What is Online Learning?


Online learning is not new. What has made the topic new is the recent and unprecedented focus on providing learning via the Internet that has been stimulated by the tremendous interest in massive open online courses (MOOCs). What is new in this space is that online learning has “come of age;” the design of online learning is (more and more) specifically intended to encompass the latest research, the most promising developments, and new emerging business models in the online learning environment. At many institutions, online learning is an area newly ripe for experimentation — some would argue it is undergoing a sea change, with every dimension of the process open for reconceptualization. On campuses around the globe, virtually every aspect of how students connect with institutions and each other to learn online is being reworked, rethought, and redone — but it will be some time yet before ideas coalesce enough to be validated by research and implemented broadly.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • This is the future of HE. We have to get away from the silo thinking and open th univeristies for students sampling their own programmes in accordance with their needs and interests - and the needs and interests of the surrounding world, business not least. Furthermore, OL (my initials, by the way) leads to a democratization of education - needed world wide. - ole ole Sep 29, 2015
  • Please see my comments under BYOD. BYOD, online, mobile, and experiential learning are a part of one broad shift - a blended learning ecosystem. Online learning on its own, is the major component, but the lines between and among these trends continue to blur. "Online Learning" as a framework is certainly the driver behind all of it. "Online Learning" continues to evolve and improve - incrementally driving all of this forward. It continues to be the top change-agent in modern education. - brad.hinson brad.hinson Oct 9, 2015 Brad's observation that online learning is a framework helps us see why this topic is so important and continues to be such an important center of attention for so many of us and the learners we serve. It connects many of the topics we track (MOOCs, telepresence, the Flipped Classroom model, adaptive learning technologies, and virtual assistants, for example). It reduces some of the barriers our learners face in terms of gaining access to first-rate learning opportunities. And it continues to evolve in ways that--at least for now--keep it from disappearing from the three time horizons in which we work. There are plenty of positive elements to it, and there are still plenty of areas sorely in need of improvement--for example, we still see plenty of uninspiring online offerings produced by our colleagues who don't yet understand how to fully engage learners in online environments. Some of the most interesting and successful connectivist MOOCs (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC--#etmooc, for example), provide us with examples of how learning communities can develop out of well-facilitated learning experiences and also remind us that what we learn through online learning can help us improve our onsite learning offerings, too. As so many have suggested, we'll know online (or elearning) has fully arrived when it is simply referred to as "learning"--but we have a long way to go, and the path ahead of us offers plenty of exciting and rewarding possibilities.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 13, 2015 - lkoster lkoster Oct 22, 2015
  • We're looking at online in several ways: professional development for executives and leaders, and instructional certificates. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Oct 12, 2015
  • Online learning is already a bit of an antique term. All learning these days has some online in it. That is, I agree with Paul all the way. The only thing I would add is that the death of the semester is next. Online unbundles time and space. We've done a pretty good job with the space component. Next up, learning when you need it, for as long as you need it to get it.. - david.thomas david.thomas Oct 16, 2015
  • We have been at the forefront of MOOC revolution in the UK and, in MOOC terms, we have been very successful. The idea of free education for all is beguiling, but statistics seem to indicate that most MOOC participants have at least first degrees, so we are not so much educating the uneducated masses as augmenting the education of those who have already had the benefit of a traditional campus-based education. Even so, completion rates are low, even though (or perhaps even because!) the MOOCs are free, and as such they are effectively expensively produced adverts for institutions that are almost exclusively consumed by people who have no reason to buy anything else we have to offer. (- damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 20, 2015)
  • One goal we have identified at our school is "flexible learning". We have students with so many varied backgrounds and situations, we need to offer courses in a variety of formats to ensure that students can get their diplomas and degrees in the format that suits them best. In some cases, it may replace the traditional classroom, but in most, online learning promotes flexibility. - lkoster lkoster Oct 22, 2015
  • It's such a broad topic. Can it be broken down a bit? E.g., formal vs. informal, dissemination vs. participation. Online courses are typically formal and involve both dissemination and participation. MOOC's allow for a range of formal and informal learning, and may be more about dissemination than participation. Open-ness of pathways? Linear courses vs. network resources? - edward.oneill edward.oneill Oct 25, 2015

