Online Teaching and Learning (OTL) Framework
by Mark Sivy
The current global academic arena is being shaped and led by innovation and online courses, MOOCS, certifications and degrees. Learners, whether young adults who are full-time learners or working adults fitting courses into their busy schedules, are demanding and benefiting from on-demand access to online education. Developing a robust OTL program enables higher education institutions to be competitive, to meet learner demands for online content and collaborative learning, and to address SME and industry needs for employees to have a working knowledge of online learning and operations.
Program stakeholders need to realize that a new OTL initiative will take a few years to gain momentum, but once that occurs, rapid growth and development will follow. The following is a summary of the necessary considerations for strategically planning and developing a successful OTL program. Not all items must be implemented in association with the faculty development, but they will be to occur early in the deployment of OTL.
Elements That Facilitate Effective OTL Practices:
- Learner Fulfillment
- Faculty Approval
- Learning Outcomes
- Cost Effectiveness
To ensure success, the technical, administrative and instructional foundations for an OTL program should be strategically planned to be sustainable and scalable. Common technical aspects include servers and database capacities, load analyses, student information systems, a learning management system, end-user devices, and bandwidth. Administrative backing in areas such as providing financial resources and staff, policy, advising, online library access, and learning object repositories.
Multiple areas of support will be needed. This will involve help desk support for students, professional development and training for faculty, and technical support and maintenance for systems. Very often with a start-up program, support is provided by faculty, teaching assistants and user communities, but this should be supplemented and eventually replaced by institutional support facilities.
Online learners prefer and need responsive and individualized services. This includes not only the learning management system and faculty, but also areas such as advising, registration and tutoring. Effective and frequent communication is a premium in OTL, and thus the learning environment should sustain high levels of communication, social interaction, and collaboration. Student surveys and needs assessments should be performed on a regular basis.
At the core of a successful OTL program are the faculty. They should be involved in the program building process from the very beginning. Input surveys identifying faculty needs, learning needs, and technological needs should be implemented. Marketing of the OTL program should begin early, showing the benefits and advantage of how OTL can enhance instruction and the academy. It is also vital to host faculty forums, create faculty focus groups, form communities of practice, and identify faculty champions. A grassroots faculty advancement of OTL is likely to have a much higher degree of buy-in and success than a program that is a top-down initiative. With that said, administrators should acknowledge that OTL can be more time consuming for the faculty than in-person courses.
It’s essential that both students and faculty feel that the quality of OTL is on par with face-to-face learning. If done well, OTL can exceed traditional classroom outcomes. This can lead to better enrollment, retention and graduation rates.
A well-planned and supported OTL program can increase financial, infrastructure and human resource effectiveness, thus reducing overall costs.
Reflection Point – “The challenge is not simply to incorporate learning technologies into current institutional approaches, but rather to change our fundamental views about effective teaching and learning and to use technology to do so.” ~Donald Hanna