A Digital Edge: Week 2 Reflections – Learners Better Prepared to Thrive Learning Online

We wrapped up Week 2 of A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner at the end of last week. By the end of the week almost 5,000 learners from across the globe had registered to enhance their online skills set against a wider context of life skills and the LifeComp Framework as colleges and universities explore the potential of online, hybrid and blended models of teaching and learning.

A Digital Edge: Life Skills Framework

After a strong start in the first week, in which learners reflected on their experience and noted a shift in their feelings towards online learning from “anxious” to “confident”, the second week continued the steady growth in the level of interest and engagement. As a socially-focused course, it was rewarding to see comment sections brimming with observations, experiences and advice from people as they progressed through the week’s “Ways of Thinking” and “Ways of Working” sections.

While the first week focused on starting with the right mindset and laying down foundational principles for learning online, Week 2 shifted the focus to some more practical aspects with “Tools for Working” and “Tools for Thriving”. Kicking off with a quiz on “What are you concerned about?” to help our team of facilitators to better understand the needs and concerns of learners, Week 2 then moved ahead to address some of those challenges in “Tools for Working”. This included handling issues around getting connected, avoiding the “shiny new toy” syndrome to get organised, creating plans and to-do lists, accessing appropriate tools for different activities, and getting into the habit of backing up data.

“Tools for Thriving”, the last section of the course, had a mix of articles, videos, polls and student advice that all stressed the importance of digital well-being and social interaction. The step “Think, Reflect, Think!” introduced the idea of becoming a ‘thriving’ citizen by honing one’s critical thinking skills and civic engagement with an open mind. Spotting fake news and avoiding its spread was highlighted in the ‘Beware!’ section, which sparked a lively discussion in the comments section.

As the course comes to an end, a poll under the step ‘A Worry Shared’ was conducted to determine which aspects of online learning people were most concerned about. Here are the results of this poll so far…

Which of the following aspects of online learning are you most concerned about?

Almost half of the learners (43%) said they were most concerned about staying focused and self-motivated. The next highest group, a little over one in four learners (27%) said they were concerned about the lack of social interaction. Organising group work/study sessions and limited access to lecturers/tutors were the next highest concerns, followed by lecturers’ experience in online teaching.

Notably, 6% of course participants said they were concerned about internet speed/availability and 2% about access to computers/technology, reflecting the need for institutions and governments across the world to upgrade their internet infrastructure for the benefit of higher education in the ‘new normal’.

It was good to see that learners embraced the message of the need to collaborate with others and support fellow learners. Here’s a good example of learners participating in the course already starting to help out each other in their online learning journey…

After an Orientation Week webinar with students at Dublin City University (DCU) taking the course, it is pleasing to see that over 700 have already completed the course and uploaded their FutureLearn Certificate onto their MyDCU portal. The level of uptake at DCU demonstrates the value of this type of course when it is fully embedded like this as part of the student welcome and orientation experience. We were also pleased that DCU’s President, Professor Daire Keogh has a final video at the end of the course to wish everyone all the best for their online study over the remainder of the year, and beyond.

Overall, the general feedback on the course in the final section was overwhelmingly positive. Most learners appreciated the social nature of the course, the reflections at the end of each step, and the ability to learn from other learners’ advice. This was a key aspect of the course design. Most of all, they found comfort in finding a community of learners who felt like they were in this together: journeying from ‘anxious’ to ‘confident’, ‘concerned’ to ‘excited’.

As Christiaan said…

This course really brought it home to me that we’re all in the same boat! That really helps with any anxieties I may have as I approach the start of term. There was an article earlier in the course about the humanity of the student, I really liked that. Be vulnerable, there’s great capacity for development when you move to that space which lies outside your comfort zone.

In a similar vein, Grainne P wrote…

I’ve definitely learned a lot from this course and I really enjoyed it too. I’ve learned about different tools that I will use to thrive in my new online learning environment. I’ve discovered areas that I need to work on and I’ve gotten a clearer insight into how I learn. I’ve learned about the importance of being organized, having a good balance in life and of taking time off. I learned about how active citizenship interlinks with becoming a student. The digital tools and skills that I have learned about have prepared me for online learning and the year ahead now seems less daunting. Thank you.

