Wonderland or Never-Never Land: How Do You See Online Education?Andrew A. Lawrence | Director of Online Programs, Bluefield College
Are you standing in front of a looking glass gazing into a word of pleasure, intrigue and wonder? Or are you being hauled off into a faraway land by an unknown shadowy figure? Trust me; whether you have thought about it or not, one of these explains how you feel about the rapidly growing culture of online learning. As various discussions around online learning intensify, everyone is and will continue to formulate an opinion — newcomers and old-timers alike! Faculty, institutional administrators, technology staff, students, recent graduates, educational investors, parents, corporate executives, legal entities and on and on; everyone is part of the conversation. So far, I have noticed two distinct responses to this global phenomenon:
Category A: You are ready to jump in and start enjoying all of the fun online learning and partnered technologies can offer, or;
Category B: You are afraid of this unchartered territory’s effect on you, your network and/or your organization.
If you see yourself in Category A, then I encourage you to keep exploring. Every day, a new technology or variation of a favorite hits the market. My one bit of encouragement to you is: pace yourself. Do not become overwhelmed with trying to learn every technology or online learning trick or technique that comes your way. If you pace yourself, then you will continue to enjoy the wonderland of online learning.
If you see yourself in Category B, then fear not. Taking the plunge is not hard and shouldn’t be daunting. It’s all about perspective. So, for you, I am offering three easy actions steps to help you gain a new perspective of, and begin a new journey in, the online learning community.
1. Take a MOOC from a well-established institution
There are three main points I want you to take from this step. First, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free. For most, all you need to invest is about an hour a day for six to eight weeks. When you finish the course, you’ll receive a certificate of completion. Second, many well-established universities and professional organizations are offering them.StanfordUniversity, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University andHarvardUniversityare just a few of the top universities that have opened their institution’s online learning community to anyone interested in the experience. This will give you the opportunity to experience this world firsthand from the student’s perspective and with some of the best use of technology. It’s a great way to achieve professional development goals and possibly earn college credits. Some institutions are offering college credits for a significant discount on tuition. Third, find a topic of interest to you. If you hate math, then do not take your first MOOC focusing on improving instructional skills in mathematics. Choosing an interesting topic will help you focus on the learning experience and technologies. This free experience will give you the chance to gauge online learning. Why should you base your perspective on a series of articles and theories from people you don’t know? Get out there and try it; it’s the best way to learn.
2. Make a technology-savvy ally
So, you’ve taken a MOOC (or another type of online course) and now you’re hooked. Your next step is to befriend someone who is experienced with online learning and technology usage. If you are an educator or corporate trainer, you’ll want to start implementing different instructional technologies. However, you may not know how to use them to fit your needs, or you may run into a problem you don’t know how to solve. A technology-savvy co-worker, friend or family member can help get you through your most frustrating (and, in my case, embarrassing) moments. I remember trying to access the Internet from my laptop one day at work. For some reason, it would not connect. I tried rebooting; fail. I tried reinitiating the network connection; fail. I tried going to the troubleshooting FAQ page; fail. Finally, I reached out to my friend who is an IT and systems specialist. He came over to my office, looked at my computer and smiled at me. The laptop has an external button that automatically cuts off the computer’s wireless capabilities. I had tried for over an hour to solve this problem, and he was able to fix it with a flip of the switch — literally! Because we are friends, we shared a laugh without him forming an unfavorable opinion of me. Honestly, I knew the button was there; I was just over thinking the solution. Having the ability to call on someone else who understands technology can help even the savviest users.
3. Join a professional organization
Now you feel a little more confident and want to begin sharing your experiences with the world. You also want to gain feedback from more online learning users. So, how do you build your network? Join a professional organization. This will give you the unique ability to connect with specialists in the field of online learning. These folks have the best tips, tricks and suggestions because they are users just like you. You can find specialized organizations such as the Computer Education Management Association, which is targeted to connect managers within hardware and software companies. Not only do these professional organizations connect you to people, but many times they will help to increase available — and, most of the time, free — resources. I have gained experience through free tutorials, legislature discussions, webinars and research publications, just to mention a few.
So, how about that? It’s as easy as 1-2-3. If you follow these steps, you will begin to see the online learning world differently. If you are an e-learning leader or expert within your organization, I encourage you to share these three easy steps with your team. Try scheduling a few interesting organizational-wide MOOCs to get the ball rolling, and invite everyone you know to experience them with you. They will appreciate your gumption and you will have successfully started them on the right path.
Author Perspective: Administrator