Five Alternatives to the Talking Head Video for MOOCs & Online Courses

VideoCameraCircleMost xMOOCs, and some for-credit online courses rely heavily upon what many refer to as the ‘talking head’ video format. The ‘talking head’ is usually the subject-matter expert delivering a lecture in his or her area of expertise. There’s great value in this format when used strategically and sparingly. Yet the effectiveness of lecture videos as a primary content source for online courses and MOOCs is difficult to determine. Thanks to a comprehensive study done via edX  we have data on student engagement patterns with videos specific to MOOCs to draw upon (Guo, Kim & Rubin, 2014). Key findings include:

  • The optimal video length is six minutes or shorter
  • Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings
  • Khan-style tablet drawing tutorials (screencasts) are more engaging than PowerPoint slides

Video Viewing Patterns: A Non-MOOC Perspective
There is also data on student video engagement in non-MOOC courses to consider. The School of Continuing Education at Columbia University examined video viewing patterns of students using analytics from their video hosting platform and qualitative data from student interviews (Hibbert, 2014). Results were similar to Guo’s.  A significant takeaway from this study—videos are an excellent format in online courses to establish instructor presence; supporting a sense of connectedness for students.

One of the benefits video can offer is creating faculty presence in an online environment. In the interviews, students cited faculty presence as a key factor related to their engagement and perceived learning from videos”

Alternatives to Talking Heads
The focus of this post is on alternatives to the talking head. I chose this topic because the majority of xMOOCs I’ve experienced over the last two years do not reflect good practices for educational videos described in the latest research. Most xMOOCs rely upon the lecture video format, and though they have their place, there are several unique and creative format options that I want to share with readers.

1. Podcasts. Podcasts are an excellent option for several reasons: 1) smaller file size for easier download, 2) the format uses less bandwidth when streaming and, 3) is a portable file format—allowing students to listen on the go.

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Screenshot of podcast from “Globalizing Higher Education Research for the Knowledge Economy” on Coursera

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Screen shot of collection of podcast links to interviews  with various experts sharing their definition of global competency. From “Globalizing Higher Education”.   This approach provides multiple perspectives on a topic, prompting students to analyze the topic from different viewpoints.

2.  Interviews This format is a variation of the traditional video lecture, except an interviewer poses questions to the subject-matter expert. The interviewer can be a non-expert as was the case in the “Saving our Schools” MOOC I completed recently on edX. In this MOOC graduate students interviewed the expert (the faculty member). Alternatively, the interviewer can be the MOOC instructor interviewing an expert or guest with a unique perspective on the topic.

 Another variation I’ve seen used frequently is a live interview conducted via a video conferencing platform, e.g. Google Hangout, with an interviewer and one or more experts. Students are encouraged to use Twitter as a back channel for questions and discussion.

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Screenshot of lecture video using interview-format in “Saving our Schools”.  A graduate student interviews the faculty member.  I prefer the format when the instructor interviews a guest or other subject-matter expert on a topic; it’s more interesting.

3. Simulations. Simulations, when done well are an effective method for illustrating course concepts and engaging students. A simulation can serve not only as content, but also provide an excellent topic for a discussion forum, or problem solving exercise via a structured assignment.  According to the study at Columbia University, videos that link to an assignment or learning activity receive more views than those that don’t.

The simulation presented here, “A Day in the Life of a Rural Homemaker” from the MOOC “Subsistence Marketplaces” illustrates a typical day of a homemaker in rural India and includes an interactive component.

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Screen shot from simulation from “Subsistence Marketplace” MOOC on Coursera.

4. ScreencastsA screen cast is a digital recording of the user’s screen with voice-over narration. This format allows the instructor to include power point slides, images, or motion— hand drawing on white board for instance (similar to Khan academy videos). This format requires little technical expertise, and is frequently used by instructors who prefer to record their own video content. The outcome is more informal.  The research suggests students respond well to an informal approach.  

“The most engaging videos for me [are] when the professors use wit and humor.” student(Hibbert, 2014)

A professor at UBC records all of her own content videos (screencasts and lectures) for her MOOC “Useful Genetics” even through she has access to a recording studio. She outlines her reasons in her YouTube video “How I record MOOC lecture videos“. She also describes how she films the MOOC content.

