What is Online Learning?

Online learning refers to both formal and informal educational opportunities that take place through the web. This topic experienced a surge of interest with the rise of massive open online courses in 2012, and has since been garnering greater acceptance as a mode of learning that can complement face-to-face instruction in blended learning approaches — or stand on its own. As leaders have gained a better understanding of this field, they have been conducting numerous related online learning experiments; educators are becoming more comfortable testing various levels of integration in their existing courses, and many believe that online learning can be an effective catalyst for thoughtful discussion on all pedagogical practice. Indeed, online learning is undergoing a sea change, with every dimension of the process open for reconceptualization.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Online learning provides Agents with a rapid and targeted way to access continuing education. - dgeller dgeller May 3, 2016
  • Online learning can be utilized with both internal and external audiences. For instance, cohort-based courses in a learning management system such as Moodle can be highly effective at building knowledge and skills of professionals and/or volunteers. Additionally, online learning can serve as an environment in which to collaborate, have access to research based resources and training videos, etc. for youth and adult audiences. - mefrendo mefrendo May 4, 2016
  • Online learning has been effective in our state for groups that cannot easily make it to face-to-face learning opportunities, such as childcare providers - ahenneman ahenneman May 8, 2016
  • Online learning breaks down time, distance, and cost barriers. It is relevant for both internal use (professional development and online meetings) and external use (courses for learners).- oneill oneill May 22, 2016
  • We use online classrooms to train new Ag Agents in Georgia. We have also received request from the ministry of Ag in Ecuador to collaborate in building and using these classrooms. - thurt thurt May 31, 2016
  • Online learning is very relevant to our program implementation here at Michigan State University. We have around 80 online courses that are either live or in development and the number keeps growing. It is important to select the right fit for your audience (full online, cohort-based, self-paced, blended, flipped). Through the development process we are focusing on instructional design principles (such as reviewing learning objectives) and accessibility requirements. - heyboerg heyboerg Jun 3, 2016
  • Online learning has the possibility of enhancing current extension programming by offering sessions to those not able to attend F2F sessions. Also, a person is given the chance to choose which program is best suited for him/her.
  • Online courses are perfect for repetitive courses that can tie up resources such as safeserv, pesticide recertification, and many others. - Stan Stan Jun 4, 2016
  • The private sector is rapidly exploiting the world of online learning in order to teach their clients skills on a myriad of topics. This is a list of free sites - http://gettingsmart.com/2014/12/70-top-sources-free-elearning-courses/ There are many others that one can purchase through platforms like Teachable and Udemy.
    https://teachable.com/examples/ and https://www.udemy.com/ - Stan Stan Jun 4, 2016
  • Online learning opens Extension to audiences that will never engage with us in a face-to-face environment or other traditional Extension outlets (fact sheets, publications, etc.). We conducted Extension focus groups in 2015, and a majority of customers expressed the need for increased online learning opportunities. - JonEmigh JonEmigh Jun 5, 2016JonEmigh
  • There is a lot we can do with and learn from our Distance Education colleagues. They are meeting a demand for degrees in a way that is sustainable and stackable. While offering on-line degrees is nothing new, Extension in many states still does not work closely with Distance Education nor do they leverage resources, audiences, and technologies. We should take notice and learn from states that are successfully doing this. - brian.h brian.h Jun 2, 2016
    Great point @brian.h - In Colorado we are working on this exact opportunity for collaboration. Our Division of Continuing Education has been working to build relationships with Extension through our Office of Engagement that would allow our office to deliver and develop programs using Extension personnel/expertise/content to expand their reach to the "non-consumer" allowing an increase in access to Extension programs and for successful programs to scale-up though online delivery. A key challenge to this is the funding streams for these type of programs. Continuing education units are often enterprise funded and must generate revenue. - michael.macklin michael.macklin Jun 5, 2016
    Multimedia Design: As we go deeper into new technology, let's remember we need to know how to effectively use it if we have it. For instance, how much white space in an online module? Audio or not? We need to understand the best practices for ed tech. - cstamper cstamper Jun 3, 2016
    [Editor's Note: These comments were added here rom RQ2.]

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • With respect to Extension, we use this technology more than higher education. Continuing Ed is a perfect forum for the use of online learning. - dgeller dgeller May 3, 2016
  • Online learning environments do much more than provide a space for individuals to learn: they also can collaborate on projects, build a sense of belonging amongst a group, etc. I think in Extension we need tools that are multifaceted and a learning management environment can often be flexible enough to meet multiple needs. - mefrendo mefrendo May 4, 2016
  • Extension staff need good tools and training to make this work. And help with the most effective ways of online education. - ahenneman ahenneman May 8, 2016
  • Engagement with learners on online learning platforms is key to success. Extension staff need training on how to structure courses to do this well. A good example is the coach model being used with Virtual Communication Camp. Learners have a designated person to oversee their progress.- oneill oneill May 22, 2016
  • Online classroom development requires a significant amount of effort that isn't fully recognized in the tenure and promotion process. - thurt thurt May 31, 2016
  • We are also using online courses for internal staff development. - heyboerg heyboerg Jun 3, 2016
  • What are the possible uses of online learning in extension: professional development, collaboration, club meetings? - cstamper cstamper Jun 3, 2016
  • Extension needs to recognize there are now additional option available for delivering instruction compared to when they began. They must continuously adapt or become obsolete. One only needs to look at what digitizing content has done to other industries such as music, publishing, advertising, etc. - Stan Stan Jun 4, 2016

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

  • While online learning opens up new potential for Extension Agents, it is important to note that for many areas, in-person and hands-on education is essential. - dgeller dgeller May 3, 2016
  • I think a "flipped classroom" approach will work well for Extension - where information dissemination works well in an online space and skill development happens best in synchronous (online or F2F) environments. - mefrendo mefrendo May 4, 2016
  • From the world of youth development, not much has been happening with research on informal learning with young people in online or blended environments. There is unchartered territory in this area as we look to provide 4-H members with new kinds of experiences that build 21st century skills. - mefrendo mefrendo May 4, 2016
  • Online education may require different times for working for extension staff ... for example, more evenings and weekends, when learners are online. Or, for making this online learning available on demand. Training in how-to and best practices will be needed. - ahenneman ahenneman May 8, 2016
  • Cost savings, expanded outreach, and revenue generation. Example: Rutgers Cooperative Extension is obtaining needed revenue from online undergraduate and graduate course delivery (for-credit courses).- oneill oneill May 22, 2016
  • Agents will receive training on demand when they find they have a real world need for the information. - thurt thurt May 31, 2016
  • Increasing our reach, giving our participants/students more flexibility - on the other hand we need to have support systems in place to support our faculty and educators. - heyboerg heyboerg Jun 3, 2016
  • I think we need to remember we also deal with youth and how we define higher education. - cstamper cstamper Jun 3, 2016
  • Extension will have to adapt and be comfortable with the online experience being different from the in-person experience. It is not necessary for them to be parallel, and it is difficult if you want to create scalable and efficient online learning. - JonEmigh JonEmigh Jun 5, 2016JonEmigh

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project Sharing Form.