The 4th topic of the ONL162 course is, in my opinion, addressing the very core question of online learning. Though we discussed earlier about other reasons for MOOCs and other online teaching efforts (eg. fulfilling the globally growing need for education as a whole), as a teacher I am most interested to see how being in the ‘cloud’ can have added value for students’ learning.


But I think before discussing this as well going into pro-s and cons of various methods for an effective course design, I think the question should first be: what is it that we want to teach our students. There are so many different ‘types’ of teachings, but also ‘types’ of learning aims that we have in the course of all our educational programs. Are we talking about the transfer of knowledge (where the student should be able to reproduce material), or all the knowledge levels after this (eg. being able to put it into another context)? I do not want to go through the entire range of educational taxonomies available, that are already well described elsewhere (eg. BLOOMs http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html, BIGGS SOLO http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/academic/solo-taxonomy/ or Feisel-Schmitz http://tll.mit.edu/help/two-examples-taxonomies-educational-outcomes).

But I would like to get right into the educational part that I personally am most interested in: making our engineers into knowledgeable, creative people that are able to not only work within a multi-cultural setting, but also into a cross-disciplinary world.

I strongly believe that the major contributions of the future will lay in the ‘interface zones’ of disciplines: how to effectively bridge communication between machines and humans, between cars and roads, between materials and ICT, between energy and society, between inputs and the outputs etc. Functions will get expanded upon, processes will get smarter and how can we –as a society – ensure that the end result is beneficial for society on the long run as well as maintainable from both a human and environmental perspective? Who will keep the system’s perspective, so we avoid technology for the sake of technology?

Who will be the ones that are going to be the stewards of this? In my opinion this will be our students and the students of our students. So we, as teachers, need to enable our current generation of students to have the content, skills and social (communication) abilities as well as instill them with a sense of societal responsibility. I think the online learning platforms will enable us to get much further with this than the traditional class room does. Partly because the students will get forces to become more self sufficient, more creative and more responsible (as long as we avoid the spoon-feeding trap). But also because it will get them into the wider world earlier, where they have to deal with multiple disciplines, different backgrounds and complex systems and cultures.

So how can online learning thus support this: Which methods should we apply, so as so ensure we will reach this very ambitious end goal? In ‘Bates, T (2016). The 10 Fundamentals of Teaching Online for Faculty and Instructors. PDF available here’ the online methods are listed as

  • Online class notes
  • Recorded lectures
  • Webinars
  • Instructionally designed online courses based on a LMS
  • Design based on open education and emerging technologies

This last one is, among others, referring to Courses built around emerging technologies, such as virtual worlds, gaming, and augmented reality.  Bates highlights in his texts that ‘Students are encouraged to seek, analyze, evaluate and apply content to real world issues or contexts, rather than the instructor being primarily responsible for content choice and delivery

I do think, however, that before we expose our students to this we need to ensure that their ‘vessels’ are already filled with knowledge. So they should already have been educated on the basics, and have sufficient ‘expertise’ in their field. The traditional topics (mechanics, mathematics, physics etc) can perhaps already been handled before the online world becomes a necessity for the added skills. One can of course argue that the traditional topics can in fact be also very easily treated with online courses. This brings us into earlier discussions which are focused on the usefulness of online courses for student, teachers and institutes (‘accessibility to education’,‘fighting costs’, ‘why reinvent the wheel every time’ etc). But my point here was how online teaching can create the added skills that we otherwise may never build.

In our group assignment for this topic we went briefly into the ‘gaming for education’ direction, where students learn through ‘playing’ a game together. As the literature regarding ‘serious gaming’ or ‘gaming for education’ is fast and extensive, I’d rather explore here its effectiveness. For this I am referring to a key scientist in this field, Traci Sitzmann, that published extensively on the effectiveness of teaching in an online setting (for instance using gaming methods) in comparison to class-rooms style teaching, for instance:

In these, she concluded that:

web based instruction was 19% more effective than class-room instructions for teaching declarative knowledge when web-based trainees were provided with control, in long courses, and when trainees practiced the training material and received feedback during training.
Interactive cognitive complexity theory suggests that simulation games are more effective than other instructional methods because they simultaneously engage trainees’ affective and cognitive processes


I think Biggs ‘constructive alignment’ (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00138871) fits perfectly within this context, as some of the skills we are aiming for are not only encouraged through content or activities, but even through all the implicit (social) processes our students (and teachers) will have to go through within these type of online courses.

Perhaps in the future we will see a clear division between online environments that are catering towards transferring basic knowledge (focusing on minimizing reinventing the wheel, accessibility and perhaps institutional sustainability) and online environments focussing on increased skills and abilities for our students. Each of these would demand different tools and methods within their course design. In any case it is going to be interesting to be part of some of these developments and perhaps in 10 years time (or even shorter?) we may already see the effect in a new generation of students that can tackle our societies challenges!

(Clouds drawing by Maaike Hartjes, @comic house.nl)