The tangled Web of Online Learning….explained

Oh… the tangled web we weave…literally. With all the courses and options available for online learning – i.e. fully online courses taken for credit, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), open source videos through Kahn Academy and the likes, and though enriching [and beautiful in visual terms as per images in this post], the potential to get caught and entangled is great. In this post I’ll discuss the various ‘strands’ of online learning, in an attempt to clarify where each fit into the evolving and dynamic web we call ‘online education’.

The purpose for writing this post is to clarify ‘online learning’ [for my own benefit as much as for others], as I’ve found myself clarifying in discussions at my workplace the various types of online learning that are readily available on the Web in the context of our own online program. As I’ve written about previously, education is no longer a static model, but fluid and almost organic in nature, and being able to define goals, purposes and assessment is ongoing.

Though several bloggers I follow have already created excellent posts about this very topic, [with detailed, descriptive charts – please refer to the resources section for links], I’ve outlined a [less complex] version below where I’ve categorized online learning into four areas. By doing so, I hope to help educators select and use a learning ‘strand’ more effectively, as it is the characteristics of the online learning [program/tool] that dictate how the learning will be applied by the student, and be of most benefit. The criteria I used for categorizing the types of learning are as follows…

1) The overall goal/purpose of the learning

2) How the learning is assessed or measured

3) learner motivation

Criteria  – explained
I chose the three criteria [above] after much deliberation – each provides a viewpoint for differentiating and comparing online learning. For instance, #1 the goal of learning determines how the learning will be used and applied, i.e. towards a degree, for personal growth or for learning a concept to support a skill set. Next, #2 the assessment or measurement component differs greatly within online learning, which helps in the classification and it often dictates how the learning is designed and structured – for example does the learner assess the value of the learning or is it the instructor‘s role to measure student learning? Does it count towards an accreditation, or provide a knowledge for the learner to master a skill or concept? Finally, #3 learner motivation, which is indicative of how a student approaches and participates in the online learning – the student’s level of motivation to engage and take charge of his or her learning. An example is a student participating in a MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] who is highly motivated to learn for the sake of personal development or growth, versus a student taking a required course for credit which he or she has to take (motivation is potentially low). The four categories below:

‘Social’ (title text center of image) and ‘Learning’ are soon to be interchangeable terms

I. Online Courses for credit – Courses which are a means to an end, the goal being earn credit towards a degree, students are extrinsically motivated. Assessment is usually formalized, traditional (professor or course instructor evaluating student learning). Examples: Penn State World Campus, Liberty University, Straighter Line, Minerva Project [in development].

II. Online Courses – not for Credit / MOOCs –
Students participate and choose to learn about a topic, usually defining their own goals and objectives for the course. Learning is for personal development and/or improvement, in other words the student is highly motivated, driven by intrinsic factors. Assessment is non-traditional, either self or peer-reviewed. Examples: Cousera, MIT Opencourseware, Udacity.

III. Online courses/resources for Professional Development – Courses which are for a specific skill set, vocational in nature and for professional development in the workplace (purpose). In this case students are intrinsically motivated, seeking learning as a lifelong learner. Examples: P2P University, Stanford Center for Professional Development, Code Academy, Harvard Business [online courses in specific skills for managerial roles], iTunesU [university].

IV. Open source: online video resources where ‘learning’ is really tools to supplement face-to-face or online courses at all levels  K-12 through to college, in the form of videos or vodcasts. The purpose for this type of online learning is not to provide a complete learning experience, but to be part of the instructional strategy, an instructional tool. Examples: Kahn Academy, TedED, Academic Earth, Lecture Fox.

Online learning takes many forms, serves many purposes and goals. ‘Change’ is now synonymous with education, and for educators keeping abreast of developments and new programs is a challenge. Though I view this challenge as a positive, it’s exciting. I am sure the content of this post will be outdated within 6 to 12 months, however no doubt I’ll then be discussing, debating and writing about it, along with my fellow educators and bloggers.

Online education catalogue [beta], Wisdemy [includes several  descriptive, detailed charts comparing non-profit, for-profit and other providers of online learning].

Online Education – a snapshot, CatherineCronin [downloadable table of online learning providers, though some information requires updating it is a useful tool].

The Language of MOOCs, Hack Education

Related Post: MOOC Mythbuster, Onlinelearninginsights

Photo Credits: Social Web, Matthew Burpee’s Photo Stream, Flickr

8 thoughts on “The tangled Web of Online Learning….explained

  1. Hi,
    Thank you so very much for such a valuable materials. I have a lot to read which for me is challenging as well exciting.
    I have been interested in Technology and New Educational Approaches for some time , now.
    That’s why I have been busy with my learning.
    There are more and more people fascinated by online learning/teaching.I am one of them.


  2. This is a very useful (and timely) categorization of the plethora of options out there. Thank you for taking the time to write it up.

    I have been thinking of this a lot myself, and citing my catalogue page has given me the motivation to complete it soon!


    1. Thank YOU for your catalogue page on your site – it is a thorough and helpful resource.
      Let me know when you complete your catalogue page, as I’d like to see it when you have finished updating. Thanks again. Debbie


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