As online classes and degrees are becoming more accepted by employers, colleges and universities face many different challenges. They must find ways to instruct their instructors in the most effective ways of teaching, most useful technologies, and most engaging activities for students, while ensuring that those students are actually learning the skills they will need. More studies are being conducted on each of these aspects of distance learning, and as more information comes out, potential students would do well to educate themselves on the results. Different styles of teaching, different uses of technology, and different methods of engaging learners may make the difference in whether a student achieves his goals.
Many colleges and universities have established blogs, designed to communicate the latest pedagogical information. Some of them are in-house, citing research and opinions of their own instructional staff; others, The University of Illinois at Springfield, for example, post links to blogs from around the world. Some blogs are entirely independent; some are linked to commercial sites. How do you know who to trust?
The more specific and technical the information in the blog is, the more likely that it is reliable. The blogger should be able to cite scholarly works of others, or his own published research, in support of his opinions or results. Size of the sample counts, as well. Correlating the results from five people is interesting, but amassing the preferences of 2000 people generally gives much more accurate results.
If the results across the spectrum of blogs tend to gibe with each other, that’s a good sign that the research is viable. Compare the following statements. The first cites results after testing in the author’s workplace. The second comes from a paper based on a presentation made at the seventh annual Teaching in the Community Colleges Online Conference. The last was published by ITHAKA, a “not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways”:
“Students are more likely to engage with content when the activity involves interactive resources.” How Course Instructors can Improve Student Engagement with Learning Analytics, October 23, 2012
“Students are most successful in online courses that provide ample opportunities for them to interact with the instructor, other students, and the course content.” Innovateonline.info, Vol. 1, Issue 2
“The research reported here demonstrates the potential of truly interactive learning systems that use machine-guided protocols (what we have been calling “ILO”) to provide some forms of instruction, in properly chosen courses, in appropriate settings.” Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials, May 22, 2012
There seems to be a consensus growing that interactivity is important to engaging online students. Therefore, anyone considering enrolling in an online program might want to take into consideration which online platform an institution uses, and that platform’s interactive resources. Do your research before you enroll. Knowing what you are getting into, and how a particular institution will relate to you, can be the deciding factors in your ability to embark on the career of your choice.