Image: © Institute for Economics and Peace. Canada is ranked seventh most peaceful. We don’t know where it ranks though in terms of online learning.
A personal review
I am not going to do a review of all the developments in online learning in 2016 (for this, see Audrey Watters’ excellent HackEducation Trends). What I am going to do instead is review what I actually wrote about in 2016 in this blog, indicating what to me was of particular interest in online learning during 2016. I have identified 38 posts I wrote in which I have explored in some detail issues that bubbled up (at least for me) in 2016.
1. Tracking online learning
Are you ready for blended learning? (389 hits)
I indulged my obsession with knowing the extent to which online learning is penetrating post-secondary education with five posts on this topic. In a field undergoing such rapid changes, it is increasingly important to be able to track exactly what is going on. Thus a large part of my professional activity in 2016 has been devoted to establishing, almost from scratch, a national survey of online learning in Canadian post-secondary institutions. I would have written more about this topic, but until the survey has been successfully conducted in 2017, I have preferred to keep a low profile on this issue.
However, during 2016 it did become clear to me, partly as a result of pilot testing of the questionnaire, and partly through visits to universities, that blended learning is not only gaining ground in Canadian post-secondary education at a much faster rate than I had anticipated, but is raising critical questions about what is best done online and what face-to-face, and how to prepare institutions and instructors for what is essentially a revolution in teaching.
This can be best summarized by what I wrote about the Conference Board of Canada’s report:
What is going on is a slowly boiling and considerably variable revolution in higher education that is not easily measured or even captured in individual anecdotes or interviews.
2. Faculty development and training
Online learning for beginners: 10. Ready to go (+ nine other posts on this topic = 4,238 hits)
5 IDEAS for a pedagogy of online learning (708 hits)
This was the area to which I devoted the most space, with ten posts on ‘Online Learning for Beginners’, aimed at instructors resisting or unready for online learning. These ten posts were then edited and published by Contact North as the 10 Fundamentals of Teaching Online.
Two fundamental conclusions: we need not only better organizational strategies to ensure that faculty have the knowledge and training they will need for effective teaching and learning in a digital age, but we also need to develop new teaching strategies and approaches that can exploit the benefits and even more importantly avoid the pitfalls of blended learning and learning technologies. I have been trying to make a contribution in this area, but much more needs to be done.
3. Learning environments
Building an effective learning environment (6,173 hits)
Culture and effective online learning environments (1,260 hits)
Closely linked to developing appropriate pedagogies for a digital age is the concept of designing appropriate learning environments, based on learners’ construction of knowledge and the role of instructors in guiding and fostering knowledge management, independent learning and other 21st century skills.
This approach I argued is a better ‘fit’ for learners in a digital age than thinking in terms of blended, hybrid or fully online learning, and recognizes that not only can technology to be used to design very different kinds of learning environments from school or campus based learning environments, but also that technology is just one component of a much richer learning context.
4. Experiential learning online
Is networked learning experiential learning? (163 hits)
These three posts explored a number of ways in which experiential learning is being done online, as this is a key methodology for developing skills in particular.
5. Open education
Towards an open pedagogy for online learning (385 hits)
These posts also tracked the development of open publishing and open educational resources, particularly in British Columbia, leading me to conclude that the OER ‘movement’ has far too narrow a concept of open-ness and that in its place we need an open pedagogy into which open educational resources are again just one component, and perhaps not the most significant.
6. Technology applications in online learning
Amongst all the hype about augmented reality, learning analytics and the application of artificial intelligence, I found it more useful to look at some of the technologies that are in everyday use in online learning, and how these could best be used.
7. Technology and alienation
These were more philosophical pieces, prompted to some extent by the wider concerns of the impact of technology on jobs and how that has influenced Brexit and the Trump phenomena.
Nevertheless this issue is also very relevant to the teaching context. In particular I was challenging the ‘Silicon Valley’ assumption that computers will eventually replace the need for teachers, and in particular the danger of using algorithms in teaching without knowing who wrote the algorithms, what their philosophy of teaching is, and thus what assumptions have been built into the use of data.
8. Learning analytics
Continuing more or less the same theme of analysing the downside as well as the upside of technology in education, these two posts looked at how some institutions, and the UK Open University in particular, are being thoughtful about the implications of learning analytics, and building in policies for protecting privacy and gaining student ‘social license’ for the use of analytics.
This is an area where much more work needs to be done. If we are to develop new or better pedagogies for a digital age, we will also need better assessment methods. Unfortunately the focus once again appears to be more on the tools of assessment, such as online proctoring, where large gains have been made in 2016, but which still focus on proctoring traditional assessment procedures such as time-restricted exams, multiple choice tests and essay writing. What we need are new methods of assessment that focus on measuring the types of knowledge and skills that are needed in a digital age.
For instance, e-portfolios have held a lot of promise for a long time, but are still being used and evaluated at a painfully slow rate. They do offer though one method for assessment that reflects much better the needs of assessing 21st century knowledge and skills. However we need more imagination and creativity in developing new assessment methods for measuring the knowledge and skills needed for a digital age.
That was the year that was
Well, it was 2016 from the perspective of someone no longer teaching online or managing online learning:
- How far off am I, from your perspective?
- What were the most significant developments for you in online learning in 2016?
- What did I miss that you think should have been included? Perhaps I can focus on this next year.
I have one more post looking at 2016 to come, but that will be more personal, looking at my whole range of online learning activities in 2016.
In the meantime have a great seasonal break and I will be back in touch some time in the new year.