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • As OL (thanks, Ole) grows, the structure of classes is changing. Seems classes can be both....thousands online and individual. Harvard is entering a new model: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/09/09/426735918/has-harvard-quashed-virtual-classroom-naysayers We need more discussion and models on 'how to teach' effectively in large group settings as well in a non-face-to-face environment. - michael.lambert michael.lambert Sep 29, 2015 - ole ole Oct 6, 2015 - helga helga Oct 6, 2015 - lkoster lkoster Oct 22, 2015
  • Introduction of the "nano-degree." Nano-degree is simply a different kind of beast than a liberal arts degree. Nano-degrees are targeted training for a single job. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ccap/2015/01/19/nano-degrees-as-a-new-model-to-model-to-integrate-into-higher-education/ - michael.lambert michael.lambert Sep 29, 2015
  • Nano Degrees and Micro Degrees blend traditional and continued education opportunities - Maya Maya Oct 19, 2015Maya Georgieva
  • Loneliness can become a problem as we focus on the visual screen, sit behind our screens, eroding our interaction with others. "Children need to see the value of community, of sharing, of group work. Self-absorption, the feeling of being alone, of not achieving, leads to depression and related health problems." - michael.lambert michael.lambert Oct 1, 2015. Loneliness is quite a problem amongst our students at AU, DK, so yes: this technology should not stoke up this problem by totally replacing direct social learning - but can to some extent be an alternative due to geographical issues. And of course, it is an inevitable part of blended learning/flipped classroom. Since online learning is cheaper than traditional teaching, we need to be aware of the administrators and their conastant wish for cost reduction. - ole ole Oct 6, 2015 - momillard momillard Oct 22, 2015 - helga helga Oct 6, 2015 Yes, loneliness remains a perennial problem for learners who aren't (yet) comfortable working within those environments or who don't have the skills to interact at significant levels in online environments, but this is a solvable challenge, as we see when we effectively work within Blackboard Collaborate or other online platforms that provide stimulating, engaging experiences synchronously as well as asynchronously. Helping our learners (and some of our teaching-training-learning colleagues) become more proficient and comfortable in online as well as blended learning environments is a challenge well worth addressing.
  • The description does a great job of calling attention to the "sea change" that is occurring and to the fact that reconceptualization at many levels continues at a breathtakingly rapid pace. What is worth adding is that much of what receives plenty of attention masks much more significant possibilities that are far from mainstream at this point--one great example is that most people thinking of MOOCs are thinking about the model visible through Udacity and others without realizing that connectivist MOOCs--far more engaging and immersive forms of online learning--offer plenty of significant, positive opportunities for us and for the learners we serve.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 13, 2015
  • One thing that interests me is how these old forms of distance ed--teleconferencing and correspondence courses have now snuck into the online learning tent. Without largely revising their approach, they now go under the guise of online in a fashion that would be similar to typing a letter, taking a photo of it with your phone, attaching the file to an email and say that you sent an email.- david.thomas david.thomas Oct 16, 2015 This is true. Many online offerings leave alot to be desired from a teaching and learning perspective - lkoster lkoster Oct 22, 2015
  • I mentioned this last year and it got no uptake, so I will poke at it again this year - a theme we should discuss and a major challenge with online learning (which as noted above, we are all doing) is managing the production quality of online courses. This involves many people and skillsets (instructional designers, technologists, editor), many complex workflows, and increasing data integration with the SIS for identity management, grading, etc. This does not even touch on the training for faculty to develop their skills in adapting courses material for this delivery mode, and faculty learning to have both teaching presence and facilitation skills for engaging learners at distance. Tony Bates has been writing about this for years - online does not mean lower cost - it is a shift of costs into often new uncharted territory - and some of this involves creating industrial workflow approaches to manage constant quality issues with course rollovers, integration of third party content (publishers and open texts) etc.- vforssman vforssman Oct 18, 2015 We are finding this in our school. To provide high quality online courses take a great deal of resources and money. The lead time to develop an online course (And the lack of resources) is causing a bottleneck in our school. - lkoster lkoster Oct 22, 2015
  • Online learning is, arguably, part of the solution to the "iron triangle" problem of seeking low cost, high quality, and broad access to education simultaneously. Online learning has certainly been strategic at the University of Central Florida (UCF) for nearly 20 years, and one key to the broadly perceived successes of these efforts has been an overt emphasis on faculty development and support. A recent third-party case study analysis of UCF's efforts is at: http://www.sr.ithaka.org/publications/breaking-the-iron-triangle-at-the-university-of-central-florida - kelvin kelvin Oct 25, 2015
  • There is so much more to university than "just" education, and whilst is still entirely possible to be lonely whilst surrounded by people on a campus, sitting alone in front of a screen makes it almost inevitable. I have been teaching online for many years now, and whilst we do engage students who, for whatever reasons, are unable or unwilling to actually attend the university, it really is no substitute for learning surrounded by, and interacting directly with, actual people in the real world. I was an academic before I became a learning technologist, a poacher turned gamekeeper if you will, and I agree that the quality of some online provision is questionable. Having said that, the same could be said of some of the offline provision... At least so I have heard from people working at other institutions! More education for the educators has to be the way forward, but with academics already under increasing pressure due to their workloads, how on earth will they find the time? Perhaps they could sign up for a MOOC?! (- damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 20, 2015)
  • I agree that models are changing. Part of this shift involves the relationship between face-to-face and online components. Yale has recently joined Harvard's CS50 course. The same course is taught at both places, with a few physical visits from the Harvard professor to the Yale campus. Some people take CS50 remotely online, while it's also an actual, credit-granting course at (now) two institutions. Hence: blended models, institutional sharing, formal and non-informal learners in the same 'course' (content). http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/09/22/cs50-yales-most-popular-course/
    #MayYouLiveInInterestingTimes - edward.oneill edward.oneill Oct 25, 2015
  • Online Module Learning Enhancements
    - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Oct 15, 2015 - ole ole Oct 18, 2015 These tools help to create banners, preview videos and announcement learning objects in a website 'frame' that can increase student engagement. Canva (banner creation) https://www.canva.com/ Animoto (preview videos) https://animoto.com/ Tackk (website 'frame') https://tackk.com/ [Editor's Note: Added here from RQ2.]

