The Online Learner in the Next Normal: What Valuable Lessons Have Students Taught Us?

You are invited to join this forthcoming panel discussion where we look to the future of higher education, with a particular focus on some of the valuable lessons that students have taught us over the different waves of the COVID crisis. The webinar reflects on what we knew previously about the design of effective online learning from a students’ perspective and how our understanding has been affirmed, challenged and in some cases reshaped by the pandemic experience.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

We begin with a short overview of the DCU Futures initiative to help frame the conversation and then invite panel members to share their personal stories and insights from the emerging literature on some of the challenges and opportunities that need purposeful consideration as we build back the next normal of higher education.

The discussion provides a timely opportunity to pause, take stock and reimagine as individually and collectively we emerge from a once in generation disruption to the old normal.

You will have the opportunity to engage with a diverse panel that will share their own lessons and experiences from differing perspectives. Participants will also be invited to ask questions and contribute their own thoughts as we think about how to design more active, meaningful and personalised student-centred learning experiences. 

Members of the Panel

  • Chair, Prof. Mark Brown, NIDL Director, DCU
  • Prof. George Veletsianos, Royal Roads University, NIDL D’Arch Beacon Fellow
  • Dr. Sharon Flynn, IUA, Project Manager 
  • Dr. Ciarán Dunne, Director of Transversal Skills, DCU Futures
  • Dr. Elaine Beirne, Ideas Lab, DCU
  • Megan O’Connor incoming VP for Academic Affairs, Union of Students Ireland (TBC)

Each panel member brings a unique and interesting perspective to this lively conversation.

Prof. George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology and the Commonwealth of Learning Chair in Flexible Learning is author of the book Learning online: The student experience. George joins the panel as part of his prestigious Irish Canada University Association (ICUF) D’Arcy McGee Beacon Scholarship.

Dr. Sharon Flynn who leads the Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning (EDTL) initiative managed by the Irish University Association (IUA) has been working in close partnership with students and recently coordinated an innovative crowd-source student vision for learning in a post-Covid environment.

We expect Sharon will share some of the results and fascinating insights from the “Your Education, Your Voice, Your Vision” campaign. 

Dr. Ciarán Dunne was recently appointed to a new position as Director of Transversal Skills and is playing an important role in the implementation of DCU Futures. This four year project aims to transform the learning of undergraduate students, reconceptualising how we teach, introducing exciting new areas of study, and embedding the digital literacies, disciplinary competencies and transferable skills that students will require to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

The DCU Futures Framework

Dr. Elaine Beirne is a Researcher in the NIDL Ideas Lab and was the Project Manager for the development of A Digital Edge Essentials for the Online Learner. This free online course was designed for students and co-facilitated by students in response to the COVID crisis and is predicated on the assumption that learning how to learn online is now an important life skill. This initiative has now evolved and is a core part of the EU-funded DigiTEL Pro Strategic Partnership.

Megan O’Connor is incoming VP for Academic Affairs, Union of Students Ireland. In her new position, Meghan is likely to play an important role working with other student bodies and higher education institutions in shaping the next normal. Due to other commitments, Meghan has yet to confirm her participation.

When: 16:00 (Irish Time) Thursday 17th June

Where: Online via Zoom 

Registration: You must register in advance for this event. Please click here to register. We look forward to your participation and contribution to this timely panel discussion.

From “Anxious” to “Confident”: Week 1 of Digital Edge ends with Optimism

A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner went live on Monday 21st September and so far more than 3300 people have registered for the course. Importantly, given the current Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges facing college and university students around the world, this free 2-week course on the FutureLearn platform aims to support people to learn how to be an effective online learner.

Week 1 kicked off with a welcome poll asking participants how they’re feeling at the beginning of the course. Here are the poll results from earlier in the week:

While some learners felt “anxious” and “overwhelmed”, others felt “excited”, “comfortable” and “happy”. The mix of emotions was expected and is a quite normal response for many first-time online learners. However, a related course aim is to help participants feel less anxious and more enthusiastic about their online learning experience by equipping them with the necessary tools, resources and positive mindset to become successful lifelong learners in a digital world.

Jessica Q, one of the participants, said:

“It’s somewhat reassuring to see other people are feeling anxious – glad I’m not the only one!  It’s daunting as I’ve been out of education for over a decade, but seeing how much support and guidance there is available really helps! Excited to start on the road to finally getting my degree in my 30s.”

The first week is structured in four parts: (i) a welcome section including the above poll, (ii) Ways of Thinking, (iii) Ways of Working, and (iv) a roundup to reflect on the week. Ways of thinking included a 3-step guide to cultivating a growth mindset and lessons from FutureLearn’s Crowdsourced Guide to Learning. Some of the questions asked were:

  • How do you manage your own thinking?
  • How can you grow your mindset for learning?
  • What are you hoping to achieve from your studies?

These questions led to an interesting discussion where participants shared their tips and set out their objectives for others to follow. The most common tips to managing thinking coming from the course participants included writing thoughts down and creating ‘mind maps’.

On Thursday, DCU students taking the course were invited to participate in a webinar designed to support A Digital Edge. Notably, 300 students joined this live session, which was entirely organised, hosted and facilitated by Vish Gain, a NIDL intern, and the DCU Student Ambassadors who are contributing to the course as co-facilitators.

Ways of Working started with a quick poll based on a scenario on how different learners approach managing their time. The results were promising as most learners reported they like to be prepared with reading up long before an online lecture, while some like to do readings on the morning of the lecture. Either way, the poll helped learners to keep in mind they have decisions about how they go about their work and this knowledge informed the subsequent discussions.

Michael M, one of the participants, said…

“I do most of my best work in the morning as I am more fresh and generally feel more satisfied with having accomplished even a small task early in the day… I would always be concerned that in the evening time comes fatigue and I would be less disciplined or retain less. It is nice to be reminded from the poll, the variety of how people operate.”

When responding to a poll on support systems, most participants reported that they were most likely to rely on friends, classmates and family members for support, followed by partners and lecturers, as depicted in the results shown below.

Week 1 concluded with a summary of all the points learnt under Ways of Thinking and Ways of Working, followed by a round up and discussion by participants reflecting on what they’ve learnt so far. This is what some of them had to say:

Ranganai G…

“I have gained a bit of confidence just by attending the first part of the Digital Edge course, I feel I can start on my degree now.”

Adam C…

“Really good to be able to read the comments and see what other students feel and think about certain topics, especially if you’re an incoming student transitioning from secondary school like me.”

The feedback on the course so far has been very encouraging and is marked by a significant shift in vocabulary from being “anxious” and “overwhelmed” to “excited” and “confident” as reflected by the following two comments posted in the end of week round up:


 “This course has been so helpful as I’ve been really stressed about doing all my learning and studying online this year.” 

The course has really helped ease my worries about online learning. It has helped me think about the ways in which I learn and how I can adapt them to become a successful online learner.

The course now moves towards Week 2’s themes which focus on Tools for Working and Tools for Thriving. Having said that, it’s not too late to start the course if you haven’t yet registered as the discussion posts and resources from Week 1 will be available for a few more weeks. Notably, some participants have already completed the entire course in the first week and on last count around 100 DCU students have their Certificates of Achievement as evidence of their completion.

For those yet to complete, next week we will continue to support people throughout Ireland, and beyond, to Explore, Develop, Gather, and Embrace their online learning experience as they navigate their way through the remainder of the course alongside fellow learners, our student ambassadors and NIDL team of experienced online educators.