are moved out of the PDF learner guide and onto the page of the learning management system. This requires students to log on to the system to undertake their reading online.
Advantages of this approach: It brings students back to the platform for all their work, meaning you will be able to see that they are progressing.
Disadvantages of this approach: Reading online isn’t for everyone, some students would prefer a book they can highlight or write on if they are doing a lot of reading. The engagement is still quite low.
Phase 4: Text on Page/Repository plus Live Video
The method that has seen the biggest uptake over the past 12 months is the virtual classroom being added on to the repository resources or text on page. More people than ever now know what Zoom or Teams is.
Advantages of this approach: Live interaction with the students as opposed to them only interacting with the readings.
Disadvantages of this approach: Timing might not suit everyone, or poor bandwidth can mean some students can’t join via video.
Phase 5: Recorded Videos
The next step is including a range of pre-recorded videos that are based on the learning content. This can increase engagement with students watching videos instead of relying on reading text only.
Advantages of this approach: Students are able to undertake the learning at a time suitable to them, and more students are catered for with a mix of reading and video.
Disadvantages of this approach: Accessibility is often an issue as time is not taken to provide a transcript of the video or closed captions.
Phase 6: Social Learning
We are seeing a lot of social learning taking place in face-to-face settings, where learners are helping each other, and this is where we need to head in online learning. This phase sees a mix of pre-recorded videos, live virtual classes, text resources and discussions taking place.
Advantages of this approach: Learners develop a connection with others, and this assists with motivation which is often an issue with online learning.
Disadvantages of this approach: It takes some planning and careful thought. It isn’t as easy a recording some videos or providing a document.
Phase 7: Interactive Learning
Taking learners from passive to active with engagement in the content they are learning. This is often seen in SCORM packages, however there are many tools that can be used to create HTML5 content for learners. This is where we can immerse the learner with virtual tours, draggable content and games.
Advantages of this approach: High engagement for learners as they are needing to ‘do’ something, which helps them retain the content.
Disadvantages of this approach: It takes more time to develop interactive resources (and hence, there is more cost involved).
Phase 8: Comprehensive Interactive Social Learning
All of the above rolled in together! This is achieved when courses are carefully planned and the learning activity for each stage of the course determined and developed.
Advantages of this approach: Highly engaging for all involved.
Disadvantages of this approach: Time and expertise – but you have to start somewhere to make it here.
An organisation can jump straight into any of these phases, they don’t necessarily have to start at Phase 1. Often though this is a good place to start to make use of the Learning Management System to get used to working online, and slowly transition by building on the materials and expertise over time. The next giant step will be the move to virtual and augmented reality.