Develop Your Own Online Pedagogy

Recently I tuned into a webinar on ‘Making Higher Education 4.0’.  Grand title, but when I noticed that it was about a course produced for a major MOOC company’s platform, I was able to guess what it would look like.

It did not represent any advance in online design for an obvious reason – its pedagogy was dictated by the platform.

This was confirmed as soon as the presenter said that it had been developed in that platform.  Platforms (virtual learning environments) are for delivering and supporting online courses, not for developing in.  This is all too typical a trend and one that holds back the development of exciting learning materials and online pedagogies.

There is so much good and informative literature about online learning design, from Gagne’s “Nine events of instruction” (1985) to UCL’s “ABC Learning Design”, so why is it that when it comes to putting an online course together all of this goes out of the window and institutions resort to just developing within the learning platform? 

The answer is, because it is easy.  The result is all too often an impoverished online pedagogy locked into a proprietary system.

There is a corollary to this, namely that when a university seemingly seamlessly moves from one learning environment to another (Duo to Ultra Learn, or Moodle to Aula are two recent announcements) you just know that their use of such platforms is for administrative purposes and that they are only likely to be used as simple file stores for online course development. 

There is unlikely to be a well-designed pedagogy. 

By contrast, look at the effort the UK Open University puts into its online developments and the resulting richness they offer.  They should represent a bar that all others aspire to reach, if not clear?

In our opinion, it makes more sense to develop the course materials outside of any platform, guided by the best of learning design practice, and to deliver the resulting course using the platform and its functionality to the fullest.

Most educators know what they would want from content, most probably know how it should work for the benefit of the students and many, if not most, know the capabilities that can be expected of platforms – they are basically all the same after all?  OK, that last bit is not wholly true so it would be prudent to look for ones that really can support ambitions.  Knowing how content can work and function within an online platform should make course developers ambitious when it comes to defining an online pedagogy that students deserve and can learn from.

Returning to the opening remarks, by coincidence another webinar in the series I tuned into emphasised the need to train the teachers to develop and deliver effective online learning.  This is so true, particularly if an institution can train the teachers to cooperate, develop consistently and be ambitious. 

Some institutions are beginning to recognise the need for this training and are re-organising accordingly. Many however, are outsourcing this core capability to external, third-party commercial online programme managers in the dream of a quick and easy solution to it. Which approach do you think will best stand the test of time for an institution?

‘Product oriented’ might scare academia, but this does not necessarily imply ‘commercial’.  For example, simply using the UCL ABC approach in a disciplined, holistic manner would result in the consistency and quality hinted at here.

Figure 1: ABC Learning Design @ UCL