National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, announced in July 2020, has introduced a sea change in the way education is managed and operated, and even viewed, in India. This welcome change places students and their interests at the heart of all policies and action points. Some of the significant game changers introduced by NEP 2020 include accommodating diverse modes of learning, multiple entry and exit points, concept of ABC (Academic Bank of Credit), transformation in the examination systems, new and improved pedagogy for early childhood development among many others.
What Moved the Needle
The first online learning course could be traced back to 1960s when students at the University of Illinois, USA were learning from a network of connected computer terminals. This was during the time when internet wasn’t even invented. Despite being introduced to the world 60 years ago, the growth and popularity of online learning was rather gradual. However, this narrative changed rapidly in the last 10 years with online learning platforms such as Coursera and edX gaining momentum all over the world. Students’ inclination to take up online learning, higher percentages of enrolment in online courses, increase in the number of public institutions offering complete online programs as well as academic leaders rating the outcome of online learning the same or in some cases, superior to on-campus classrooms, have all contributed to this shift in the way we look at online education. The COVID pandemic dramatically accelerated this transition. It compelled schools, colleges and universities across the globe to go online causing a paradigm shift in the higher education landscape. Today, every university wants to go digital to keep up with the rapidly evolving world of today. With NEP 2020 giving more importance to learner centricity and flexibility, the academic world has whole-heartedly accepted and embraced multiple learning modes such as distance learning, on-campus learning, online learning and blended learning for higher education.
Online and Blended Learning
Online learning course is the one where 80% of course delivery occurs online whereas in blended or hybrid learning models, anywhere 30% to 80% course delivery takes place online. Both modes include face-to-face interactions either in a virtual or on-campus classroom setting. Blended and online learning allows for innovative approaches to both teaching and learning, redefining the way education was delivered traditionally. Therefore, online and blended learning models offer universities and colleges a blank canvas to redesign their courses, curriculum, syllabus, pedagogical and instructional systems, as well as delivery techniques using cutting-edge tools to meet the dynamic and diverse learning needs of today’s students. Online and blended learning is an opportunity to make education more powerful and impactful leveraging the best of what technology has to offer. Therefore, this shift is welcomed by students, faculty and parents alike, with teachers and students having the flexibility and control to teach and learn in the way that works best for them. Studies have shown that online learning is more effective than in-classroom learning. However, recent studies suggest that blended or hybrid learning, which is a combination of both, is the most effective approach to learning with students recording better performance records through this mode of learning.
How to Make Online and Blended Learning Impactful
It’s true that online and blended learning offers more convenience, flexibility and diversity in learning. However, when it comes to the learning outcomes, do these learning models prove more beneficial that traditional classrooms? The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s how when done right, online and blended learning could be game changers for higher education.
Learner Centricity and Ownership
The essence of education is learning. And learning should always revolved around the learners. Online or blended education should grant control to students as well as designate them with higher responsibility of maximising their own learning outcomes. Faculty or instructors should assume the role of facilitators of learning and a guide, supervising and tracking student actions. To be able to do this, colleges and universities can make use of learning platforms that are built specifically for this purpose.
Using a learning platform that offers personalised learning can enables students to understand and track their learning behaviours and patterns. This would help them plan and schedule their study cycle in alignment with what works best for them naturally. Self-monitoring one’s time and pace will enable learners to allocate more time to courses or lessons that are more demanding. Another benefit of tracking personalised learning pathways of students enables teachers to assess student’s receptivity to lesson delivery and adapt to ensure all students understand the course content.
Quickness in Feedback
As teachers and students communicate via digital platforms, the communication could be faster and asynchronous. This is better than the on-campus arrangement where students have to wait to communicate with teachers based on their availability, college schedule and so on.
Diversified Course Content
As online and blended models of learning are dependent on computers and internet, it’s easier to take advantage of the rich and varied resources available on the internet. Using videos, imagery and other resources from different websites could make classes more interesting, engaging and facilitate student understanding.
Collaborative and Social Learning
Offline classes offer few opportunities for socialisation and collaborative learning, however, online learning has a far better infrastructure for student collaboration. For example, presentations, sharing screens, commenting on media, taking quizzes and assessments, participating in polls, conducting discussions can be conducted more effectively in online mode of learning.
Upholding Equality in Learning
In physical classrooms, extroverted students generally overshadow introverted students. Online or blended learning equalises this by allowing students different modes to participate in classes. Students with special requirements may find it difficult adjusting to on-campus classes, which is also managed better in online/blended learning models.
How to Design Online/Blended Courses
The approach to developing an online or blended course should be slightly different from that of offline courses. These are a few key pointers to help universities design an effective and impactful online/blended course.
Set Learning Goals and Outcomes
Establishing clear goals and learning outcomes for every online or blended course is a crucial element of designing any course. This should dictate the designing and development of course content, assessments, exercises and assessments. As most of these would be conducted by digital platforms through automation, it’s important that both – the learner and teacher clearly are aware of the goals and objectives, as there would be no real time instructions.
Clear Instructions and Expectations
Every activity of the online or blended course would need require instructions that students are expected to follow. Taking special care to be specific, clear and accurate with instructions, schedules, delivery timelines, due dates and more, takes up special importance in online learning courses. Aim at communicating dates and schedules as early as possible enabling students to plan their schedules better.
Make Resources Accessible
Whether the course content is offered by the university or linked to any online resource, the learning material should be easily accessible to students at all times.
Logical Organisation of Modules
Each module should be organised around a major topic and divided into subtopics. This is critical because the ability to consume knowledge and retain will vary with learners. It’s a good practice to have the topic divided into short digestible subtopics. Short modules of 5-10 minutes would be more effective than having long segments of 30 minutes or an hour. The modules should be accompanied with clear instructions, time student should spend on the module, timelines, easy navigation for different sections of the module and more.
Digital content should be created with special care to make it presentable, easily readable and comprehensible. Making good use of white space, using ample headers and sections, bullets instead of long running paragraphs are a few ways to make content easy to read and understand for learners. Many college and university students have become passive learners, essentially studying to score marks or obtain a degree. The need to gain knowledge has become scarce. Online and blended learning models offers us a chance to turn this around. It promotes active learning among students which can become a tipping point in higher education. On that note, we end this piece on online and blended course for higher education. Feel free to add your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.