Introducing Online/Distance Learning

Why have we moved so many courses online? As students, do you feel like online courses are as good as face-to-face courses? What are the major differences between online and FTF courses for you as a student? Whether you have taught one or not, what do you think the differences are for the instructor? How do we know if the formats require different skills or result in different learning outcomes? Do we?

Students and faculty benefit from the flexibility of online education.  Enrollment has steadily increased each year in online education, since 2002 (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Students can work, raise a family, and continue their education (take online courses) during the time of day that works best for their schedule.  I have been an online student for many years.  Several of my courses for my undergraduate degree were online in the early 1990s.  My MLIS degree from UNT was a hybrid distance program, similar to my current distributed PhD program.  I prefer online courses as a student.  However, the majority of the online courses I have taken do include some aspect of synchronous meetings.  These synchronous meetings are important to me, even though a small amount of flexibility is removed, and may aid in the success of student retention and learning.  There is a difference between a fully online course without verbal interaction with the instructor and online courses that include online course meetings.  The students in a fully online course (those without synchronous meetings or chat) may encounter problems and know it will take hours (or over 24 hours) to get the help they need.  They may not be successful at self-regulating or staying motivated.  They may feel alone.

Online courses also benefit the instructor.  Again, flexibility is an important factor and benefit for those teaching online courses.   A disadvantage is the feeling of always needing to be available.  Because I have been a student needing help and waiting for a response from an instructor, I am worried about not being available when needed by a student.  Having email on my phone and the use of text messaging has relieved some of this worry.  The use of synchronous meetings, video instructions and introductions, and the use of various tools for collaboration are key areas of research for me.  I want to know how students feel about synchronous meetings.  Does the use of this result in different learning outcomes?  Would the use of collaboration tools within a mastery-based software course increase learning and student retention? There is a need to research the various formats of online courses to determine if the learning outcomes are different.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Newburyport, MA:  Sloan Consortium.

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