Teachers, like the students in their schools, need to discover the joy of learning and its inherent power.
Whether it is the exploration of new skills, new tools or new pedagogy, the value of pursuing topics of personal interest in an online learning program in which self-directed exploration and discovery feature is a very powerful way to engage and excite the interest of teachers and can be the catalyst that lays the foundation for continued lifelong learning.
Exchanging ideas and learning from course mentors and professional colleagues in a safe and supportive environment, where learning occurs in small, incremental steps, offers participants the opportunity to learn at their own pace, be challenged and feel empowered. Online learning programs are a tangible alternative to traditional professional learning programs and enable participants to learn anything, anytime, anywhere with anybody in either their local or global community.
Like the students in their classes, teachers are individuals, with their own ‘readiness to learn’ level based on prior knowledge, interest and experience. By selecting an online learning program tailored to meet their individual needs and interest, a range of learners, from the beginner to the highly experienced, will be able to engage in a meaningful way with both the content and participants, ensuring that learning is exhilarating, invigorating and highly stimulating.
For the uninitiated, deciding to enrol in an online learning program can be quite daunting. Being convinced that it is of greater value than opting for the more traditional workshops and conferences which still predominate in schools is an important consideration. So, what are the benefits of online learning?
What is in it for Teachers?
- Learn at their own pace: Participants can set limits for themselves and in the process avoid the pressure of having to compete with others. They can challenge themselves, monitor their own progress and set their own goals.
- Learn as little or as much as they like: With the freedom to set their own goals comes the freedom to decide how much participants dip into suggested readings or hands-on ‘use’ of tools being demonstrated.
- Learning by doing: There is no better way to learn than by rolling up the sleeves and getting ‘stuck into’ it! Active versus passive learning is an amazingly powerful learning experience.
- Supportive, safe environment: Online learning programs operate in a closed environment in which participants are able to get to know each other. With familiarity comes confidence to question and ponder new thoughts and ideas. Sharing supportive suggestions and advice enhances group learning.
- Learn with other like-minded people: A side benefit of online learning is the connectedness that evolves from learning and sharing collectively and collaboratively with others in cyberspace.
- Social networking: Using social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as professional tools is great. Both the immediacy and the collegiality that these platforms afford professional learning and growth are truly profound.
- Develop a personal learning network: The interaction between participants of an online learning course in which sharing, collaboration, support and guidance constantly occurs, creates a network in cyberspace characterised by deep bonds of trust and collegiality, which forms the basis of a personal learning network.
- Learn anything, anywhere, anytime: Participants can sit in front of a PC/laptop/iPad, in pyjamas, on the balcony, in the backyard, be curled up in bed or in a favourite lounge chair late at night, early in the morning or on a Sunday afternoon, learning whatever they want. Online learning allows all of these luxuries.
- Be mentored by an expert: The role of mentors throughout online learning programs as they guide, help and instruct can be a key to expanding and extending learning opportunities and is extremely powerful.
- Empowering and enjoyable: Learning, exploring and discovering as a lifelong pursuit has to be one of the best rewards life has to offer. Enjoying the exhilarating feeling of success as new skills are mastered is simply fantastic!
What is Available?
Compiling a list of online courses is nearly impossible because there are just so many out there. From Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to online learning courses offered by professional associations, it is clear that online learning is gaining a greater foothold in the education sector.
While a Google search is bound to turn up a host of different courses that are of appeal, teachers should check out the vast offerings of online course on sites such as Coursera, edX, Academic Earth, iTunesU and udemy, or the more than thousand courses listed on the fabulous Open Culture website. There is an incredible range of choice available.
New skills, new tools and new pedagogy can also be picked up from a range of other courses offered by local professional and volunteer-run sites such as State Library of Victoria, Edublogs Teacher Challenges, Tech Talk Tuesdays, Syba Academy, Well Imagine That and IT Made Simple, to name just a few. The wealth and quality of these courses challenge those traditional face-to-face workshops, courses and conferences traditionally attended.
