Online learning: Placing efficiency and quality at the AI revolution’s heart

Mark Dawe scopes out the dawning landscape of a sector revolutionised by online and blended learning and sets out how to begin exploring it – with a little help

Mark Dawe scopes out the dawning landscape of a sector revolutionised by online and blended learning and sets out how to begin exploring it – with a little help

13 Feb 2023, 5:00

In an era of tightening budgets and an ever-increasing requirement to demonstrate high-quality learning, online and blended approaches have a central role to play. Accordingly, The Skills Network have been considering the potential efficiency benefits of delivering effective learning in this new landscape.

Benefits for all

Online learning offers a raft of benefits for learners, teachers, colleges and providers. Chief among them are the following:

  • Flexibility: It allows students to access course materials and participate in activities at their own convenience – a great advantage for those who are balancing work, family, or other obligations.
  • Cost-effectiveness: It eliminates expenses associated with travel, accommodation and facilities.
  • Scalability: It allows for the delivery of education and training to a large number of students at once.
  • Pacing: It allows students to move through the material at their own pace, which benefits those who are more advanced as well as those who need more time.
  • A wider range of resources: Multimedia, interactive simulations and online libraries among others can improve the efficiency of educational delivery.
  • Collaboration: Discussion boards, chat rooms and virtual meetings can improve collaboration and communication among students and teachers, which can enhance the overall learning experience.
  • Tracking and assessment: It can track student progress and provide assessment and feedback, improving teachers’ efficiency.

Cost and investment

However, the development of good quality online learning is not cheap because it requires a significant investment of time, resources and expertise.

To truly benefit from all online learning has to offer, we have to consider curriculum development, content creation, developing and maintaining the technologies themselves, supporting and maintaining a high-quality and accessible student experience, accessibility, quality assurance and professional development.

In effect, moving into the world of online learning requires using the kinds of expertise we already have within our teams – such as subject knowledge, instructional design and communication skills – but in a totally new environment. And to that, we need to add whole new areas of professional knowledge:

  • Technological expertise,including knowledge of evolving platforms, tools and resources.
  • Project management, including the ability to plan and organize tasks and resources, set timelines, and monitor progress.
  • Graphic design, including the ability to create visually appealing content that can be navigated across different devices and screen sizes.

What Ofsted wants

Meanwhile, there is an expectation that online learning providers demonstrate their ability to provide an outstanding education that is equivalent to traditional face-to-face learning.

This means online learning should have a clear intent that should be reflected in the curriculum, course content and assessment methods. Online learning should then be implemented using technology and resources that are easy to use and reliable.

The impact of online learning should be regularly evaluated and monitored to ensure that all students are making progress and achieving their learning goals and are prepared for higher education, training or employment.

Where to start?

As with all good teaching the starting place is always a clear learning objective. After that, things diverge quickly.

Engaging interactive content requires using a variety of multimedia such as videos, images, and audio as well as interactive activities like quizzes, simulations, and discussion boards. That’s not unlike an effective classroom, but teachers will need to know how best to present this content so that it is easy to use, reliable and accessible for students who are spread out geographically and completing work in their own time.

This increases the challenge of encouraging student engagement. Online participation relies on providing students with regular feedback, support, and opportunities to assess their progress and creating opportunities for students to collaborate and communicate with each other, such as discussion boards, chat rooms, and virtual meetings.

All of which may sound intimidating, but, as with all good teaching, the key is to get started and then continuously evaluate and improve. One clear advantage is how easy technology makes it to gather feedback from students and instructors and to roll out improvements.

And if that’s not reassuring enough, there’s more good news. With nothing more than minor editing, this whole piece was written by asking ChatGPT some simple questions.

The online revolution in education is only beginning, and I’m already feeling the benefits of improved efficiency.

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