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Screenshot of a screencast created by the instructor for the MOOC, “Drugs and the Brain” on Coursera. The professor incorporates motion in his screencast. The red arrow highlights areas of focus during the narration.

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Screencasts are useful for showing a selection of images. In this screencast the professor shares images of vintage maps, from “Configuring the World: A Critical Political Economy Approach”

5.  Informal end-of-week Recorded Discussions:  In this format the instructor(s) delivers an informal end-of-week recap of the previous week’s student interactions and feedback within the MOOC or online course. I’ve experienced instructor’s using this format in three or four MOOCs; I find it effective in demonstrating the instructor’s presence, commitment and interest in the course. He or she will typically share highlights from the discussion forums, address frequently asked student questions, and encourage participation for the upcoming week.

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Screenshot features instructor in a weekly response video from “Configuring the World” MOOC on Coursera

There are other formats to the five presented here. One is not using any video content produced by the institution or instructor. Instead, content sources might include YouTube, TedTalks or even students. This approach was used in a Coursera MOOC “E-Learning and Digital Cultures”. The approach was quite controversial as described by one of the course creators in eLearn Magazine.  However, any format can be effective with a carefully planned instructional strategy that aligns with the learning outcomes and expectations for the course.

References:

On the Horizon for Education: Blended Learning, New Learning Spaces, OERs & Cross-Institutional Collaboration

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What’s on the horizon for education? What technologies and trends will drive changes in curriculum development and teaching in one, two or even three years? New Media Consortium’s latest Horizon Report (2015) written by an international team of educators, gives readers evidence and insights into how developments in education will (and are) influencing changes in teaching and learning. 

In last week’s post I discussed the report “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States” which presented data and analysis on participation trends in online education, MOOCs, as well as perceptions on the value and legitimacy of online learning. The news was rather dismal, quite depressing really. This report by New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative released this week, is not only more upbeat but is instructive and forward-thinking. It takes a different approach; it gives educators insights into trends and behaviour patterns in online and face-to-face education influenced by technology. The report is the result of a collaborative research effort where the panel worked in the ‘open’ via a public wiki where they shared, discussed and identified the education’s most pressing issues. The panel identified six trends, categorizing each by the level of challenge for implementation and time frame. (image below).

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Six trends identified in the 2015 NMC Horizon Report, pg. 2 via cdn,nmc.org

What the Blended Learning Trend Means for Educators and Institutions
I suggest the blended learning trend is the most significant and challenging. Blended learning has numerous definitions, though common to all is the concept of a student-focused education approach where learners access content, instruction/or and learning communities via the Web to augment or supplement education delivered in the classroom. Yet ten years from now, I predict that the concept of blended learning will fade away—not the learning approach but its description. The technology will become invisible. Learning won’t be classified as blended, or online, but just ‘learning‘. In the short-term however, there are barriers to overcome. Today the idea of using a web-enabled device and the web itself to replace or augment structured learning disrupts traditional practices of education— higher education and K-12. The NMC report suggests that in order for education institutions to adapt and respond effectively to educational tools and platforms, continuous visionary leadership is required. I agree. Integrating technology takes thoughtful planning, analyzing current practices, professional development and a supportive culture that embraces change.

Authors ranked blended learning into the ‘solvable’ category, as opposed to ‘difficult or ‘wicked‘; I rank blended learning as ‘difficult’ and though it is solvable, the challenge is the many dimensions of learning affected when integrating technological tools and methods that include: curriculum design, instructional delivery, professional development and training, IT services, policy development and infrastructure. Even the design of the physical classroom space and type of furnishings is impacted. The latter, ‘Redesigning Learning Spaces’ is another of the six trends identified in NMC’s report.

‘Advancing Cultures of Change and Innovation’ is another trend identified, yet it’s ranked long-term. I see a culture of change as necessary now—it’s essential to make the transitions and changes needed to deliver quality learning experiences.

