Learning Success

To know what rain feels like, one has to actually go out, let the water drops touch one’s skin. That is water. That is rain.

You have to not only see, but experience it.

So what has rain got to do with learning?

In order to learn anything, one needs to be involved in their learning process. One needs to experience learning – that process in which one is actively engaged in finding out about something new, in experimenting, perhaps even in failing and trying to succeed again.

Until one does.

As a learner myself and an educator, I find it increasingly frustrating to keep distinguishing between F2F and online learning. Yes, there are differences as there are differences in every context, but there are equally many similarities.

Learner autonomy and the need to be proactive in one’s learning, is the same.

These characteristics may not come naturally to students who have little or no experience of being autonomous, independent, responsible learners, but with time and practise, they too can succeed.

However, today it has been mostly how learners can become successful when studying online that has taken up my mind.

What other tips to become a successful online learner would you include?

Images from Pexels

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Parallels of Online Learning and Higher Education

Increasingly my mind returns to the parallels of online education and transitions to higher education. Challenges of both blend into similarities and hurdles which students need to overcome. A broad generalisation – that I am aware of. Nevertheless, let’s consider some of the parallels:

1 – For those who initiate online learning, particularly in the case of distance education, more than learning about the subject matter, they need to learn how to learn online. This means being an autonomous learner, taking responsibility for time-management, being able to read instructions and follow them. (any echo here of higher education expectations?)

Students who have grown up more accustomed to using digital platforms for learning may perhaps be accustomed to the features I mention, but for students who are commencing an online course, this is not so obvious. For instance, often,  participants will post replies where ever they want to, either not following instructions or not being used to reading carefully and understanding instructions. This is certainly not because instructions were obtuse or complex – merely because the learner has not had sufficient online learning experience, as well as studying within an paradigm of educational expectations/demands. Asking the teacher to repeat instructions is common; in online education, the learner has to re-read him/herself. In other words,  the learner must be independent.

It is within this shift of behaviour  that I clearly observe parallels.

2 – The time spent at higher education often represents the best years of youth; expanding minds, new encounters, a bliss of options and parties. Discipline does not come easily. Managing one’s time to focus and to enjoy all the frills of higher education (e.g. extra curriculum activities, free conferences, foreign visitors/speakers and so forth) is not a skill which one is born with. It is a learning process. Both as an online student and online teacher, I have experienced the urgency to refine one’s time management in order to meet deadlines and be a full participant of the course.

Time however, is relative. Concepts of time, concepts of deadlines vary from culture to culture. The emphasis of meeting a deadline seems to be closely entwined with personal and social accountability. If a particular social environment does not place responsibility on citizens nor expects responsibility from its citizens, how will learners from this setting perform online according to other cultural expectations?

As an educator who works in foreign settings, these are challenges I have observed in different countries; I am an outsider, imposing foreign norms and educational expectations on my students. Most norms are international – for example, being on time for class – yet time is not fixed and tomorrow’s deadline may be perceived as next week’s assignment.

Discipline with time management is closely woven with cultural perceptions of time.

3 – Despite the many years we now live with digital technology, not all students have been taught digital literacies. Yes, they may have their mobiles and use Facebook as an extension of their physical body, but digital literacies are much more than mobile texting, playing games on an iPad and spending time in coffee-shop talk on Facebook. Digital literacies, the ability to present and understand information in the multitude of digital forms, is no appendix to learning. Digital literacies are as essential as the skill to read and do basic mathematics.

For both students entering higher education and online learners, these skills are a challenge to master. From uploading an image to embedding, to using a digital tool to present information (e.g. a popplet, using SlideShare and so on),  there is a wealth of key language to understand and then skills to accomplish. Lack of knowledge may be de-motivating for many. If motivation is to be taken as a personal driving force, not all learners are equipped with this engine to successfully study at higher education nor on online courses. Nevertheless, few options exist today as so many colleges and alternative institutions have decided to become universities. A university may hold more prestige, may receive more financial support from ministeries of education, yet does not do justice to every single student – many who would perform much better in a higher education college where their real skills and interests could be developed, equipping students to become more productive in their societies.

Results in both cases are again similar. Drop-out rates in online education and incomplete or poorly achieved degrees.

