Coronavirus Crisis: Obstacles of Moving Traditional Students to Distance Learning Modalities at Scale
Amid coronavirus concerns, many higher education institutions across the country have announced plans to transition on-campus students into online environments. These precautionary measures could persist for weeks or months as social distancing and quarantine scenarios are implemented to limit the spread of COVID–19.
While this shift in modality is undoubtedly warranted to protect students, it is the responsibility of institutions to provide the best educational experience to ensure a seamless continuation of their academic journey. But are universities prepared to adopt distance learning at scale indefinitely? The recent coronavirus outbreak may force their hand whether they’re ready or not.
Online learning is not novel – but it can become a challenge at scale. Universities have offered varying capacities of distance learning since University of Phoenix began its model in 1989. The University has leaned into our more than 80,000 working adult learners across the country who attend classes virtually. Our educational model embraces technology to provide instruction in an engaging and immersive online environment.
Institutions must understand how to make this transition to ensure that the student experience remains as seamless as possible. Here are a few often overlooked elements of distance learning to consider when scaling an online environment.
When we talk about a seamless experience, that starts and ends with how traditional students interact with your learning management systems (LMS). Face-to-face courses often do not have students interact with the LMS, limiting the engagement and experience they had in the classroom.
All of our students – whether ground or online – are on our LMS and have familiarity with our platform. This ensures students possess digital literacy. Using your LMS across modalities can also allow you to train students using physical instruction to virtual sessions across courseware.
By planning and proper training, curriculum can be delivered by virtual means with limited loss in fidelity. Our pedagogical design at University of Phoenix does not need to be deconstructed to fit virtual delivery for ground-based students. This is because our curriculum design teams build our courses with both teaching methods in mind, which means a shift is easier. Without this design, you’ll need to figure out how to “fit” traditional courses to online delivery.
This is not to say that ground-based courses should be delivered virtually at all times, but this approach can help ensure that you accommodate students for virtual delivery as needed without concerns of learning outcomes being adversely impacted.
Have engaging discussion forums that allow virtual students to benefit from student-to-student and student-to-instructor interactions by asking practical critical-thinking questions that result in substantive conversations.
We provide this through in-house multimedia and our educational technology team that creates adaptive resources so that students are still benefiting from activities that simulate, scale, and enhance face-to-face context. These are “at the ready” because of our online presence so that any courses that are traditionally offered face-to-face can adapt to the online environment easily by dropping these interactive elements into the course shells.
Understanding learning designs and needs and leveraging your LMS as a hub for all students can help enhance digital literacy. This allows the ability to pivot quickly for students in an emergency like this, and creates no encumbrance for any existing online population as studies will continue as normal.
Editor’s note: This article was submitted on March 23, 2020.