All over the world, universities and colleges have been gradually rethinking how their organizations and infrastructures can be more agile. The thought is that if institutions are more flexible, they will be better able to support and promote entrepreneurial thinking — a long-term trend.  NMC Horizon Report, page 7

How Educators Can Prepare for Change
As our culture changes in response to technological innovations and economic shifts, institutions and educators (ideally) should adapt according. The NMC Horizon Report is a starting point for educators wanting to keep ahead of developments in education—to anticipate change, be proactive rather than reactive. This report is an essential read for educators, institution leaders, administrators, policymakers, and technologists who want to do just that.

References

Need-to-Know-News: Bad News for Online Learning in Annual Report & “Unsustainable” MOOCS are Full Steam Ahead

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Babson’s Report “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States” is available at onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/gradelevel.pdf

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

Bad News for Online Learning in Research Report on Online Learning
This week Babson Research Group released “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in United States” its 12th annual report on the state of online learning in higher education (Allen & Seaman, 2015). This year’s report is not bursting with good news. Most disappointing (and disturbing) is the declining perception on the value and legitimacy of online learning by faculty. There is other valuable and important insight in the report, making it a worthy read, but the issue of faculty perception needs urgent consideration.

Only 27.6% of chief academic officers reported that their faculty accepted online instruction in 2003. This proportion showed some improvement over time, reaching a high of 33.5% in 2007. The slow increase was short-lived, however. Today, the rate is nearly back to where it began; 28.0% of academic leaders say that their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy of online education.” (pg. 21).

The acceptance of online learning among faculty has declined over the past two years, “current results if anything show that the problem is getting worse“. Disturbing given the expansion and sharing of knowledge about online education, the improved technology for facilitating quality learning experiences, not to mention the millions of dollars that higher education institutions have plowed into MOOCs. Ironically, many institutions state their reason for offering MOOCs is to explore and expose faculty to innovative and new pedagogy.  When chief academic leaders were asked the primary objective for offering MOOCs at his or her institution, it’s ‘Innovative Pedagogy‘ that ranked second highest at 18.7%, behind ‘Increasing Institution Visibility’, which ranked at 26.6% (pg. 55).

Insight: It’s no coincidence that the recent decline in the acceptance of online learning among faculty coincides with expansion of MOOCs. Massive Open Online Courses put the mode of online education under the spotlight, yet the misconception that MOOCs represent all modes of online education expanded along with the MOOC phenomenon. The majority of academic leaders missed out on an opportunity to use the MOOC phenomenon as a vehicle to involve and educate faculty on new pedagogy, fundamentals of online and blended learning, and multi-modes of instruction and learning offered by technology in and out of the classroom.

Further Reading:

The “Unsustainable” MOOCs are Full-Steam Ahead
In the same Babson report, Chief Academic Officers perception that MOOCs are not financially sustainable has increased, yet the number of institutions offering a MOOC has doubled over the year from 2013 to 2014 to 5.0%.  And, the number of institutions actively planning for a MOOC has not changed (9.3%)  (pg. 33).

The portion of academic leaders saying that they do not believe MOOCs are sustainable increased from 26.2% in 2012 to 28.5% in 2013, to 50.8% in 2014.  

To recap, even though institution leaders see MOOCs as financially unsustainable (they can’t continue to pour thousands of dollars into MOOCs) the number of institutions offering MOOCs has increased. The only rationale I can see that explains this behaviour is the planning cycle, the long lead time it takes to develop and produce a MOOC. In next year’s report, in keeping with this rationale, we should see a decline in institutions offering MOOCs.

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There has been little change in the pattern of MOOC objectives from 2013 to 2014 (pg. 34)

Insight: MOOCs do offer value in many ways, enriching a learning community, expanding the reach of an institution, providing research opportunities for institutions into new pedagogical methods and student learning behaviours online. However, given that xMOOCs are expensive to produce, deliver and sustain, the trend towards turning MOOCs into money generating streams will continue— suggesting that MOOCs will no longer be open (free) and massive. Institution leaders should be re-evaluating their strategy for MOOCs —now.

