Moving online: An Approach

The COVID-19 pandemic forced institutions to move online quickly, with little preparation. But, as weeks and months passed, two things became clear.

An “emergency” approach to online learning was not sustainable or advisable, and higher educational institutions needed clarity and guidance in defining and designing high-quality online education.

The issue of quality is an essential one. After several months of doing their best in a crisis, institutions now face higher expectations from students, their families, and educators about how to design, deliver, and support online learning. Defining what online learning should look like in terms of core elements like relationships, rigour, assessment, and the roles of students and educators is the first step in ensuring learners have the best, most meaningful experience possible.

Blended Learning

Garrison and Vaughan point to many critical elements of a blended learning environment, such as designing for open communication, trust, and critical reflection and discourse. So how do you begin to develop a blended learning course or a module with these elements in mind? It is helpful to consider a few well outlined and defined instructional design approaches to guide you toward these goals. These approaches offer a conceptual framework for thinking about your students’ learning and a rough template for how you might begin planning your course. While each approach offers a slightly different set of instructional design principles, you will notice that there can be quite a bit of overlap between elements of the various methods that borrow from similar teaching pedagogies. These approaches are not necessarily unique to blended learning course design and highlight good pedagogical practices and course design for any learning environment.

The prototype design model is also frequently called iterative design, modular design, or scalable design. The prototype design process is based on the principle of incremental course redesign combined with constant reflection on how well this redesign worked.
The Educator redesigned portions of the course (or modules) one at a time, evaluated their efficacy, made changes, and then “retested” the module before moving on to another course component.

The Educator’s course modules can mean anything from a 10-minute segment of the face-to-face lecture to an entire 2-week-long lesson in the course curriculum. For this reason, the prototype model can be beneficial to educators who want to progressively move from an entirely face-to-face teaching model to a blended learning model and cannot do an entire course redesign for a blended model before the course begins.

Online Learning

Designing for online learning begins with an understanding and adopting five norms. These norms should inform all of our work as educators, whether planning, building, or facilitating online learning experiences. This may require a shift in mindset about why and how we teach for some. For others, these may be a reflection or an extension of work they already do in person.

These norms highlight a crucial feature of online learning environments: fast-paced content coverage where students play a primarily passive role does not work online. Instead, the profound practice of core ideas supported by a trusting, caring community works better.

These five competencies are:

  • Know your online infrastructure.
  • Use online tools to know, support, and empower students.
  • Design online assessments that lead to high-quality student work.
  • Design online learning experiences that students can navigate on their own.
  • Facilitate online learning experiences to support student engagement.

The way we design spaces, experiences, and expectations reflects our beliefs about learning. Those of us who have worked in brick and mortar schools might take this for granted, yet our physical spaces, schedules, rituals and routines all reflect our choices as a community. The design of online spaces and experiences is no different.

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