Quality Online Learning versus Remote Emergency Instruction

Perth (AU), April 2022 - During the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions worldwide were tasked with urgently transferring face-to-face learning delivery to emergency remote instruction. This required a herculean effort from many teachers, trainers, administrators, faculty, and managers, and it is important that this achievement is acknowledged and celebrated. 

However, while emergency moves to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the continuation of learning worldwide, they could not take full advantage of the possibilities of the online format and carefully crafted courses that follow best practices in leveraging technology to create quality learning experiences.

Online learning became vital to continuing the delivery of learning in schools, universities, colleges, or organisations through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is equally important to recognise that technology has been at the forefront of pushing educational effectiveness to new levels for hundreds of years. Whether through slide projectors, radio, videotapes, or now to the opportunities provided by learning management systems, social messaging, and integrated technology solutions, understanding learning science is key to using technology to create quality online learning experiences that improve learner outcomes.

There has been some stigma about online learning as being lower quality than face-to-face learning, despite research showing otherwise. It is conceivable that hurried moves transferring face-to-face delivery to an online format in the early months of the pandemic may have contributed to this perception. While emergency moves online served the purpose of providing continuation of learning, it could not, and cannot, take full advantage of the possibilities of the online format and inspiring instructional design.

Generally, remote learning is an emergency measure that simply involves taking a course that was designed for the face-to-face classroom and moving it into a synchronous platform, usually via a web conferencing tool such as Zoom.

In contrast, the most successful online programs are carefully crafted by course designers who follow best practices in leveraging technology to organise courses, present content, empower teachers, ensure accessibility, accommodate different learning styles, and encourage collaborative engagement.

At their core, quality online learning experiences embrace the science of learning and foundational theories of instructional design. While there are many different theories or models such as social constructivism, the ADDIE model, or ABC Learning Design, most advocate for placing the learner and program learning outcomes at the centre of the learning design approach. Student engagement- that is the attention, curiosity, interest, and passion that students have for their learning - is enhanced through a student-centred model of online learning.

Through a deliberate planning process in establishing learning outcomes, forms of assessment, and the sequence and design of learning activities, quality online learning experiences are characterised by

1. Learning as a social endeavour

A good quality online learning experience facilitates interactions between the teacher and the learner and among students. They include teachers utilising technology to provide learners with personalised feedback, support, and guidance. Interactions among learners may include discussing issues through messaging or forums, contributing opinions, or collaborating with peers to solve a problem. In other words, a good online course should become a social learning environment.

2. Learning through acquisition

Providing students with learning materials through a variety of formats ensures that all types of learners are able to acquire knowledge. For instance, delivering learning content and allowing learners to explore, compare, and engage with materials across different modalities such as live web conferencing, podcasts, videos, articles, or infographics allows for deeper understanding and acquisition of concepts.

3. Learning through practice

Best practice online courses provide opportunities for learners to learn through "doing", not just reading or listening. This involves providing learners opportunities to apply what they have learned or demonstrate their learning through a range of formats and activities. For instance, this could involve writing an assignment; constructing or answering a quiz; creating a multimodal presentation; or writing a block of code. The feedback they receive from each other or their teacher through both formative and summative assessment contributes to the development of further knowledge.

4. Learning through autonomy

Providing learners with the ability to self-direct their learning is a key characteristic of quality online learning programs. While some face-to-face interaction is important in online learning, it is equally critical to deliver asynchronous learning experiences that accommodate the differences in the way learners perceive and comprehend information. Providing learners with autonomy to engage with learning materials and each other within formats and time constraints most suitable to them improves learning outcomes.

5. Continuous improvement

A good online course keeps getting better. Course designers, teachers, and trainers who engage in a process of ongoing review and revision through capturing feedback and utilising data insights will improve their learning programs, student engagement, and learner outcomes.

Moodle is the world's most trusted online learning solution. The learning and development functionalities of Moodle LMS, the open source platform used by over 250 million learners worldwide, has been further enhanced for workplace learning through Moodle Workplace, a customisable platform that streamlines onboarding, workplace learning, and compliance management. Moodle Workplace is complemented by an ecosystem of products and network of partners and services providing hosting, customisations, and support.