Further Reading:

Need-to-Know-News: edX goes Corporate, Wired Magazine/USC Partner to Create Degree & More on Competency Education

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

1) edX Goes Corporate
Udacity the for-profit MOOC provider did an about-face a few months ago, shifting its focus from the higher education market to vocational education, partnering with big tech companies. Coursera too is reaching out to companies looking for ways to generate a revenue stream. Now edX is going the corporate route. Most disappointing given its not-for-profit premise, which differed significantly from the others—”(edX is) committed to research that will allow us to understand how students learn, how technology can transform learning, and the ways teachers teach on campus and beyond“.  This past Wednesday, October 1, edX announced the launch of professional education classes on topics including energy, entrepreneurship and cybersecurity, priced at up to $1,249 a person, with volume discounts available for some employers (Korn).

Why? According to CEO of edX, Anant Agarwal, “This goes to our sustainability story. Though edX is a nonprofit enterprise, it still needs cash to develop the free courses taken by nearly three million participants world-wide”. 

When considering the statement above in conjunction with one that Agarwal made in another interview, one with Wired magazine last month, “…effective uses of the MOOC model are only beginning to take shape. Enrollment in edX courses has doubled over last year, and he (Agarwal) believes we’re on the verge of an era he calls MOOC 2.0. “We’ve been growing as others are throwing in the towel” (Lapowsky), one wonders if he meant MOOC 2.0 as the corporate-MOOC—the not-for-free version of MOOCs.

Insight: MOOC providers do not (and never did) have a sustainable financial model to offer free courses indefinitely. It sounds noble—offering free education to learners worldwide. But somebody has to pay eventually. Development costs run into the thousands (paid for by the university-partners), operating costs considerable. MOOCs are not ‘free’. We all pay for free education in different ways; now it’s running dry and the only way to go it appears is to go corporate.

post_wired_logo_150x602)  Wired Magazine and USC Team-Up to offer “Real World Degree”
Another twist this week on an education partnership—University of Southern California (USC) announced its partnership with Condé Nast and Wired Magazine (Condé Nast is the parent company) to offer a degree program. And, as a journalist at Wired puts it “it’s a real credential, not just a certificate with the WIRED logo stamped” (Wohlsen). This is perhaps the most odd combination for an education partnership I’ve read about to date. There’s other businesses involved too, Qubed Education, which is joint venture between higher-ed investment firm University Ventures and Condé Nast, and an online degree consultancy company Synergis Education.

Taking the best from USC and WIRED, we can teach discipline and disruption, business fundamentals and the very latest innovation models from Silicon Valley. This is going to be thrilling

Insight: Businesses and now education institutions are capitalizing on an underserved market in the education sector, which is the adult learner that works full-time with some or little higher education. Yet the implications for traditional higher education are many— higher education institutions (and students) become a testing ground for business experiments and models, it draws funds away from higher education institutions, and the practice could be viewed by some, as undermining the integrity of higher education.

3) (Another) Course Management Platform geared to Competency-Based Education 
A couple of weeks ago I shared a story about a new course management provider, Helix Education. The system is different from your traditional LMS, it’s created to deliver a single platform to serve competency-based education programs (CBE), on-campus, online, or continuing education formats (Helix).  This week, another LMS launch by Motvis Learning. It’s also a  platform focused on CBE, though it’s referred to as a ‘relationship management system‘ rather than a LMS.

For students, the system looks more like a social network than a learning management system. When they log in, students are greeted by an activity feed, showing them a tabbed view of their current projects, goals and feedback. A column on the right side of the screen lists connections and to-dos, and a bar along the top tracks progress toward mastering competencies. (Straumsheim)

Insight: Competency based education has more potential for disruption to the higher education model than MOOCs ever will.

4) Multi-Language MOOC on Ed-Tech starts October

The 27th of October we will launch the third edition of the Learning Design Studio for ICT-based Learning Activities MOOC. The course will last 5 weeks and a group of facilitators will support you in the task of designing your own learning activities and lessons. The course will be offered in six languages: English, Spanish, Catalan, Greek, Slovenian and French.”

