Why take online courses?

Have you thought how an online course could help you learn differently than an in-class one? This post is about ways of learning that online courses can offer.

In the past two terms, I have been teaching both online and in-class graduate courses. The general sentiment is still in favor of in-class courses. I say if you can take online courses, do so. The reason is that laptops and the Internet have already entered the classrooms (at least in high-income countries). As a professor, I feel like I have to compete with the laptop and the Internet to attract and maintain the attention of students for a three-hour session.

Class with laptops

My favorite moments in class are when students look at the board or at me. Other times I constantly have these thoughts;

  • ‘Damn it, I lost that student again, Is he texting or actually taking note?’
  • ‘I wish I could enter into his laptop right now to get his attention.’
  • ‘Maybe, I can poke that one student on his Facebook right now.’

The point is that the online world has already taken over classes, why note use it as a tool to improve learning?

My experience with online courses has been very positive. Partly, I have to give credit to my students for being active participants. Here are a number of strengths of online learning.

Onlinen Learning Web-thinking

  1. Improves your writing: One of the activities of my online course is a weekly discussion on an interactive platform. I think that should be part of all online courses. Every Monday morning, I post three questions requiring students to reply to them based on the readings, and every student has to ask one question of their own. Every student will create their forum within the weekly group, and the thread of responding to the questions and posting queries keeps going until Sunday midnight. In my recent online course of around three months, each student wrote around 50 posts of 150 words as part of class participation. That is 7500 words on the top of other written assignments.
  2. Use of multiple evidence: Posts needs to be evidence-based. Most of the posts had academic and grey literature references to support the arguments, some had attached images, and a few had hyperlinked videos. It allowed students to use the Internet as their ally to build their arguments.
  3. Argument building and Web thinking: Plus, this kind of writing improves students’ critical thinking to make better arguments. One of my fascinating observation has been that the usage of multiple forms of evidence helps students develop a kind of thinking that I would like to call it ‘web thinking’. I see web thinking as a kind of systems thinking where the system is open. I have witnessed students handle contradictory, paradoxical, or complimentary arguments all at the same time. In a traditional class discussion, most often students think in a linear way because the verbal mode of communication limits complex thinking. On online platforms, students have the time and resources to develop complex systems thinking.
  4. Learning laterally (Depth and breadth). In a three-hour session, a class of 12 graduate students will have barely enough time and thus other resources (information and analysis tools) to dissect a single topic in-depth. In an online class that extends over a whole week, students could allocate as many hours as they had. Access to the Internet and use of their own time allowed students to learn not only the topic in-depth but also explore issues around the topic (breadth). That is a kind of lateral learning; exploring significant, relevant issues around the main topic of discussion.
  5. Historically teaching has been about giving out information. Then it has slowly evolved to become about giving out information and helping students develop skills. In today’s world of ubiquitous information and in a knowledge society, teaching will be more about developing the skill to develop skills, learning to learn in other words. That’s what taking an online course can become about.

Online courses may have its challenges too. Some bring up technological challenges and a lack of self-motivation against online learning.

Now, let’s be frank. We want it or not, the current growth trend of information and communication technology is exponential. It has already taken over many aspects of our lives and will soon spread to all of them. It is time for those who resist new tools to start learning and catch up with the new world of constant communication. Regarding discipline and self-motivation, aren’t they values required for life? I believe discipline and self-motivation are values that take you a long way in all aspects of your life. I see learning new tools and self-discipline as bonuses of taking online courses.

Take an online course, and see it for yourself.


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