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

  • OL is more than a distinct type of class or pedagogy. It is the underlying framework for all of this - emerging pedagogies, shifting institutional business models, research, debate, and etc. OL continues to have a pervasive impact on higher education in terms of instruction, operations, student affairs, and etc. OL is an institutional change-agent. - brad.hinson brad.hinson Oct 9, 2015
  • Some of the recent news/commentary/thinking seems to revolve around the idea of online learning (like nanodegrees) will 'unbundle' higher ed as we know it. See: http://www.newsweek.com/2015/10/16/college-nanodegrees-379542.html - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Oct 12, 2015
  • One potential impact is that it will continue to provide greater access to educational opportunities if learners and potential learners have access to the technology and tools that supportive online learning environments. Another potential impact is that we will continue to become more effective at meeting learners needs by blending online and onsite learning opportunities (e.g., through the use of models like the Flipped Classroom model and through the use of tools that fall within the overall umbrella of telepresence--connecting onsite learners with onsite learners and vice versa) to the benefit of everyone involved.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 13, 2015
  • As I mentioned above--the end of the semester, block and quarter. Long live the adaptive term date! - david.thomas david.thomas Oct 16, 2015
  • Nano Degrees and Micro Degree offered by Udacity and Coursera may offer alternatives to Higher Education degress. External providers like GeneralAssembly and others are working to offer alternatives to traditional diplomas. As a result of these developments, more universities are looking to offer short courses and certificate programs that respond to desired skills on the market rather than offering full-time residential degrees. See links in the sections below - Maya Maya Oct 19, 2015Maya Georgieva
  • One of the problems I foresee is that we are, once again, creating a further stratification and potential devaluation of degrees. Future employers will ask not only at which college or university you did your degree, but also what your method of study was, and then judge you and your qualification based on the answers that you give. Of course online education is massively attractive for the accountants - a potentially unlimited number of paying students without having to actually have them on campus? What's not to love? And of course we can repurpose the existing lecture capture videos we have without paying royalties to the creators. And use the other learning objects they have created. Then we can sack the academics, sell off the campus, go entirely online, and watch the money roll in. Welcome to the future of HE. You're gonna hate it. (- damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 20, 2015)

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • They are everywhere and well known. OL is so pervasive, that I'm not sure this 'on the horizon' anymore. It's here and now. MIT MIcroMaster Degrees, SNHU, CU Connect. - brad.hinson brad.hinson Oct 9, 2015 Agreeing with Brad that it's pervasive; suggesting that the continuing evolution of online learning and the blending of onsite and online experiences into an overall "learning" environment is something that still is very much growing--those who engage in that level of learning and learning facilitation are well aware of the possibilities, while those still lacking experience aren't quite sure how to approach it.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 13, 2015
  • We've developed a faculty development program for online teaching and creating online courses here at UO and we're currently working on a PD in education with classroom management as its focus. Several ideas are in the wings. - deborah.cooke deborah.cooke Oct 12, 2015
  • We are currently leveraging the Canvas Catalog functionality (catalog.cuonline.edu) to extend the use of our online offerings in MOOC and mini-MOOC style--bending time and space to create access! - david.thomas david.thomas Oct 16, 2015
  • How Nano degrees Are Disrupting Higher Education - https://campustechnology.com/articles/2015/08/05/how-nanodegrees-are-disrupting-higher-education.aspxA New Credential For The Tech Industry -http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/10/15/356199691/a-new-credential-for-the-tech-industry - Maya Maya Oct 19, 2015Maya Georgieva
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