For more information: http://handsonict.eu/join-the-mooc/

 

Even in Education Everything Old is New Again

“There are more people In the world than ever before, and a far greater part of them want an education. The demand cannot be met simply by building more schools and training more teachers. Education must become more efficient. To this end curricula must be revised and simplified, and textbooks and classroom techniques improved.”  (Skinner, 1958)

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It’s been over fifty years since the article “Teaching Machines” appeared in the Science Journal from which the opening quote was excerpted. Author B.F. Skinner would be pleased to read some of the headlines in the education sector this week, one in particular “College in a Box” (Kahn, 2014) which describes how textbook publishers such as Pearson have developed enhanced textbooks and put them on their online platforms such as MyMathLab. These enhanced ‘books’ feature interactive quizzes, tutorials, immediate feedback, and tutorial videos based upon students’ responses. Pearson’s new spin on the old textbook would likely meet Skinner’s definition of efficiency. Coincidently, the instructional method used for Pearson’s textbook programs is programmed instruction; a method Skinner developed and applied with his teaching machine. Skinner’s machine consisted of a program, developed to deliver a self-learning experience for the student that included presenting of content, related questions for students to answers, immediate  and corrective feedback.

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Skinner’s teaching machine, a mechanical invention to automate the task of programmed instruction

The expression (also a song) comes to mind, ‘everything old is new again’.  We don’t need to look far into the education sector to find more examples of traditional, which some may consider old, instructional methods repackaged and presented as new. We see this with MOOCs offered through institution-affiliated platforms that feature recorded lectures delivered to students, multiple choice assessments and certificates awarded upon successful completion of institution-established criteria. A new twist on traditional methods.

‘Old’ Instructional Methods
In doing research recently about influential educators and educational psychologists of years past—their philosophies of education, corresponding instructional methods, influence, etc. I see glimpses of these educators’ philosophies in many new methods and education models—with Pearson as described, with Coursera’s model which according to their website uses Benjamin Bloom’s Mastery learning as its pedagogical premise, or essay-grading software that touts immediate (and formative) feedback to students as one of the most useful instructional benefits.

In this post I’ve created a photo post that illustrates the old and new concept with a selection of images on four instructional methods. Included is the corresponding scholar, an image of the method implemented in the past, and today. For description of each image, roll the cursor over the photo; text appears.

The Four Methods Illustrated: Old and New

1) Programmed Instruction: B.F. Skinner (1904—1990)
2) Experiential/occupational learning: John Dewey (1859—1952)
3) Mastery Learning: Benjamin Bloom (1913—1999)
4) Discovery learning: Jerome Bruner (1915 —  )

Closing Thoughts
In discussing the instructional methods in this post in terms of old and new, I’m more making an observation than a heavy hitting point. But, it did come to mind when writing, that if one wants different results, as many seem to want when it comes to education, that they perhaps should be trying different methods, not the same methods slightly repackaged, and then expecting different, (presumably better) results.

References

Three Actors that Contribute to Student Success in Online Courses: The Institution, Instructor and Student

This post examines three actors that are essential to student success in online courses: 1) the institution, 2) the instructor and, 3) the student.

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Actors Contributing to Student Success in Online Courses

What contributes to student success in a course delivered online? To consider the question from a different perspective one can pose the question this way—who is ultimately responsible when students are not successful—when they fail the course for instance? Is it the student for not having the discipline for online learning? The instructor for not providing support, or the institution for not providing services to support the online student? These are questions worthy of examining at a philosophical level, though in this post I examine select behaviours and strategies associated with the three actors involved in the process of students learning online, 1) the institution, 2) instructor and 3) the learner.

What Contributes to Student Success?
Before examining the three actors roles in the learning process it’s helpful to identify the factors contributing to student success in online environments including the skill set required. It’s also instructive to acknowledge that there is an underlying expectation that students enrolling in online courses are self-directed and capable of managing the tasks associated with online studies. Yet research and feedback from educators reveal something quite different; many students are unprepared to learn online, lack the basic skills, and are not capable of assuming responsibility for their learning. Online course work requires that students use a range of skills including accessing resources, people and content within a network, analytic and synthesis skills to distill relevant information from an abundance of information and resources (Kop, Fournier, & Mak). Though as mentioned, it’s not uncommon to find students lack some, if not many of these skills.

