From online information to online learning
No matter which subject learners are interested in they can be sure to find hundreds of texts and videos about it on the internet. How then should we deal with this information and how can the internet be used to improve learning?
For quite some time, the use of online content in schools was associated with ‘flipped classrooms’. This meant enabling students to view online content at home, so that they could use the time they spent in school for explanations, to ask questions, undertake tasks, and develop a deeper understanding of the material. These days, complete learning programmes are available online. Consequently, classrooms can now be used to provide students with the space they need to support each other when they come into difficulties, and to enable teachers to steer learning in a particular direction or provide learners with further input.
Similarly, universities began combining online content provision with a broad range of possibilities for exchange. However, this setting did not necessarily promote structured learning because course material was available 24 hours a day. Accordingly, most massive open online courses (MOOCs) are now run according to specific schedules, and they even set the order in which tests, discussions, videos and texts should be studied. Teaching, therefore, has certainly arrived in the digital age. Digital learning enables students to be provided with instant feedback (such as during multiple choice tests). But the great advantage of this system is that it provides learners with feedback precisely at the time when they are most interested in knowing whether their answers are correct.
Online learning ensures a learner’s individual pace can be taken into account
Online courses are often closely linked to the practical use of the material under study. This is because the versatility of online course materials means that learners can quickly search for the material they need, and they can do so whenever they want. This approach is useful as studies have shown that learners are most likely to remember what they have learned after having practically applied the course material. Moreover, online formats can also take the individuality of learning processes into account: everyone has their own learning pace, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Online formats, therefore, enable learners to skip through course material that they have already understood and to focus on other areas. Moreover, students can do this as often (and in as many different ways) as they need to.
Is the move towards online learning associated with any particular risks? Despite all of their advantages, online formats are not the right thing for everyone. Some children and adults need something concrete in front of them in order to learn. Learning via the internet, therefore, should never completely replace teachers. Teachers and ‘coaches’ can do something that online courses cannot: they can encourage students to learn, ensure that they do not become distracted, focus on a learner’s specific difficulties, and provide a class with a feeling of learning together. Finally, teachers can properly integrate laughter, disappointment and anger – all of which form part of every learning process – into learning. An optimal learning environment, therefore, requires not just the forms of exchange that are only possible within learning communities, but also space for individual learning; it is this latter aspect that can be supported through online formats.