I recently enrolled on an online learning programme with an institutionin Europe. I was naturally sceptical. But the savings in tuition, travel and the fact that I don’t have to leave my usual life, made it seem attractive. It is a short course so the whole thing is part experiment, part learning for me. I’m telling you it works and it’s fun.
It works like this, about 20 students from around the world are enrolled. The students each get a password that gets them into the online virtual space. This space is only open to students and is secure. And if not entirely secure, it is not a space where we exchange our bank information. If an outsider manages to get in, then they find at their disposal information and books and academic exchanges.
When we first started, some weeks ago, we spent the first chapter learning how to use the online environment. It takes some learning. Within the online school are chat rooms, public messengers, private email, wiki areas for sharing information, a library with downloadable books and chapters of the entire European University, and places where homework is uploaded. Each student also has a blog and past students have access to part of the system.
Learning is done through group works and the groups are usually chosen for their diversity. That means you sometimes find yourself in a group with three people each on a different time zone. Collaboration consists of chats, emails, skype and often someone sacrifices some or part of their sleep.
Documents are easily shared and all students are able to download the necessary reading materials from the online library and exchange points of view. Video sessions are planned in the near future at a time to be negotiated in a way that will suit everyone as much as possible. The group has students from Europe, Africa, Asia and the US.
At the end of the theory part, a week-long face-to-face session is planned so that students can meet and some of the classes can be taught live.
I love the online community, because unlike facebook or twitter, it consists of a group of like-minded individuals pursuing a common goal that is educational in nature. That means that chats and conversations are always thought-provoking, interesting, debate-provoking, not the sometimes idle chatter you find on social media. I believe that this will change the way education is provided around the world.