Lessons Learned From a Learning Curve: Distance Ed Edition

We found out this week that the public schools here in our part of Virginia will be learning virtually come fall. With three school-aged kids, virtual learning has been on my mind a lot lately. Specifically, the things I need to do to help my kids succeed.

I am currently enrolled in an online master’s degree program through UMass Boston. Prior to my recent foray into the virtual ed world, my only other experience with distance education was a correspondence history course that I took as a part of my undergraduate degree (I minored in history). The difference between my two experiences is staggering. The courses at UMass Boston are well-organized, relevant, and highly interactive.

While the history course was well organized, it contained no concrete due dates (other than the one at the end of the course), interactive content, or instructor feedback. Instead, students had a year to complete the required assignments which included novel and textbook readings, review questions, written papers, essay tests. I had so much trouble engaging with the content that it took me 15 months to complete the course. Yes, you read correctly, 15 months. I was such a great procrastinator that I got to file for a 3-month extension. 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, I still think that there are still valuable insights to be gained from my observations that can apply to us all.

First, a well organization course is a successful one. This means clearly defined due dates and a schedule that is easy to understand. Extra points for breaking content into weekly chunks and including a weekly to-do checklist.

Next, even a little interaction makes a big difference. This means designing assignments that require learners to apply what they have learned. It also means both peer and instructor interaction. Not only do these conversations create energy around a topic but they also open the door for undiscovered learning. The learning that occurs from peer and instructor interactions is hard to replicate.

Finally, the content must be relevant. This means taking the time to determine which content will prompt questions, a desire to know more, or a change in perspective. Even the most mundane of topics can be interesting if that topic holds relevance.

We are lucky here in our part of Virginia. The teachers work very hard to provide well-organized, interactive, relevant content for our kids. As a learning enthusiast and instructional design student, I have enjoyed the opportunity to witness their ingenuity and be a part of this learning evolution.

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

Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash


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