Blended on-campus and online study is best

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Social distancing and lockdowns have disrupted university studies for the past 18 months. Students are understandably stressed, as seen in a dramatic drop in student satisfaction across Australia reported in the annual report Student Experience Survey. Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge drew attention to this in call for a “return” to studies on campus.

But the world is increasingly digital. Old notions of lecture halls will not help graduates thrive in their careers. We need a college education that helps students succeed by preparing them for a .

Many studies have reported that work will become more mix, with less time spent in the office as working from home increases. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated this trend.

Various industries have discovered that they can move online efficiently, making it an authentic place to work. Telehealth has become the default option for seeing your GP, while the first place to find a service or product is an online search engine. Professionals must translate their skills into any environment, physical or virtual, and have the confidence to use new spaces and formats.

What about the impacts on learning?

Learning is created through interactions with teachers, peers and information. Decades of research show that learners learn best when the learning is asset, engaging, relevantand intentionally designed. These principles are true wherever learning takes place: on campus, online or in the workplace.

The real question is how to balance the best of online delivery with the best of campus and workplace delivery.

Universities are already moving in this direction. University studies have been mixed for more than two decades as study resources, activities and assessments have been moved to subject and course websites in virtual learning environments.

Initially, the goal was to organize learning for access anywhere and anytime. Today, digital learning environments have become much more sophisticated. They now also offer tools for group learning, projects and creativity.

“Emergency distance learning” is not ideal

Online learning during the pandemic was often a compromise. Good learning design takes time as teachers create curriculum, resources, and assessment tailored to their learners and the discipline. In March 2020, like most Australian universities, academics at my institution, Deakin University, had a week to rebuild our courses to enable our 41,000 students on campus to continue studying. Of course, many of the activities we had planned became impossible and online substitutes were rapidly developed over the following weeks.

This rapid change on a global scale has been dubbed “emergency distance learningby an American professor Charles Hodges and colleagues. They cautioned that we should be careful not to judge online learning by this experience.

Good online learning creates a sense of community. It engages students with rich resources and activities. It helps learners find study buddies and places for their independent work.

However, engagement is different online. Instead of meeting in a coffee shop, students chat online to share ideas and solve problems like they do in their daily lives. Social learning can take place on campus or online.

Some activities work better online, others in person

Some activities should always be online. To begin with, contemporary information is digital. While we value their physical spaces, university libraries are now mostly digital with the vast majority of books, journals and images provided and used online. The datasets are also largely digital and analyzed with digital tools ranging from spreadsheets to sophisticated software.

Digital learning is ideal for exploration. The world is at your fingertips and computers never tire of practicing basic skills with you.

Other activities must be in the physical space. Using specialized equipment or experiencing a workplace often means being in a purpose-built space. Being on the ground develops observation skills and provides more sensory input to consider. Collaborating with peers in the same room develops human interaction skills using different social cues than those we have online.

Online work can complement these activities with targeted preparation and follow-up.

Build on the best of recent experiences

The emergency response to distance learning has prompted educational teams to consider alternative learning methods. They tested and refined new online activities. Many teachers say they will retain at least a few.

Teacher Eric Mazur at Harvard is famous for its use of peer teaching to make classes active and social. He reports its online model developed in 2020 has improved learning and support so convincingly that it intends to continue with this format. Breaking down assumptions about what works best has opened the door to a better understanding of online teaching.

Students from all sectors of education have struggled with emergency distance learning and its disrupted life context. They reported difficulties with provision onlinelack of motivation, loneliness and decreased mental well-being.

But the universities are refining their courses. When students experience well-designed online learning over time, they build familiarity and confidence. We asked students enrolled at the Deakin campus about their study experience during the pandemic with regular “pulse check” surveys. Their feedback shows that their confidence in online study and assessment has risen sharply over the past 18 months as they have developed skills and familiarity.

As we move towards more sustainable models for today’s learners, universities are rethinking learning activities. Sitting and listening to the sage on stage is replaced by active learning using real-world information and scenarios.

We need to invest in an intentional learning design that combines the best of online and on-campus delivery. This will show students that they can learn, grow, and acquire the skills they need, no matter how they study.

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Quote: Digital Learning vs. Real-World Learning: Blended On-Campus and Online Study is Best (2021, July 14) retrieved November 21, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2021-07-digital -real-world-blended-on-campus-online.html

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