We’re living in a different world than we were a few months ago, with almost all elements of our lives having shifted online, from studying remotely to video-calling friends and family.
Understandably, living your entire life through a computer screen can cause motivation and focus to take a dip here and there. For many who’ve never had to study remotely before, making the adjustment is likely to have been taxing.
So, it’s worth paying attention to what universities are doing to ensure their students are getting the most out of their studies when at home, with even more distractions readily available.
QS in Conversation recently held a virtual panel on this topic, featuring: Dr Betty Vandenbosch Chief Content Officer at Coursera; Alex Chisholm Head of Analytics at QS Quacquarelli Symonds; Dr Gog Soon Joo Chief Futurist, Chief Skills Officer, Chief Research Officer at SkillsFuture Singapore.
What are the fundamental differences between online and in-person delivery of education?
Vandenbosch admitted it’s not an easy question to answer, but the main similarity is the intent is exactly the same. She said: “We want to help our students really learn, not just memorize and regurgitate.”
She added: “Unless you’re a movie star, it’s really hard to keep engaging on a video. Here at Coursera, we think [the limit is no] more than 7-12 minutes.
“[But] students are much more involved in the curation of their education. They get to decide if they do something twice, if they skip over something, and the faculty member can’t control that – and that’s really tough.”
Soon Joo is a frequent online learning user and finds it appealing. She said: “You decide what you want to learn, where you want to zoom in, and if you want to playback. This kind of online learning is really flexible and more suitable for individuals who are self-directed and know exactly what they want.”
QS data has analyzed info from 80,000 prospective students through the international student survey. The key things people look for in online education is flexibility, the ability to continue working as they pursue online education, even the ability to travel and not miss pressing deadlines.
Chisholm said: “The real interesting thing today is that we’ve all been forced into this online environment across education. You’ve got faculty and administrators trying to deal with it.”
However, Vandenbosch feels some things still require a physical interaction. She said: “I don’t want anyone to learn how to give a [medical] needle [to a patient] online, but in terms of connection, detailed interactions, real-intense meeting, online does that just as well.
“Look at us today. This is not a conference, and yet it is a conference, and we are all engaged. Some in the audience may not be as engaged, however, when you’re in a big conference room, sometimes you’re not engaged either.
“The way that online has developed and the opportunities now for tight interaction and teamwork are fantastic. It’s not just education, but the world of work is online too.”
Are students performing better with online learning weaved into their academic year?
In the online space, a student is in control of their learning experience; how they curate and learn, and also if they repeat tasks. But what needs to be done by educators to encourage students to undertake their studies?
Vandenbosch said: “I think the most important thing is that students and faculty together have to recognize that it’s a different world.
“In online education, the instructional design helps faculty put together a course that is engaging and helps people.
“With instructional design you can have worked examples, readings, peer experiences, projects, guided projects, all sorts of things you can do to help students learn better than just watching a video and taking notes. That’s what’s going to make the difference in helping students stay engaged online.”
Soon Joo added: “We see a lot of educators putting in extra effort to look into engagement strategy – how to get students to speak up, to get involved in the activity and not drift off.
“It’s not easy, but there are a lot of innovative methods being applied. Online isn’t as easy as face to face, unless you have AI to create an algorithm saying who isn’t paying attention. Learning analytics would be helpful.”
QS data looking at that kind of engagement found the most common preference for online delivery is the blended model.
Chisholm said: “A lot of [using these technologies] is a trial by fire as [faculty] have never done it before.
“A big segment of the teaching population has actively avoided doing it to the point where universities and business schools had to pay more money to get them to do these types of courses.
“In the online world it’s much more about being a movie director [rather than a movie star in-person], when you need to surpass the right things at the right time to keep people engaged and move them along that learning process whether it’s a synchronous course or an asynchronous one.”
Studying online, from home, has become the new normal during the coronavirus pandemic. But how can universities keep their students engaged? We asked the experts.