Experiencing Online Learning – The Era of MOOCS (Part 1)

Wednesday, September 13, 5:30 p. m.  As the professor discussed enrolling in an online course in order to experience what online learning is about, I am not excited at all. I have previously completed online courses, and even though one gets to learn from experts of the field, the online learning itself, as a medium, can be challenging. It requires a lot of self-discipline. However, at this time the grading of this experience will count towards an important score, disciplining myself might not be as difficult. It will be boring though.

As I skim through the list of recommended courses, I feel it would be great to explore a new LMS. I have previously done courses from Coursera. After going through the list, I decide upon enrolling in “Deep Learning through Transformative Pedagogy”, Online Learning 1because I want to learn how a great educator can transform her pedagogical practices keeping in view the demands of a changing world. As I scroll through EdX’s LMS I see a few differences: firstly, Coursera has a more visually appealing layout and the distribution of course material is better organized. Secondly, Coursera has a peer feedback system, and descriptive assignments are graded by peers, who are sometimes already practicing in the relevant fields. On the other hand, EdX’s descriptive assignments are computer graded – at least for this course – which from a learner’s point of view puts a question mark to the grading integrity. So on the whole, from a learner’s perspective, I felt that Coursera would be the preferred choice for me for future courses due to easier navigation and no difference in content quality.

After going through the course content of my chosen course, there are a few questions which pop up in my mind: How many of Pakistani schools are actually encouraging deep learning? There are only two schools I am aware of, but even they are trying to meet messed up parental expectations at some level. Then can online courses like these be introduced at higher levels, to serve as a supplement for a deeper understanding of the materials? I have surely benefitted from the material, especially after understanding the role neuroscience plays, in understanding educational approaches. However, keeping the current Pakistani landscape in view, introducing such courses, even for deeper research and understanding, will involve considerations like: Does everyone have easy access to technology at home? Can the computer labs at school serve to facilitate students who don’t have access? Do schools even have the funding for labs in the first place? I am not sure how these issues can be addressed at this stage.

Then there are issues related to learning and pedagogy which have to be addressed: How efficiently is the teacher integrating online learning experience in her lesson plans? Perhaps, if only a relevant module of a course is assigned, it would aid in understanding, and would not raise issues related to self-discipline. Also, as an educator, I would need to keep in mind that the LMS should be user-friendly.

How do we decide that the LMS is user-friendly? From a learner’s perspective, I feel, any learner would prefer to use an LMS with a visually appealing and better-organized layout. So as a designer, these points have to be kept in view. Perhaps, if EdX could work on improving the aesthetics of the website and not place all videos, related to one topic on the same page, the page will serve well as a visual stimulus.

Will online learning work the same for everyone? Probably not.

Informatics – Some benefits of Online Education

As discussed before self-discipline is a major issue. If it is integrated with schools, in the manner discussed above, it might prove beneficial. However, a conscious effort would be needed if a learner is working independently, at his own pace. Then does online learning serve all types of learners? I would say no. It would work for visual learners, provided a realistic study plan has been chalked out. However, it won’t work for kinesthetic learners, as there is no real-time interaction, or assigned hands on interesting work. Also, a teacher assigning an online course or a module will have to take into consideration the uniqueness of learning styles and pair it up with some other engaging activities.

The human element is certainly missing from a fully online setup. These courses can certainly serve to assist learning, but – in my opinion – have to be integrated with other activities to fully utilize them. Even though it is too early to give a recommendation of this particular course to a friend as I have only completed one module, I would say that based on what I have studied, the course content is good for understanding the different viewpoints regarding deep and surface learning presented by educators and neuroscientists. The first module also provides models of schools to demonstrate how deep learning can be facilitated in classroom settings. The module has journal reflections which help us to ponder on our current practices as educators. Lastly, it tests our understanding of the material with MCQ format questions. So the practice, in essence, can be termed as student-centric, but without the essential presence of a human facilitator.

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