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Lessons Learned From a Learning Curve: Distance Ed Edition

Our school district here in Virginia decided to hold virtual school this fall. With three school-aged kids, virtual learning has been on my mind a lot lately.

I am currently enrolled in an online M.Ed. at UMass Boston. Throughout the program, I have been impressed with the consistency of course engagement.Prior to this, my only experience with distance education was an undergraduate history course taken back when cell phones still flipped open. In comparing the two courses, the difference is quite staggering.

My coursework at UMass Boston is organized in a learning management system and chunked with intermittent due dates. The structure has made all the difference in my ability keep up with the course. It is also highly interactive. It is not uncommon to be asked to participate in online discussions or synchronous sessions with other learners. In fact, peer interaction amplified my ability apply and evaluate my learning.

On the other hand, the history course contained no peer interaction. I had a difficult time connecting with the material and often took to memorizing class content just long enough to repeat it for the test. The instructor also served the entire course on a singular platter. This lack of content chunking was a significant barrier for me. I eventually had to request an extension in order to complete the course at all. It should come as no surprise that I can recall very little of what I learned.

To be fair, I took this course in 2002. Distance learning looked differently then. However, there are still valuable insights to be gained.

First, interaction is an invaluable tool in any virtual toolkit. This means peer interaction. Not only do these create energy around a topic but they also open the door for undiscovered learning. Second, a well organization course is a successful one. This means breaking content into digestible chunks and offering clearly defined due dates. Extra points for including a weekly to-do list.

We are lucky here in our part of Virginia. The teachers work hard to provide our children with content that is both structured and interactive. As a learning enthusiast and instructional designer, I have enjoyed the opportunity to witness their ingenuity.

Do you have virtual education lessons learned? I would love to hear about them…

Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash


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