Not only are students often unprepared, but institutions often fail to prepare faculty and instructors for online facilitation. A starting point in boosting student success is identifying the behaviours associated with each of the three actors.

1) The Institution: Student Support Services via the Institution 
One characteristic of institutions offering successful online programs is their ability to support the unique needs of distance students through a student support services function.  As online programs evolve and mature we now have numerous programs to examine and study. Though each unique, there is a common theme—a focus on the students by acknowledging their diverse needs and challenges of studying online. Below are select examples.

Services for online students need to be customized, re-tooled from those provided to traditional students. Services should include technical support, academic advising, online community programs and clubs, library services and career planning.  Some institutions have gone further and developed programs that offer personalized academic support, SUNY Empire State College for example offers a peer tutor program. This program is unique, it’s not a subject matter coaching program, but a mentoring program where the goal is for tutors to help students identify and implement strategies that promote independence, active learning and motivation.

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“Creating College Success” from Rio Salado College,  an Award Winning Program

Rio Salado College developed an orientation program “Creating College Success”. It’s a one-credit course delivered fully online. The goal of Rio Salado’s program is similar to that Empire State’s—student self-sufficiency in academic environments.  Penn State World Campus, one of the first universities to deliver online degrees has a comprehensive roster of services for virtual students. One service that all institutions should consider is offering extended hours for technical and academic help via email, phone, or instant messaging.

Western Governors University is one that offers not only academic and technical support, but wellness services through its Well Connect program where students can call a toll-free number any time of day or night for support including personal counseling, legal and debt counseling, new parent transitioning support and more.

2) The Instructor:  Course Design and Instructor Support 
There are two areas that fall under the instructor support: 1) course design, and 2) instructional support.

Course design plays a significant role in students’ potential for learning online, given that students engage with course content, instructor and peers through the course platform. The way in which course content is presented on the course site, the instructions for assignments or activities are written, even the structure and order of the tabs on the course home page (course interface) have an effect on how the students engage with the course, will potentially affect students’ learning. Professor Robin Smith, author of “Conquering the Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Online Course Design” (2008) describes course design this way:

Design features incorporated in [the] system course development and the learning guide, will create an environment in which students are confident of their pathway, and the only challenge is the course content, not the navigation of the course or figuring out what must be done in order to complete the course…this focus on course design, will free you [instructor] up to spend the semester teaching and interacting with students rather than answering questions about course navigation or specific directions about assignments.” 

The instructor’s role in online courses will vary depending upon the nature of the course, but more importantly instructor behaviours will be a function of the level of students educational background and students’ skill level in the areas mentioned above (collaboration skills, technical, etc). To assess what level students are at when entering the course, ideally the instructor does so through involvement in discussion forums, course introductions, synchronous activities, etc. that allow the instructor to get to know students. Instructors also can do so by reviewing student work early in the course so he or she can provide detailed feedback, challenge the student, suggest external writing support as needed, etc.

The goal is that the instructors focus on challenging students academically in the course via feedback and interaction; individually and as a class. Support for technical, research, or basic academic skills should be provided by the institution, via support services. Institutions should also offer professional development courses, workshops or resources to support online instructors and faculty in course development and instruction.

3) The Student:
The student is ultimately responsible for his or her success in the learning process; it is up to him or her to leverage the resources of the institution and the support of the instructor. There is an effective tool however, a leader readiness questionnaire, that many institutions make available on its website which identifies the skills and tools students will need to be successful with their online studies. Also the concept of giving the responsibility of learning to the students, is another method to encourage success—letting students know they are ultimately responsible.

Below are links to several learner readiness questionnaires provided by various institutions, one is licensed under the creative commons share alike license which makes it available for use to anyone.

In a follow-up post I review tools and resources available on the web that support the development of the skill-set students need for online learning. Readers may also find a previous post, Five-Step Strategy for Student Success with Online Learning helpful— it outlines behaviours associated with successful outcomes for online students.

