Why Students Need More Control Over Their Online Education

Why Students Need More Control Over Their Online Education
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Summary: Traditional universities often boast about the relationships students build on their campuses, which ultimately provide students with powerful support networks. There’s no reason online students can’t enjoy these same benefits. In this article I will share why giving students more control over their online education enhances their online learning experience.

Redefining Online Education  

Modern technology has given educators fresh, innovative ways to engage students in online education. For students, however, this experience can feel more robotic than rewarding.

In most online courses, students skim reading materials, click through pre-made PowerPoint presentations, and watch poorly recorded lectures. Sometimes, brief discussion in an online forum follows. Finally, students complete related assignments, get their grades, and repeat these steps in future lessons.

What’s wrong with this system? A lot. First, let’s begin with the fact that many online learning platforms are basically offline courses directly uploaded to the internet. These experiences simply don’t translate.

Online programs also tend to limit teacher-student interactions and don’t accommodate students who learn at different paces and respond better to tailored lessons. That said, doing away with online courses isn’t necessary. Rather, creating a more meaningful experience for students should, and can, occur by putting control back in students’ hands.

Letting students decide how they learn will instill a sense of ownership and make the material more relevant. Imagine that the end result allowed students to immediately build something useful.

As highlighted in Most Likely To Succeed High Tech High’s CEO Larry Rosenstock tested this idea. After tying complex mathematical concepts to meaningful outcomes - physically building things like chairs- he found his students actually retained the information.

4 Ways To Enhance Students' Online Education Experience  

Modern technology makes it easy for online educators to cater to individual students. Here are 4 ways educators can give control back to students to ultimately enhance the online learning experience:

  1. Implement A Project-First Learning Format.
    At my company, we organize online courses in a project-first learning format. Our curriculum for each course is built around projects chosen and performed by students. Teachers serve as resources and guides. When students are given autonomy to create projects meaningful to them, something wonderful happens: They actually want to study, research, and apply their skills. Learning isn’t a chore; it’s an exciting adventure that will lead to something useful.The results speak for themselves. Our course completion rates typically range from 25 to 30 percent, about four times higher than the completion rate of a typical MOOC.
  2. Create A Nonlinear, Modular Curriculum.
    If you’re taking an all-encompassing math class, who says you have to start with addition and end with calculus? Why not start with addition, jump to algebra, and end with division? Many courses don’t necessarily need to go in order. Instead, students can learn in a nonlinear fashion. I like to call this the “Wikipedia model of education”. Learning occurs through exploration guided by a student’s interests. To empower students, allow access to all course content instead of locking certain lessons until everyone reaches the same point.
  3. Let Students Choose Their Own Pace.
    Not only do students have individual and preferred learning paces, but they also have lives outside of the classroom. One student might be a busy professional who travels regularly, another might be a frenzied parent with a sick toddler, and a third might be a young adult backpacking through Europe. A course that allows students to complete work at their own pace appeals not only to those who prefer taking it slow, but also to those who prefer plowing through. At our company, students complete courses in many different ways. Some take half a course, disappear, and return months later to complete it. Others race through courses like they were binge-watching “House of Cards” on Netflix. EdSurge recently published a fascinating article about Cathedral Catholic Academy, a small private school in Honolulu that dramatically reversed its declining student body by implementing a blended learning model. Among other things, this model allowed students to learn at their own pace and demonstrate their knowledge by completing projects.
  4. Open Communication Lines.
    No matter how advanced technology becomes, it will never replace the lifelong impact great teachers can have on students. Teachers need to be more involved in a student’s online education experience and facilitate both one-on-one and group-based learning. Simply asking students what they want to get out of a course helps to ensure value. Further, by encouraging students to communicate and learn from each other, educators can bolster the learning experience. Technology is about facilitating communication, whether it’s through platforms like Google Hangouts, email, or texting. Instructors should host live office hours, learn to be flexible, and thoroughly communicate with students.

Choice is a powerful thing. When you give students more control over their online education, you’ll be surprised by how eager they are to learn and apply new skills. Whether you implement project-first learning, nonlinear formats, self-paced courses, more flexible communication methods, or all of the above, you’ll give students a stronger overall learning experience.

If your goal is to educate, help your students help themselves.