What does quality online learning look like?

Faculty and staff at Ontario’s post-secondary institutions demonstrated Herculean diligence and dedication when they transitioned their classes from in-person to online and distance learning in just a few months last March days. Despite an impressive collective effort, the virtual learning many students experienced did not match the best-case scenario of online learning, which ideally is robustly planned, intentional, universally designed, and expertly facilitated. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may allow us to learn important lessons and greatly improve online learning by getting some training, having adequate resources and being attentive.

When online teaching is done well, that is to say when it is student-centered and based on sound pedagogy, learning is comparable to in-person teaching. This is good news, given that many Canadian post-secondary institutions anticipate that the majority of teaching will continue to be done online in the fall.

To help educational institutions plan for the upcoming academic year, we’ve revisited the research to remind us exactly what we mean when we talk about great online learning. Here we share a series of high-level principles and best practices for enriching online teaching and learning at the postsecondary level.

Teaching emphasizing pedagogy

Quality online teaching prioritizes pedagogy. What are the learning outcomes or objectives of each lesson, and what tools can help achieve them? Given the large number of digital tools available (e.g., Zoom, Teams, Blackboards), it is important not to get distracted by the medium used and to remember the role of intentional teaching in the moment. to choose a platform. Technology is just a tool; How teachers use it is what really matters in terms of student outcomes.

Interactive and engaging teaching

Good online courses provide multiple ways for students to interact and participate. Opportunities to participate are particularly important for students who are located in different locations and time zones. The tools and approaches can and should be different for each course. Using chat features, creating virtual meetings that can be joined at any time, or even using asynchronous tools like Padlet to build a remote learning community provide students with different access points to participate. Creating opportunities where students and instructors can learn from each other provides the opportunity to increase student interest in the course material.

Student-centered teaching

Empowering students and providing them with flexibility, different types of interactions, and various options for showing their learning progress are essential to quality online learning. Allowing students to have some choices throughout the course—for example, offering multiple forms of assessment (e.g., take-home exams, final essays, video presentations)—can really turn a good course into a great one. Good online learning also provides multiple checkpoints to see how students are progressing and to make necessary adjustments to meet their needs.

Accessible education

Good online education is based on the principle that students have different strengths, abilities, and needs when it comes to online learning. Online learning can be especially difficult for students who have disabilities or other learning needs. When designers and teachers use a universal design method and are aware of accessibility issues at all times, they create a more inclusive learning space for students. Today, this is more important than ever, as learning occurs away from the traditional supports found on campus. HEQCO has given a lot of thought to this topic and how to better support students who will have accessibility needs during the fall semester and beyond.

Teaching based on collaboration

Creating quality online courses takes time. For many faculty members and students, online learning is a new experience that may be intimidating. Teachers and students need to be patient, flexible, and willing to collaborate in order to learn from people who are more familiar with this type of learning space.

The good news is that colleges and universities across the country are using these principles and practices as they prepare to take an unprecedented approach to delivering postsecondary courses this fall. We would like to congratulate those who are working hard to ensure this change of direction. By continuing to leverage the expertise of staff, faculty and students, we hope that together we will create and deliver a responsive, flexible and accessible online learning experience for all learners.