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Technology has brought great advantages to the online teaching-learning environment. It has changed how we do teaching and learning and opened up the world of learning and opportunity to those who would not have had such opportunity without it.
However, for online education to be successful there has to be commitment and support by governments, institutions, academics and learners. An absolute necessity is providing quality education. That means well-resourced institutions, well qualified and motivated staff, good and continuous quality assurance mechanisms and supportive leadership.
Challenges Associated with Online Education
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges associated with online education is assuring parents, employers and students that the quality of what learners receive is just as good as that delivered in face-to-face mode. That challenge of course, is often compounded by the quality of what is actually offered and the ad hoc nature in which online education companies have sprung up. What some of them are producing is very questionable and this affects more broadly how online learning is perceived. It has taken a major upheaval brought about by Covid 19 for many education institutions to adapt to the forced change to the teaching-learning environment and address the issue of quality in online offerings.
There are many stakeholders in the online learning environment. These include the institutions that offer online education, the staff who teach the courses, the students enrolled in online study, the parents paying their child’s fees, the prospective employers of graduates from online courses, the Ministry/Government and the broader society. First & foremost all these stakeholders want the online courses to meet certain standards, be quality assured and accredited and so be recognised nationally & internationally. It means having in place a supportive governmental policy environment.
Quality Assurance Mechanisms in Online Courses
Institutions that deliver online should have clearly spelt out quality assurance mechanisms in place for staff and students and make sure these are implemented. Staff who develop and deliver online must be appropriately qualified and supported professionally. Adequate resourcing and investment in technology that works must be available. Lastly and just as importantly, there must be a guarantee that learners have access to support right through their learning journey, from admission up to graduation. The key is to develop ways for online students to feel as if they belong, they are connected, they can develop relationships – even if they are virtual. To support this, instructors need to proactively engage with students, get to know them and maintain contact throughout their study, as well as incorporate methods to motivate and encourage them and foster student to student contact also. Unresponsive instructors are a significant factor in students not continuing with their online studies.
The whole process can be summed up as an interconnected support scheme. The students do the learning, the instructor provides the learning materials and supports the students’ learning process, the higher education institution makes available the infrastructure and systems for the instructors delivering the courses to the students, and the Ministry authority/government that oversees the accreditation of academic programs provides an appropriate policy environment for all stakeholders engaged in online education.
Online Courses Must be of an Equal Quality to that Delivered in Face-to-face Mode
There are literally thousands if not millions of students who have successfully studied and completed their qualifications online from certificate through to doctoral level. Enrolments in higher education continue to grow along with those in the online corporate market as more industries and businesses use online learning as a means of training for their employees. The access, convenience and flexibility online learning provides is a major factor in its growth. Regardless however, the key message is the same as in any learning environment, namely that what is delivered online must be of an equal quality to that delivered in face-to-face mode.
Lucubrate Magazine July 2021
The picture on the top of the article: Adobe Stock