Online and Blended Learning: A Catalyst in Higher Education Reforms

This month, our guest editors, Chris Crowley and Afsaneh Sharif, will be exploring online learning. Afsaneh is a Faculty Liaison and Senior Project Manager at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and has twenty years of experience in open, online and technology-enhanced course and program development. She has been listed as one of the top 90 Canadian researchers in online, blended and distance education and has taught an online course called “Designing and Teaching Online Courses” internationally for many years.

As Manager, Learning Design at the CTLT, Chris has enjoyed working in various aspects of distance education and online learning, including instructional design and media production. He has produced several award-winning collaborative multimedia projects that involve the creation of open online learning resources for universities and colleges across BC.

The following articles cover a variety of topics, including insights into how to develop digital literacy and the drawbacks of digital-only learning materials. Learn about the impact that online learning has had on post-secondary students through the Online College Students 2018 report and research conducted by the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association, detailed below.

Why come to campus? It’s a provocative question that Tony Bates asked in his keynote at the 2019 CNIE Conference at UBC Vancouver. Of course there are many reasons to come to campus, but in terms of teaching and learning, Bates suggests that they should be done digitally unless there are obvious benefits to having face-to-face sessions.

Fully online, blended, flipped and hybrid learning are modes of delivery that involve using digital platforms to support content delivery, assessment, collaboration, and interactivity, in addition to offering flexibility and accessibility to learners. Although there are some differences in how it is defined, for the purposes of this newsletter the term blended learning includes hybrid and flipped to describe a delivery mode that uses both online and face-to-face to try and optimize the affordances of each delivery mode. Online learning or online distance education is where all the content and interaction is online, i.e., there are no face-to-face classes and all communications are electronic.

The rise of online learning in Canadian universities and colleges is inevitable and UBC is not an exception. According to a 2018 national survey tracking the development of online and digital learning in Canadian post-secondary public education, an 80 per cent response rate found that more than two-thirds of all Canadian post-secondary institutions offer online courses for credit and one in five Canadian post-secondary students take at least one online course. In addition, most institutional administrations believe hybrid learning will be a significant teaching development in future years.

Given the accelerating changes within the landscape of higher education, as well as the advancement and evolution of emerging communication/education technologies over recent years, online and blended learning can act as a catalyst in higher education reforms. Education is understood to be a central enabler of societal advancements, including addressing broad socioeconomic challenges, such as poverty, as well as students’ mental health and wellbeing. The unique affordances of online learning support more self-paced personalized programming, more inclusivity, and openness learning. In addition, it supports remote collaborations, just-in-time/real-world scenarios, community engagement, continuous assessment, blended and accessible lifelong learning. These affordances develop the skills which our learners need for the 21st century, connects them to their communities/future employers, and helps them to understand and respond to real-world challenges.

At the 2019 CNIE Conference, there was a unanimous call among the keynote speakers for a radical change in our online development approaches to meet the diverse needs of lifelong learners (read: everyone) in the 21st century. In the keynote and session presentations, several approaches to support lifelong learners were highlighted, including redesigning programs to focus more on skill development, i.e., recognizing skills and competencies rather than content knowledge and also creating an alternative, as well as just-in-time qualifications and credentials e.g. Stanford Online Credential. Other approaches strongly recommended for faculty teaching fully online courses included professional development and training that encourages them to look at new ideas in course delivery such as Containers, e.g., gRSShopper in a Box, explore new ways of content creation (e.g. Twitch and Open Broadcaster) and use of Content Addressable Resources for Education (CARE), such as Git and IPFS. Lastly, it is important to offer better career advancement for quality teaching within institutions, e.g., UBC Educational Leadership Stream Faculty.

Teaching in a Digital Age

Tony Bates’ book examines the underlying principles that guide effective teaching in an age when all of us, particularly the students we are teaching, are using technology. The book enables teachers and instructors to help students develop the knowledge and skills they will need in a digital age: not so much the technical skills, but the thinking and attitudes to learning that will bring them success.
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Digital Literacy: A Conceptual Framework for Survival Skills in the Digital Era

Digital literacy involves more than the mere ability to use software or operate a digital device; it includes a large variety of complex cognitive, motor, sociological, and emotional skills, which users need in order to function effectively in digital environments. Yoram Eshet’s journal article proposes a holistic, refined conceptual framework for digital literacy, which includes photo-visual, reproduction, branching, information, and socio-emotional literacy.
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Online College Students 2018: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences

Online learning is providing a positive return on students’ investment, reports Online College Students 2018. Eighty-six per cent of online students believe the value of their degree equals or exceeds the cost they paid for it. For students who have experienced both in-person and virtual classrooms, 85 per cent feel that learning online is as good or better than attending courses on campus.
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Canadian Digital Learning Research Association Report 2019: Canadian Universities and Colleges: Enthusiastic About Online Learning

The second annual survey of online learning was conducted in summer 2018 by the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association. Key findings include:

  • 82% of Canadian universities, colleges and CEGEPs now offer online courses and/or programs;
  • 78% of respondents view online learning outcomes as equivalent to face-to-face learning outcomes;
  • The reach of the 2018 survey represents 96% of the higher education student population in Canada.

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Enjoyed reading about Online and Blended Learning: A Catalyst in Higher Education Reforms? Learn about other topics we covered in the June 2019 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter.

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