From features of

distance learning,

online learning,

blended learning,

classroom learning,

characteristics of learning are present. It is not the label which defines; learning processes share similarities. In the quest to promote knowledge, to exchange and create knowledge, the digital tools we have today are one’s compass to achievement. Whether one follows the advice for learning on a MOOC or in a classroom, it is not a question of labels, but rather, mapping one’s learning process.

Further reference:

Amy’s MOOCs – Professional Digi-velopment

Visions and Values

Visions of green, visions of greetings, visions of home.

Yet it is not home where I find myself nor greeted by.

Values of learning, values of progress. Thirst for knowledge and thirst of knowing.

Like my beautiful deserts which have adopted me, I am surrounded by drought, lack of lush green, lack of development. Instead I face lack of basic amenities, lack of connecting. I face lack. Not of visions, nor values.

I am currently teaching an online course which I designed for a developing country. The contrast of my participants’ enthusiasm, curiosity, thirst for knowledge, is striking when one thinks of all the digital technology and facilities one takes for granted in other parts of the world. Not only do I have 24 hours of electricity, but for over 20 years have been connected and participated on the grid. My current students too are connected, but their online time is determined by the hours of electricity they are given in their regions; Wikipedia is a novelty for some, while Google is only search engine they are aware of.  Their learning curve is sharp and steep. Their learning curve is a leap into the present and future.

I sit quietly, thoughts of learning, of online learning and distance education revolving in a dance. The changes I have seen and experienced in education have been constant, but never as urgent and on a global scale, as today. Information technology has brought about changes in all spheres of life, and indications predict even more to come with the advent of Web 3.0. As Oblinger (2012) well notes,

“Information technology has brought about much of the economic growth of the past century, accelerating globalization and fostering democracy. Such broad impacts would be impossible if “information technology” were only a set of technologies. As our use of mobile devices, games, and social networks illustrates, information technology can create new experiences. But more important, information technology enables new models. It can disaggregate and decouple products and processes, allowing the creation of new value propositions, value chains, and enterprises. These new models can help higher education serve new groups of students, in greater numbers, and with better learning outcomes.

As important as information technology might be, technology does not have impact in isolation—it operates as one element in a complex adaptive system. For example, in order for information technology to be a game changer, it requires that we consider learners as well as the experience that the student, faculty, institution, and technology co-create. The system is defined, in part, by faculty workload, courses, credentialing, financial models, and more. To realize changes through information technology, higher education must focus on more than technology.”

Digital technology would not be as powerful if not shared, if connections did not happen, if learning corridors were not open.

What strikes me most in my current online course, is the urgency to learn, the urgency to connect, the flexibility and learning capacity individuals have, when given the opportunity. Yes, my course was designed with a degree of difficulty for I had no idea who students would be. Designing a course in the dark is a challenge. Yes, I gave and re-check instructions, clearly and with examples. Yes, I am present to guide and provide feedback. Yet, what would any course be if participants themselves did not collaborate, did not investigate together?

Kang (2007) also explains how

“We learn from out interaction with other people, events and occurrences around us. Knowledge and meaning are always produced with a context. (…)

Learning is an ideological and cultural practice under the influence of socioculturally established norms. Therefore, the context is not a simple backdrop against which the learner is stituated. Rather, it is something shaping the learner and shaped by the learner simultaneously.”

Within this perspective, the credit of any course, and this one in particular, is not mine. It belongs to the participants, who with their thirst to become 21st century citizens, they are aware of the role of being netizens as well.

For all those who are digitally literate, for those who blog, who design online courses, and so much more, this leap into a present future may not appear significant. Deja vu almost.

However, from what I have experienced and seen in countries such as the UK, where at one university where I taught, for example, there was no wifi, my classroom had no projector nor desktop for the teacher, one needs to bear in mind the many changes and challenges that are occurring in economically developing countries. The argument of deja vu falls through for digital lack  (whether that be in hardware or teacher interest, for instance) is found both east and west, north and south. Digital progress, digital learning is happening right now in far flung places of the globe, where learners struggle with lack of electricity and even possessing their own digital hardware (e.g. desktop, laptop, iPad). They depend on desktops at institutions, they look forward to courses which they can access on their mobiles.

This is today. This is the present. Tomorrow?

Consider:

If educators don’t prepare learners for today, what hope will there be for our tomorrows?

References:

Kang, D.J., 2007, Rhizoactivity: Toward a Postmodern Theory of Lifelong Learning

Oblinger, D.G,  2012, IT as a Game Changer