Conclusion
Supporting student success in online course work begins with the institution—ideally with a strategic plan that includes a system for provision of administrative services, academic counseling, and support specific to online students, as well as professional development and comprehensive resources for faculty and instructors teaching online. Yet to maximize the value of the support offered by the institution and instructor, the learner needs to own the learning, and know the responsibility for success ultimately rests with him or her.

Resources:

An Essential Read for Online Education Decision Makers: “Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education”

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By Gary Miller, Meg Benke , Bruce Chaloux, Lawrence C. Ragan, Raymond Schroeder, Wayne Smutz & Karen Swan

“Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education” published in 2014 by Stylus Publishing in association with The Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan Consortium) is the first book in a planned series about distance education.

Overview The book is current and relevant; “Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education: Meeting the Challenges of Technology and Distance Education” is an invaluable if not essential resource for leaders and decision makers in online education, though anyone involved with the development or implementation of an online learning strategy for a higher education or K-12 institution will find it an excellent resource. The themes are familiar—e-learning effectiveness and quality, support for faculty success, student success and retention, and the impact of online learning programs has on an institution’s traditional programs. What sets this book apart and makes it exceptionally valuable is the diversity of perspectives from the authors—seven leaders in distance education representing five higher education institutions and the Online Learning Consortium.

The book aims to guide and support leaders as they make decisions about online learning including how to overcome barriers and implement change. The purpose of the text is to provide readers with new perspectives on online program implementation and skill development for approaching education transformation proactively. 

Each author brings experience and a perspective to the topic of online learning that gives readers insight into a variety of models and organizational structures for setting up their own online education programs. Organizational structure and culture, influence on traditional institutions are discussed at length, as are standards of quality for online education including the framework for the Five Pillars of quality online education.

Highlights The book is divided into sections categorized by three principal themes: Part One: “Leading Change: Making the Match Between Leadership and Institutional Culture”, Part Two: “Ensuring Operational Excellence” and Part Three: “Sustaining Innovation”. Each features three or four chapters dedicated to a topic that addresses current and real challenges institutions face as they seek to adapt and transform within the constraints of institutional culture, policies and administrative issues. Each offers instructive insights and practical alternatives for consideration. Below I’ve included highlights of one chapter from each section.

In Part One, Chapter Two:The Impact of Organizational Contextoutlines in detail five very different programs of online education in higher education institutions. The five examined: 1) The Pennsylvania University World Campus, 2) University of Illinois at Springfield, 3) Empire State College, 4) Rio Salado College and 5) the American Public University System.  The leaders’ views are examined within each of the programs’ institutions on the leadership challenges, culture shifts, attitudes of faculty and impact of business models. The leaders’ responses in comparison with each other is instructive and enlightening.

In Part Two, Chapter Six: “Supporting Faculty Success” suggests that the skills and competencies required by faculty are contextualized to the culture, practices and administrative structure of the online initiative of the institution. I agree with the authors— culture and administrative structure pose a significant barrier in many instances. There is gap between what is needed and what most institution  provide in the way of support and skill development for faculty and instructors teaching online. This issue, the chapter emphasizes, is central to effective online education delivered by an institution.

The challenge for the institutions is to understand and address the needs of the online instructor and create appropriate programs and support services and policies that help develop the competencies necessary for online teaching success (p. 109)

In Part Three, Chapter Ten: “Policy Leadership in e-learning” discusses the multiple challenges e-learning growth has had on policy at the federal, state and institutional level. Policy remains a barrier and threat to the growth and success of e-learning the authors’ state, and they outline five policy issues that pose real barriers to online education now, that have emerged within the past ten years. The five identified and discussed are: 1) tuition, 2) transfer credit, 3) state and campus budgeting and allocation, 4) federal and state financial aid, and 5) student support services.

Closing No doubt, one can see the value this book holds for leaders of e-learning education.  What’s also helpful to the reader is the organization of the book, which makes it  unnecessary to read it from beginning to end; readers can choose to read chapters of interest and relevance. Though I suggest that all chapters are relevant to anyone involved in online education programming.

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