From text-heavy lessons to videos, videos and more videos in online learning
Online learning, also called e-learning, has changed a lot over the last 10–15 years for users, organisations and course creators. For one thing the industry has grown and is continuing to grow – it is projected to grow from $165.21 billion in 2015 to $275.10 billion by 2022 (Stratistics MRC).
This blog is my personal view based on offering writing and grammar courses to individuals and organisations for more than 10 years. During that time, I have also done several online courses out of personal interest and to eavesdrop on others. Along the way, I have made every mistake possible – I just need to mention the word ‘online’ and my friends and family roll their eyes and change the subject.
Online learning from a user’s point of view
Early online courses looked ugly and were text-heavy and difficult to navigate. Users were expected to read a lot of material online before doing a variety of quizzes. Many course creators simply handed their print workbook to software designers to adapt without regard for the different learning environment. Not surprisingly, e-learning got a bad name and the results weren’t great.
Greater use of videos in online courses
Today, most courses look professional and are easy to navigate, but the biggest shift has been in the content. This can be summed up in one word: videos. You can see this shift on all social media platforms too. You’ve probably noticed how many videos are now appearing on LinkedIn.
Some online courses are completely taught by videos, but most are supported by information you can download, podcasts, surveys and multiple-choice quizzes. Reading is kept to a minimum on the screen.
Although I like modern online courses, I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far in favour of videos. Not everyone learns by watching and listening and yet often courses fail to provide alternative ways of absorbing the information (e.g. e-books, transcripts).
Reduction in quiz and activity type
Another change has been a reduction in quiz and activity types. Today multiple-choice quizzes are the dominant type of quiz. In the past, I saw a wider variety of quizzes and activities, including drop-down menus, drag-and-drop items and short-answer activities, where students compared what they’d written with a model answer.
I wonder if the variety has declined because we want to do everything quickly and effortlessly. I admit when I am asked to write something in an online course and no one is assessing me, I write gibberish so I can click through to the model answer.
Online classes have also come into their own in the last 10 years. In an online class everyone registers at the same time and completes the class in a set period of time. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are a great example of this. They started in 2006 and came into their own in 2012 with providers, such as Coursera, Udacity and edX, partnering with universities.
Some online classes are completely self-paced, but many offer interactive sessions, such as webinars, and users can often communicate with each other in online discussion forums. Writers.com prides itself on being the first writing school on the internet having offered classes since 1995. I enjoyed a class I did with writers.com.
Online learning from an organisation’s point of view
It seems to me, looking from the outside in, that most organisations offer a combination of in-house and online training. Some organisations only offer online courses that sit on their learning management system (LMS), while others will buy licences from external providers (e.g. my courses).
Blended learning or stand-alone?
Online learning is never going to replace face-to-face learning, but it can complement it. This is known as ‘blended learning’ and this combination can be very effective to reinforce learning.
Face-to-face training has the advantage of being more personal and collaborative. The discussions are often the highlight of a course and promote effective learning. The downside of face-to-face learning with a topic such as writing is that it’s easy for people to revert to their old habits if the training isn’t followed up.
Some subjects, such as induction, are well-suited to wide-scale online learning and can stand alone without face-to-face training. I believe grammar is ideal for the online environment because people approach grammar from very different starting points. Some have learnt it at school and others haven’t; some have studied another language and others don’t know the difference between a noun and verb.
E-learning completion rates
One of the challenges for organisations is completion rates. When I first started selling online courses, I was dismayed that not everyone finished them. Then I realised that I often didn’t finish courses I’d enrolled in myself and it wasn’t always because of the quality of the course. Sometimes, I just got busy with other things. I read an article about a MOOC course on happiness that had a finish rate of only 2 per cent – that was a bit depressing!
Motivating people to finish must be a concern for organisations. I have noticed that when people’s progress is measured and people are encouraged to complete courses, the completion rate goes up dramatically. I witnessed this with two groups of engineers from different companies doing my online grammar course. In one company, the team leader didn’t do the course and the completion rate of his team was poor. In the other group, the team leader completed the course quickly and encouraged his team to do it too. Needless the say, the completion rate was high.
Online learning from a course creator’s point of view
When I first started developing my online courses, the options were very limited. Moodle was used in academic circles and many developers used software such as Articulate or Captivate. WordPress joined the party and then along came commercial platforms such as Thinkific, Teachable and Kajabi. (The list could go on…)
No platform is perfect, but today they are all relatively easy to use, which means anyone can become a course creator for minimal expense. The challenge then for the course creator is standing out from competitors, and the challenge for users and organisations is working out which courses provide value for money. In a crowded e-learning space this will always be a challenge.
Take a look at my online writing and grammar courses.
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