Coronavirus crisis: Obstacles of moving traditional students to distance learning modalities at scale

 

3 min read

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By Dr. John Woods, Chief Academic Officer and Provost, and Marc Booker, Associate Provost, University of Phoenix

Amid coronavirus concerns, many higher education institutions across the country have announced plans to transition on-campus students into online environments. These precautionary measures could persist for weeks or months as social distancing and quarantine scenarios are implemented to limit the spread of COVID–19.

While this shift in modality is undoubtedly warranted to protect students, it is the responsibility of institutions to provide the best educational experience to ensure a seamless continuation of their academic journey. But are universities prepared to adopt distance learning at scale indefinitely? The recent coronavirus outbreak may force their hand whether they’re ready or not.

Online learning is not novel – but it can become a challenge at scale. Universities have offered varying capacities of distance learning since University of Phoenix began its model in 1989.  The University has leaned into our more than 80,000 working adult learners across the country who attend classes virtually. Our educational model embraces technology to provide instruction in an engaging and immersive online environment.

Institutions must understand how to make this transition to ensure that the student experience remains as seamless as possible. Here are a few often overlooked elements of distance learning to consider when scaling an online environment.

Transition from Traditional ground-based classrooms to online learning environments are often not seamless

When we talk about a seamless experience, that starts and ends with how traditional students interact with your learning management systems (LMS). Face-to-face courses often do not have students interact with the LMS, limiting the engagement and experience they had in the classroom.

All of our students – whether ground or online – are on our LMS and have familiarity with our platform. This ensures students possess digital literacy. Using your LMS across modalities can also allow you to train students using physical instruction to virtual sessions across courseware.

Traditional courses often don’t “fit” online delivery

By incorporating the above two points, curriculum can be delivered through these virtual means with limited loss in fidelity. At University of Phoenix, our pedagogical design does not need to be deconstructed to fit virtual delivery for ground-based students. This is because our curriculum design teams build our courses with both teaching methods in mind, which means a shift is easier. Without this multi-faceted design up-front, you’ll need to figure out how to “fit” traditional courses to online delivery on the back-end. 

This is not to say that ground-based courses should be delivered virtually at all times, but this approach can help ensure that you accommodate students for virtual synchronous delivery as needed without concerns of learning outcomes being adversely impacted. 

Engaging online learners requires strategic implementation

Providing engaging discussion forums that allow virtual students to benefit from student-to-student and student-to-instructor interactions through the development of practical critical-thinking questions that result in substantive conversations don’t occur organically and require strategic thinking about the online learner through a suite of resources. 

We provide this through in-house multimedia and educational technology teams that create adaptive resources so that students are still benefiting from activities that simulate, scale, and enhance face-to-face context. These are “at the ready” because of our online presence so that for student in any courses that are traditionally offered face-to-face can adapt to the online environment easily by dropping these interactive elements into the course shells.

Understanding both synchronous and asynchronous learning designs and the educational technology tools at your disposal by leveraging your LMS as a hub for all students can help enhance digital literacy for learners of all types. This allows an institution the ability to pivot quickly for students in an emergency like this, and creates no encumbrance for any pre-existing online populations as their studies will continue as normal.

John Woods, Ph.D. is the chief academic officer and provost for University of Phoenix. He holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Bowling Green State University, as well as a Master of Arts and Bachelor of Arts from Carleton University.

Marc Booker, PhD, is associate provost, strategic initiatives and implementation at University of Phoenix. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration from the University of Phoenix.

[1] https://www.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2012/5/pub720310-pdf.pdf?la=en&hash=ABDA630B178BDD4AE8CA497785A948F228983642

[2] https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/online%20table%201_3.png?width=500&height=500