Online learning has become a mainstay of higher education and continuous professional development and all evidence indicates it will remain so.
The shift to online learning has been sustained over the course of the 2000s, with top institutions like Harvard University experimenting with online delivery through Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and embedding online learning specialists into their institutions, like the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT).
As of 2015, as many as six million learners were enrolled in some level of online learning in the USA. Of this number, nearly five million were completing an undergraduate degree.
The move online provided top institutions with several online learning benefits, including learner-centred tools that maximise engagement, communication and workstreams to save faculty administrative hours, and increase their reach to learners and faculty across the globe.
Since the move towards online learning was dramatically accelerated due to COVID-19, we continue to discover how online learning benefits students and institutions. We’ll take a look at a few of these next.
Integrated and Scalable Solutions
Online courses do require time and monetary investments upfront. But down the line, this mode of delivery saves a great deal of time and resources for institutions and faculty.
“Hubble has the expertise to assist faculty to convert content online, so that relieves a lot of the faculty worry. They just need to share their expert knowledge and then we will take it and convert it to an engaging and effective online solution. A lot of faculty members feel that they are alone in making sure lessons are effective online and that is a misconception. We’re here to support them, save them time, and make the process more enjoyable,” says Hubble Studios Learning Designer Clodagh Mannion, a former lecturer in criminology.
Online course designers work with faculty to record their specialised knowledge and teaching approach and adapt it to be delivered in the online space. That’s a big step. But once it’s done, it’s far easier to update and deliver online courses, which is one of many powerful online learning benefits for teachers.
There’s significant red tape involved in making amendments or redeveloping courses, and so it can be extremely challenging to keep courses up to date and relevant to learners.
“In traditional lecture rooms you rely on the lecturer bringing current events or expert opinions to the classroom,” Clodagh explains. “With online courses, there is the possibility to bring in experts quickly and easily. This allows for the learners to hear information first-hand. Another aspect is that new content being brought in can be checked and quality assured a lot quicker and by a more diverse group of people.”
Improved Communication and Engagement
One of the top benefits of online learning comes from centralising resources, information and communication.
“My experience is that lecturers are often asked the same questions in face-to-face classes,” notes Mannion. Moreover, there is a risk that learners will often get and disseminate inaccurate information to fellow learners, says Clodagh. And faculty have to spend extra time re-clarifying the information.
One of many online learning benefits is that there is a single source of truth, so learners know exactly where to find information on deadlines and any other course requirements.
Online discussion spaces also provide learning and collaborative opportunities for all learners, regardless of their location. It’s a means for more tentative learners, who might otherwise be too nervous to speak up in class, to engage and ask questions.
“One challenge that many faculty members experience is that there are some learners who are reluctant to speak up in face-to-face lectures. Learners often have a lot to say but they are reluctant to speak. Online learning really helps those learners to contribute to the class discussions.” says Clodagh. And since they’ll be able to see which questions other learners are asking, they’ll feel more confident asking their own.
“For the learners who are too nervous to put their point across, lecturers can keep an eye on formative assessments to make sure those learners are keeping up with the course and understanding it,” Clodagh continues.
With less time spent clearing up false information, and answering repetitive questions, faculty can focus on engaging with learners on course content. This responsiveness and interaction are shown to be key predictors of online learner satisfaction and are a valuable benefit of online learning.
Courses can be accessed and delivered from just about anywhere. This means that if they prefer, learners can access courses from the comfort of their own homes. This flexibility is one of numerous online learning benefits, and opens up learning opportunities to many more individuals.
Not only does this make it easier to study through top institutions that might be across the globe, but learners can incorporate coursework into their busy lives without needing to uproot themselves completely.
A learner who is studying and working could up their skillset without needing to consider relocation, travel, study visas and all the rigmarole that comes along with that.
This comes with major perks for individual students, but it benefits the quality of the learning experience as well. With a broader body of learners, comes a more diverse set of experiences, and learner insights.
Of course, this does pack in a few logistical challenges for institutions. They need to consider the impact that differences in time zone and language might have on course delivery, and account for these in their planning.
Improved Productivity and Time Management
With support from experts in online delivery, faculty can focus on engaging with their learners and delivering a quality learning experience. This is one of the major online learning benefits for teachers.
Online models allow for a large chunk of administrative work to be taken off your faculty’s plate. With class lists generated and auto-grading of formative assessments like quizzes, their time is freed up to interact with learners and grade summative assessments.
This focus on increased engagement is one of the top benefits of online learning and is reflected in learners’ perceptions of courses, as well as their overall performance.
Moreover, with quizzes and other knowledge checks integrated into the learning experience, learners are well-placed to monitor their own level of understanding so they can revisit course materials as needed. This helps to flag any potential problem areas without additional hours needed from faculty.
Increased Learning and Collaboration
By making use of industry best practices for online learning such as student-centred learning and custom learning pathways, learning designers can optimise courses to engage the learner. This boosts learner engagement and improves learning outcomes.
Another benefit of online learning comes from a diversified student body. With courses accessible to learners across different geographical and cultural contexts, online discussions involve broader engagement, new perspectives, and varied insights on topics. These sorts of interactive learning exercises promote both learner–learner and learner–faculty engagement, which fosters a sense of connection and belonging in the learning space.
Another benefit of online learning is that it caters to varied learning styles. Strategies like active learning, gamification, and social learning find ways to place the learner in the driving seat and ensure course content is relevant and engaging. These approaches push learners to take a more active role in the learning experience, which in turn helps them to gain confidence and for their learning experience to be more meaningful.
For example, a learning designer might make use of adaptive learning techniques to customise learning paths that are matched to learner needs and behaviour in the online classroom. This provides for a more personalised and effective learning experience.
Improved Learner Experience
With learners and faculty able to participate from across the globe, learners gain a broader, more global perspective. This is a key example of how online learning benefits students.
Nursing students participating in an online discussion on say, local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, would be able to share insights into social, cultural, political and economic factors that might affect healthcare delivery in their country of residence. In such a dynamic, learners would understand far more about the state of global public health than if they had approached the topic through a single lens.
This broadening of participants also pushes learners to engage in critical thinking. While critical thinking is part and parcel of education in general, a benefit of online learning is that learners are able to practice this in ways that would have been unlikely in a face-to-face classroom setting. In face-to-face, participants are more likely to be engaging with learners who live and work in similar areas, but online classes expose learners to contexts that are vastly different to their own. Since online learning should encompass numerous opportunities for these students to discuss the ideas they’re learning and how they might apply, this diversity will help to challenge pre-held ideas and positions.
Engaging with learners from across the globe, “prompts them to think critically about what their classmates have said and why. And consider how they need to respond. This also helps learners to question their own mindset,” says Clodagh.
With insights into the benefits of online learning, you’re ready to investigate tailor-made learning solutions for your institution. Get in touch with Hubble Studios to discuss how we can help you.