Creating online learning opportunities within schools can also be a rewarding challenge. Principals should seek out ways for teachers in their schools to learn via social media, where talking, reading, writing, listening and sharing become valuable and meaningful. A wealth of creative learning opportunities can be initiated by:
· selecting tech savvy staff members to be mentors to groups of teachers
· having teachers ‘sign up’ to learning opportunities offered within the school
· providing online learning programs that range from simple to complex
· encouraging a top-down mentality: principals and heads of campus lead by example
· boosting teacher engagement with online reading of blogs and websites
· inspiring teachers to post comments on blog posts by posing questions or challenges
· requiring teachers to create a professional blog in which reflections of their learning journey are shared
· having teachers share their blog posts on social media
· creating a school-wide, campus-wide or subject-related blog in which there is an expectation of teacher engagement
· quite simply: maximising learning by doing
With an abundance of online courses available, deciding which one is right can be a formidable task. While knowing what they would like to learn is of course a good starting point, a judgement based on interest, difficulty and relevance will help teachers eliminate many. There are, however, many other factors which should be considered when deciding which online learning course is the right one for each individual.
Learning online is not as hard as one may think. It affords an opportunity to explore and experiment, to play, to learn and most of all, to have fun. Online learning can be achieved by enrolling in a program individually or as part of a group. Either way, participants can expect to be mentored. Mentors, who act as guides and teachers and are often the creators of the online learning program, are knowledgeable and well prepared to share their expertise. Many programs are free. Online learning is challenging and empowering.
Knowing, however, what they are signing up for is essential for all participants. Request to see an outline of the course content to get a feel of topics to be covered to be sure it is the right online learning program. To receive a certificate of completion, many online learning programs incorporate assessable tasks which may involve the submission of journal entries, Word documents, group participation in Google Drive or the creation of creative responses in the form of cartoons, videos or audio responses. Feeling comfortable with required tasks and assignments is important.
Know the time commitment involved, the length of the course as well as the number of hours a week required to complete basic course requirements, so that realistic expectations can be set in advance of commencing the program. Locate others who have completed the course to enhance understanding.
As the very term suggests, online learning programs occur in cyberspace. The range and variety of these learning platforms are enormous: Moodles, Google+ Hangouts, Webinars, Nings or Edmodo and MightyBell ‘classrooms’ are just some of the great locations in which participants will meet and chat with mentors and fellow participants. Course communication modes vary greatly and may include Twitter, Facebook, chatrooms, forums or the blogosphere. Exploring different learning platforms and communication modes becomes a side benefit to the learning journey.
Participation in an online learning program basically means that the learner is ‘going it alone’. It is important for participants to know at the outset how to get support to help them through those times they get stuck understanding a skill or tool being shared or completing a task requirement. Mentors are invaluable when completing an online learning program. Make sure they are easily accessible, to avoid that feeling of being stranded in cyberspace. Have backup contact points for them: social media, email and phone contact. The relationship established with mentors can be essential for powering enthusiasm and determination to ride out the difficult moments and to get the most out of the course.
The range of online learning programs is enormous. Some encourage interaction with other participants while others do not. The more interactive the course, the more participants are bound to get out of it. Like all learning activities, the more active a participant is, the greater the rewards. So go into the program aiming to interact as much as possible and be pleasantly surprised at its end how much extra has been gained along the way, simply by being an active participant.
Online learning is a powerful way to increase skills, power lifelong learning and rejuvenate how teachers learn. Challenging their minds with new techniques, new discoveries and new knowledge is satisfying and empowering for everyone. Learning and sharing in cyberspace with educators across the world enables experienced and inexperienced teachers alike to share and exchange ideas, thoughts and pedagogy.
Bev Novak has had extensive experience as a classroom teacher, specialist and Head of Library in a variety of school settings where she constantly aims to inspire a love of reading and ignite a joy of learning among students and teachers. Having published widely, Bev also authors two blogs, NovaNews and BevsBookBlog, in which she shares many tips, tools and experiences. In between exploring, discovering and experimenting, Bev actively encourages others to expand, embrace and enjoy their own journey of lifelong learning. Bev can be contacted via her blog novanews19.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @novanews19
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