5 Key Pillars of Online Learning4 min read

Remember MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, as they are called? They were all the rage a few years ago. Each was promising paradigm shifts in teacher-learner relationship, and, above all, a sort of a revolution that would ensue in the interaction between the learner and the textbook.

Nowadays, they have slightly blended into the background noise of the humming and buzzing that surrounds innovative education technology. However, their main principles remain key pillars for online learning in general, as they were founded on conclusions following decades of reasearch and trials.

In short, online learning strives to offer content to a virtually unlimited amount of participants, and are focused on making the learning process more effortless and interactive for both parties. If you are wondering what this exactly means and are in need of concrete examples, watch Anant Agarwal’s TED talk on MOOCs, and take a look at the 5 key pillars of online learning:

1. Active Learning

Active learning mainly concerns engaging students into interactive and captivating content. Online learning takes a step away from the age-old sage-on-the-stage model, and gives students an active role in their learning. There is in fact a big difference between reading out of a massive textbook to yourself and being immersed in an interactive exercise which can use the power of the latest technology to explain educational content. Digital courses allow the student to get into a more active and intimate contact with the material, and thus understand and learn by doing, rather than by passively absorbing.

So how can we implement active learning exactly? For example, the SOWISO platform does this by adding interactive elements to theory pages, but our random examples are a great example too. Students can click through several examples, from easy to difficult and back again, seeing exactly what they want to see when they want to see it. Our interactive exercises allow students to input mathematical calculations, plot graphs our draw vectors, and give feedback the student can use immediately.

2. Self-Pacing

Self-pacing refers to giving more power to the learners and have them decide at what speed they want to listen to a lecture, take notes or solve exercises. Essentially, this means that the learner is in control of the media that is being used. They could pause, play, rewind, or skip any video, theory page, audio recording or exercise. The material is therefore adaptable to the individual student, rather than having the student adapt to the individual materials.

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As mentioned above, adaptivity is the key to introducing self-pacing to online learning. How exactly you want to include adaptive learning depends on the context, but SOWISO uses diagnostic tests that either unlock the next chapter when the students show that they have mastered the content of that chapter, or open up a guided path to mastering said content, before they can move on to the next chapter.

Online Learning: Self-paced Learning
Image Source: Cult of Pedagogy

3. Instant Feedback

Instant feedback has become possible with computer technology becoming ever more sophisticated. Students can now receive suggestions and comments as they are solving exercises, in real time. Not only does this save a huge amount of time and frustration, it also encourages the students to try again in case the answer is incorrect, or advance further if it is correct. In a nutshell, the material ‘comes alive’ and becomes a partner in the learning journey, rather than an obstacle.

Introducing online learning in the classroom means you can reap the benefits of what technology can offer. Especially in large classrooms, giving everyone instant quality feedback as a teacher is impossible. The SOWISO platform prides itself on its ability to analyze the input of the student, and immediately give in-depth, non-binary personalized hints to get them on the right track.

4. Gamification

Gamification refers to the idea of using game mechanics to encourage higher engagement with the product. In the case of MOOCs this includes adding achievements and similar incentives in order to facilitate learning and motivate the student to keep on going. Agarwal uses the example of building with lego blocks to illustrate how easy and natural gamification could make learning. If we are able to break the problem down to its simplest constitutive elements, then we can use those familiar blocks of knowledge to build them one on top of the other.

SOWISO implemented achievements, but also has fun exercise types like crossword puzzles! Read more about that here.

5. Peer Learning

The last point Agarwal mentions involves a sort of crowdsourcing. Peer learning relies on students interacting and discussing the subject matter amongst each other. By doing so, they create a community where members support and learn from each other reciprocally. The idea of peer learning is not per se anything new, but nowadays it looks more promising than ever, as students are all connected through the internet, and can participate in discussion boards (either on the SOWISO platform, or on Facebook and other online forums).

Let’s talk again soon!

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