The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the development and expansion of online education. In just a few days, educational institutions at all levels had to implement teaching methods that they had not previously contemplated. This way of learning has been found to have many advantages. Educational institutions and centres providing both formal and informal training have had to decide whether or not to continue using this format, or to adapt it for future courses.
Just like classroom-based studies, online courses must be designed, organized and conceived according to the needs of the students, and the strengths and weaknesses of technology-based learning must be understood. E-learning must not try to imitate the face-to-face experience, as it offers different and diverse features and choices. Online learning environments must be designed to evolve in technical terms and must have the capacity to absorb such changes. They must be treated as social spaces for exchanging knowledge and for interacting. In fact, such spaces, used in blended learning (b-learning) environments, can involve classroom learning while adding a wide range of tools to the format (Pérez-Mateo and Guitert, 2011).
Online education represents a change in the traditional paradigm, making the role of the student more active while the teacher becomes more of a guide. Indeed, if the student is not actively involved in the learning process, there is a risk of them dropping out. This is why the work done by teachers and tutors to monitor students’ progress is so important.
Each institution is unique, so any online educational model must take into account its specific features. It is the institutions that best know their students and, thus, their needs. Training in blended and online methodologies is needed to avoid mirroring the face-to-face model, and to ensure online spaces for a quality learning experience are designed. In order to efficiently integrate information and communication technologies (ICT) in the learning process and get the best results from them, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of the objectives to be achieved, the resources available and the stages of implementation. All of this must be done while bearing in mind the most important aspect: the student.
Considerations for online learning
Online methodologies provide opportunities for study for people whose other work or family commitments mean they don’t have time to attend face-to-face classes. It allows students to learn anywhere, and at any time, so they can progress in their studies and adapt to changes in their circumstances.
Online learning is commonly, but wrongly, thought to be easier than classroom-based learning. I am sorry to disappoint you, but this is not true. Accredited educational institutions have to adhere to the same standards and quality requirements as classroom-based teaching centres, otherwise they could not award official qualifications. So there are advantages to online learning, but if you are thinking of studying this way, you are going to have to knuckle down and work hard!
Having studied for an online master’s degree at the UOC and having tutored students using this format as well, I can offer you a few tips you may find useful.
- Be realistic about how much time you have available to devote to your studies. Forget the idea that studying online is easier: it isn’t. If you are working full time and you have family commitments, it might not be a good idea to enrol on every course in the first term.
- Start on the right footing. Read the course plan and the assessment criteria to understand how each course will be organized.
- Have a browse around the entire platform and all the sections available, so you slowly get to know your way around.
- Work consistently. Sign in every day and don’t leave activities to the last minute.
- Be organized. Use the calendar tools and draw up a realistic plan of what you need to do each week.
- If you have any doubts, ask! Don’t feel embarrassed.
- The technology is your ally. Use bus or train journeys to read your teachers’ or colleagues’ comments on your mobile or tablet. That way you will get ahead with your work and keep up to date.
- When you are getting ready to do the final project for your bachelor’s or master’s degree, read every single piece of information, several times if necessary. Think ahead about what subject areas you would like to work on; don’t wait until the start of the course.
- Always use the online tools to save your work and avoid any nasty frights.
- Connect with other students taking the same course. Participating in interactions with your colleagues will help you feel better supported.
- Make the most of all the university’s resources: licenses for Microsoft Office, the Library, seminars, training sessions, internships, etc.