Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 17, 2012

The Challenge of Online Teaching and Learning

The Twin Cities Daily Planet is running a series of articles on online learning. Yesterday Sheila Regan wrote about some of the options and reasons that students in Minnesota go online

Online learning takes many different forms. Sometimes it is a teacher using internet resources in the classroom. At other times, students take a fully-online course, working either from home or in the computer lab or media center at their school. In blended or hybrid courses, the students meet with the teacher once or twice a week. In the most fully online format, students go to an online-only charter or alternative school. The Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) provides a list of all the accredited online learning providers statewide.

Some of the reasons for going online to learn include making up credits, scheduling issues, an alternative to regular school – and in rural areas specifically online classes are an opportunity to take classes that might not otherwise be available or may not be available when a student needs them. Online programs are also offered (in a related article) as an option for kids who learn at a different pace, especially if that pace is very fast. In the spirit of full disclosure, I know the family featured in the article about online programs; they as a family are very technically inclined and very bright. Online courses have been a boon to parents and kids!

Today the Sheila looks at best practices for teaching online. One practitioner offers advice…

Robert Bilyk, Director for the Center for Online Learning at Metro State University, said the key to successful online learning is having a structured presence. “It’s really important that the instructor reaches out,” he said. Instructors need to be welcoming, and must respond to students in a timely manner. The instructors must “help students one on one,” he said. “That is the number one key thing,” he said. “Once a student feels the course is instructor-less, the student gets alienated from the course.”

The article also looks as recent audit of online learning programs…

The state audit showed that while the number of online course registrations had quadrupled in the last few years, online students were less likely to finish the courses they started. Full-time online students were more likely to drop out than students in general, and had significantly lower proficiency rates on the math MCA-II, although their proficiency rates in reading were similar to those of other students.

One reason noted for the discrepancy is that some students who move to online learning have had challenges in traditional school setting so they may not be predisposed to succeed in an academic setting. I was surprised to hear the downside of online learning, as it  was somewhat contrary to results I had previously read – but I suspect it depends on what you want to measure and find.

It makes sense to take a closer look at online learning; I reported earlier this month on legislative strides to bring a little online learning to all students. There are pushes from almost all side to move on it – we just need to make sure that the students, teachers, parents and infrastructure are prepared to help it move forward! (An online education roadmap like Wisconsin’s might help.)


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