If you are looking for a 100 percent guaranteed face-to-face learning opportunity in 2022 you are probably not likely to be in luck.
For many of us the question of whether we move to offering online learning has now become one of how do we create better online learning that creates impact and is sustainable?
Our understanding has progressed to respecting that online learning creates a different experience for our learners. But for this learning experience to create authentic deep learning we need to continue to build on the foundational principles of adult learning and pedagogy that we have used for many years in other methods of delivery such as face to face and blended learning.
We have also come to the realisation that online learning is not all about the technology and nor should it be, and that the development of the teacher-student connection is as important as ever.
The glittering novelty of new technology can easily lead to an unqualified acceptance that it not is must in some ways be superior to what teachers have done in the past”. (Baxter, Callaghan and McAvery, 2018:264)
Technology supports us to connect with our learners. Sure, we need to be proficient in the use of the technology but when it dictates how we teach and engage with our learners then we are essentially losing the plot.
On the flipside while we can argue against technological determinism, we also need to acknowledge the central role that technology now plays in our daily lives. Our learners also need to understand how to operate in a digital world.
Taking this all into consideration how can we create an online learning environment that facilitates deep learning and engages our learners to transform their thinking and to develop the key skills to enable them to grow?
In the Public Sector Management Program (PSMP) we have adopted four guiding principles as we further developed our current blended learning program which is a mix of online learning and face to face workshops and now a fully online version of the program.
In both an enhanced version of the blended learning offering and now in the fully online version of the PSMP we have taken a learner-centred design approach ensuring the online site is easy and intuitive to navigate. We also provide scaffolding and direct guidance to learners to easily access and use their learning resources and to prepare for their face-to-face or virtual sessions.
Offering a fully online version of the PSMP allows us to reach out to a wider learning community of geographically dispersed learners in rural and outlying areas who may have found it difficult to access the program in the past. Participants across all states and from remote areas can now easily study the PSMP.
2: Interactive Learning
Interactivity is at the heart and soul of effective online learning (Pelz,2010). In the PSMP we have enhanced learners’ opportunity to interact with each other and with their facilitator through focusing on three aspects of presence (Pelz,2010). A social presence where learners and the facilitator creating a community of learning by projecting themselves into facilitator and student-guided discussions. A cognitive presence where learners and the facilitator construct and confirm meaning through case studies, relevant frameworks, using interactive software and having student-led discussions. A teaching presence where the facilitator directs the cognitive and social presence for the realisation of personally meaningful learning outcomes for the learners.
As Brinthaupt et al (2011) point out fostering learner engagement means creating a community of learners, fostering interaction between the facilitator and learners and between the learners themselves and creating learning resources that encourage reflective thinking, collaborative learning and the construction of knowledge.
In the PSMP, learners are encouraged to engage in online reflective activities to interrogate their own learning. In the fully online version of the program, learners collaborate in student-led action learning groups (ALG) to apply their learning to their work situation and to prepare for discussion with their facilitator in their weekly virtual sessions which are highly interactive with case and student lead discussions.
3: Support learner connectivity
Students’ response captured by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) 2020 survey (Martin, 2020) into their experience of fully online learning highlighted that they felt a sense of isolation and experienced anxiety and motivational issues.
Supporting learners to connect with each other and their facilitator has been enhanced in the fully online version of the PSMP through the use of Teams for collaboration and student interaction. Building relationships online is key in the PSMP to enhance learner well-being and support networking. A space for facilitators and learners to ‘check in’ has been created in the weekly virtual sessions and facilitators are very conscious of supporting learners. A particular feature of the online version of the PSMP is that there will be participants from across all states in the cohort providing a rich networking opportunity which has always been a key benefit of the PSMP where participants from different levels of government and agencies come to together to learn.
4: Real World Learning
QUT who deliver the PSMP is well recognised for its focus on real-world learning. The online version of the PSMP is no different and will maintain this focus which is currently very strong in the blended learning delivery of the program. Real-world learning is supported by real-world case studies, guest speakers from the public sector and assessments which require our learners to apply their learning directly to workplace challenges. Of particular note, is the final capstone project where learners engage with a workplace sponsor to undertake a workplace project on a strategic initiative for their department or agency.
Online learning is here to stay pandemic or not. What our experiences to date have taught us is the importance of engaging in an ongoing conversation on how we can continue to build successful online learning for our learners. The pace and range of change in digital technology is rapid, constant and particularly complex so our challenge is to use all the resources at our disposal to create impactful online learning and upskills both our facilitators and learners to gain the most they can from their online learning experience.
While moving to online learning is challenging it does allow us both as educational institutions and the public sector to provide equal access to learning in our communities so everyone has the opportunity for education and personal development.
The Public Sector Management Program (PSMP) is a nationally recognised and dynamic study option delivered by QUT, catering specifically for mid-level managers in the Australian public service and non-Government organisations. Learn more.
Baxter, J; Callaghan, G and McAvoy, J (Ed) (2018) Creativity & Critique in Online Learning Exploring and Examining Innovations in Online Pedagogy. Palgrave Macmillan.
Brinthaupt, T.M; Fisher, L. S; Gardner, J. G. Raffo, D. M and Woodard, J. B (2011, December) What the Best Online Teachers Should Do. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 7:4:515-524.
Martin, L (2020) Foundations for good practice: The student experience of online learning in Australian higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.teqsa.gov.au/latest-news/articles/new-teqsa-report-details-student-experiences-switch-online-learning
Pelz, B () (2010,March) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy. Journal of Asynchromous Learning Networks. 14:1:103-116.