What is it like to learn online?

Starved of human contact. Isolated. Lonely.

I’ve heard people say that distance learning online – alone, in their pyjamas, talking aloud to their cat – made them feel cut off from their peers and not really part of the class. Having just finished two online papers, I thought I’d try and re-capture the experience, which may be particularly useful for anyone designing online learning; we know that the needs of keen beans like me need to be taken into account by someone at the planning stage.

As a working mum with two children under six and household to run, working online was ideal. The flexibility, in terms of time and place, suited me perfectly. Asynchronous forums were the main discussion space, so logging in once a day worked well. I could take time to reflect and mull over connections between work and study. If child was sick, I could move my study to later in the week – and, yes, I could do all this in my pjs. I was pretty motivated, intriniscally (love that learning!), and extrinsically (yes, I’d like a Masters, please).

But, if you are choosing distance online learning, you may need to be ready to embrace the isolation, and understand that the social connections with your peers is one of the strongest motivators for your involvement. Students: reach out and get to know who’s on the course with you. eEducators: design so this kind of ‘reaching out’ is easy.

For me, the moments of face-to-face contact were so enlightening and broke down barriers so quickly that I realised, for the first time, the huge store we set by body language and voice/facial expression. Podcasts, online seminars, people’s photos, swapping news, the use of real names, and the liberal, and, frankly, wanton use of emoticons all helped bridge that transactional distance (see Moore, 2007) between  me, the tutor, and my peers. And, most crucially, bridging the distance between me and the ideas with which I was grappling.

Anyone designing a course, in these days of Facebook, and socio-constructivism, will be looking as much to the socialisation of the experience, as to the instructional design.

If you too are a keen bean, I have reflected on this at length (you have been warned) in a paper on the role of the eEducator, particularly on the ways we can help break down those barriers at the start [Melhuish, K. (2010). The role of the eEducator: A reflection on practice. Unpublished assignment.]

Just make sure you put on clean pjs before that online seminar. Or sit real close to the camera;-)

Image: cw3283 via Flickr

4 thoughts on “What is it like to learn online?

  1. Don’t let this put you off!:-) I’ve done two online courses so far this year and it’s been brilliant. You get out what you put in – and I think if you know that you might feel a bit ‘apart’ from the others on the course, you know to box around that. The flexibility is the best part about studying online, for sure.


  2. I am so proud of you being able to do all that you do. I had a quick read of your paper and thought back to my uni papers. I don’t think I could do it now. I admire how you manage your time.


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