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Turn the Tables and Take an Online Class


Digital analyst and author Brian Solis shared an interesting observation on a Google+ post, this month: “The only way to understand new culture and behavior is to go native.” The context was related to business operations and the use of technology to connect with consumers, but it struck a chord with me as an online instructor.

There’s certainly a general culture surrounding online learning, and unique characteristics specific to the culture of each school and course. We see this and help shape it as instructors, but to experience it as a learner can be a powerful form of professional development. When is the last time you were an online student?

Taking an online class is part of my plan for this year, as included in Open Sesame’s learning resolutions series. So, now the search is on for ways in which I can accomplish this goal, and I’m encountering a number of challenges not uncommon to those experienced by the students in our own online classes.

When will this happen?

Finding time to add a course to my schedule is daunting. Like many online learners, I will have to manage course work in addition to my employment and family obligations, not to mention other roles and tasks I’ve agreed to take on over the next several months. What can your schedule bear? Consideration of time must be a factor in selecting the type and duration of online learning you pursue.

How much will it cost?

There’s no denying the importance of resource planning in terms of both time, as mentioned above, and finances. Enrolling in a traditional, credit-bearing academic course will involve tuition, and perhaps additional fees as well, even as a non-degree seeking student. Online workshops and seminars may also involve costs for registration, materials, or books. It’s good to know what you are willing and able to spend before you identify and compare the possibilities.

What about goals?

My interest in becoming an online student is really about experiencing the learning environment from a different perspective. What is it like to navigate the course site, interact with classmates, and follow the lead of an instructor to complete assignments? But beyond that I need to make sure it’s something I’ll follow through to completion. Making the most of the experience for me also means building my professional skills.

Looking back at my own resolution, the goal is to improve my practice, which could be reached in a variety of ways. Online learning may also be a way to complete continuing education or certification requirements. Explore your goals for taking an online class before enrolling.

What are the options?

The reality is that there are a lot of online learning opportunities available. From credit-bearing courses to webinars and online symposiums, all allow you to take on the role of student.

  • Academic courses: Enrolling in an online academic course offered by a college or university may be the most similar format to the classes you teach. A broad range of options exists from both traditional and all-online schools. Taking a class from the institution at which you teach, but perhaps in a different department, is a way to further explore the institution’s learning management system, resources, and policies from the student perspective – and the tuition may also be discounted, or even free.
  • MOOCs: There are many different types and formats of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) to choose from, including the more structured offerings from sources like Coursera and Udacity. Duke University, just one of 33 universities currently partnered with Coursera, presents several course titles now through April.
  • Skill-based: Want to hone a particular skill? Advanced Power Searching with Google is an example of online education with a more specific focus. Starting this week (January 23rd through February 8th) this course hopes to “help you gain a deeper understanding of how to become a better researcher.” As a student in the initial Power Searching with Google course last year, I found it not only helped improve my Internet search skills, but also provided a learning environment with familiar components of threaded discussions, recorded lectures, interactive exercises, and online exams.
  • Short-term and Self-paced: If you don’t have time for a multi-week course, alternative formats can provide you with the experience of an online learner at your own pace, and in shorter time frames. Check with the leading professional organizations in your field to find online learning options, such as webinars, workshops, and lecture series. The American Society for Training and Development’s online workshop series and The Sloan Consortium’s webinar scheduleare just two examples of what you might find.Consider how this kind of experience might inform your approach to teaching and serve as a source of professional development this year.

How about you? What are your thoughts on “going native” as an online learner? Explore some of the alternatives available and identify opportunities that meet your goals, as well as your schedule and financial needs.

Image credit: alexbuss, Flickr, CC:BY-NC-SA

January 21st, 2013 written by Staff Writers

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