And Deidre C shared her course reflections including several valuable takeaways…

This course really helped me. It was interesting, interactive, and informative. It helped me to reflect and learn. I really liked the discussion forums at the end of each article as they made me realise that I share many of my feelings with others who are in the same position as me so I am not alone. The forums also allowed me to learn from others. My top 3 takeaways are:

1. Don’t be shy and engage with others on Zoom and other online learning platforms

2. Develop a good routine and stick to it – manage my time effectively, don’t leave things until the last minute

3. Keep up with my study but take regular breaks and know when to switch off as this is so important for my well being

What’s next?

The course is still open for learners to complete. However, this week any late comers and those people still finishing the course won’t receive as many personal replies and comments from our team of facilitators. At this stage, we would like to thank our team of DCU Student Ambassadors, in particular, for their comments and valuable contributions to the course over the past few weeks. And keep in mind that the comments already posted under each step from both learners and our facilitators remain a valuable resource and serve to illustrate how online learning can be a socially interactive and critically reflective experience when you choose to engage. We also encourage participants to provide feedback on the course in the end survey, and elsewhere, as this feedback will be used by the team in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at DCU to help enhance the next course offering. We anticipate a revised version of the course will be available again in January 2021. 

Learning How to Learn Online: DCU Launches a New Course for Online Learners

While there has been a steady growth in demand for online courses in the last decade, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of online education across the globe. With millions of people starting or continuing their higher education online this year, there has never been a greater need for a course that teaches the essentials of being an online learner. DCU’s latest online course developed by a team in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) in partnership with FutureLearn addresses just that – the fundamentals of being an effective online learner.

A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner is a two-week course designed and facilitated by experienced online educators and digital education researchers at DCU working in collaboration with the DCU Students’ Union and the Irish Universities Association (IUA). Funded as part of DCU’s Covid-19 Research and Innovation Hub, this free online course is available to people worldwide.

While there are a handful of similar courses already available online, DCU’s course is unique as it was co-designed to be ‘for students, by students’. This means that while the facilitators are seasoned online educators in the NIDL, the course has been reviewed by IUA student interns from 7 Irish universities and is being co-facilitated by a team of DCU Student Ambassadors. These students will be sharing their own tips, advice and valuable first-hand experiences throughout the course to enable participants to optimise their own online learning journey.

Based on contemporary theory and research along with DCU’s considerable experience in designing online education, the course aims to help students thrive in the new digital-era. It promotes healthy online learning habits and the concept of digital well-being to flourish as online learners for the new digital future. The course helps learners to understand how to truly harness digital tools and resources to maximise their learning and to develop online support networks. Learning to work effectively online in collaboration with peers is a important theme throughout the course. Another key area discussed towards the end of the course is the need to establish and manage a professional online identity.

Led by Professor Mark Brown, NIDL, Director, Professor Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl, Head of the Ideas Lab, and Dr Eamon Costello, Head of the Open Education Unit, the course draws on UNESCO’s Learning Compass 2030 and is anchored in the European LifeComp Framework. It is structured around four key themes and builds on DCU’s strategic collaboration with FutureLearn following the launch of a pioneering new micro-credentialing initiative earlier in the year.

Mark Brown says,

“Online learning is now an important life skill. Even before Covid-19 the level of demand for online education was growing exponentially, worldwide. We hope this course will make a valuable contribution to students starting their online learning journey at university for the first time.”

The course should also be of value to existing students and help people irrespective of age take advantage of new digitally-enabled models of life-long learning.

DCU is a proud pioneer of digital education in Ireland having hosted last year’s ICDE World Conference on Online Learning and has established a strong footprint on the FutureLearn platform, with a series of free courses on Irish Language and Culture, along with a suite of new micro-credentials currently in development. A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner is a continuation of DCU’s role in leading the digital transformation of teaching and learning in today’s brave new world of higher education.