Autumn still feels different and uncertain, and this is certainly reflected in the, often, contradictory commentaries about whether universities are returning to face-to-face teaching.

Discussion polarises this to an ‘either /or’ matter: online learning enables you to replay the lecture to pick up points you might otherwise have missed: in person classroom teaching means you learn by discussing and asking questions. In fact, online learning offers far greater potential than merely recording a lecture and asking questions and debating need not just be restricted to in person teaching.

Many lecturers say they find online learning difficult because you cannot tell if people are paying attention. Well, I can tell you that even in the physical classroom you get people who do not pay attention, or indeed do not turn up, or who do pay attention but really don’t understand.

The first time I guest lectured on a Masters’ level Performance Management course, I had just a handful of students in the classroom. I was due to give three sessions on consecutive weeks. On week two, the classroom was heaving. I asked why the students had not been there the previous week and they said because they thought they knew the subject already, but then they heard from the students who had been there that this was a new and deeper treatment of the subject and gave different perspectives. As I had designed the course so that each lecture built on the last, I then had to deal with half the class not having the right background understanding. With online learning you avoid this problem.

Tip 1: Design online learning so that it uses a mix of methodologies. In our courses, we present a summary, along with design features to enable the student to scan the topic to quickly refresh their knowledge or, identify if they want to delve further. We present topics in a variety of different ways so students can personalise their learning, choosing for example to watch a video, listen to an audio, read, discuss, or complete an exercise, thus, learning by doing.

Tip 2: Discussion fora enable students to exchange ideas.

Tip 3: In person learning is important. Use the physical classroom for higher level discussions, or to get the lecturers viewpoint on the trickier aspects of the topic.

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©Janice Caplan 2020