Published on March 12, 2014
Anastasia M.Trekles, Ph.D. Clinical Professor and Director of LearningTechnologies Purdue University North Central Westville, IN firstname.lastname@example.org
Accelerated online degree programs are becoming more and more popular These programs present a question: can students learn deeply enough to become experts?
Graduate-level online accelerated programs are increasing rapidly to help adult learners achieve necessary skills and credentials more quickly Research in effectively meeting deep learning outcomes in online learning is mixed Looking at student approach to learning may be more telling than actual learning acquisition, which can present many uncontrolled variables
Many variables can impact online learning acquisition, so studying deep learning presents a challenge Course design, student motivation, and learner development all can impact learning performance and approach Accelerated learners have several unique perceptions and characteristics
Graduate-level coursework is intended to bring students toward expert-level understanding – i.e., deep learning Instructional design models, such as Merrill (2012), provide for the systematic increase of student learning depth But, there are still significant gaps in understanding deep learning approaches in accelerated online coursework
Population: All students in graduate-level coursework considered accelerated (time-compressed) and delivered asynchronously online Sampling method: From available programs, one program at a Midwestern public university was selected 136 total students in Master of Science in Educational Administration program Sample: 9 courses (out of 10, excluding internship) 17 survey respondents 5 interview participants Participants recruited via email, course announcements from advisor Volunteered to participate
Research Question 1: Revised 2-Factor Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F) (Biggs, Kember, & Leung, 2001) Interviews via Skype Research Question 2: Course analysis using Merrill’s e3 rubric (2009; 2012) and SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs & Tang, 2007)
Case study limited to one program and a small sample despite the fact that participants came from a wide geographic area University program was master’s-level in education – other disciplines may be different University was public and located in the Midwest – other regions and types may be different
RQ1: How do learners approach their learning in accelerated, asynchronous online graduate courses? Results from R-SPQ-2F and interviews showed certain things to influence students’ learning approaches: ▪ Time ▪ Personal motivation and direction ▪ Course structure and content ▪ Assignment scheduling ▪ Use of projects vs. quizzes ▪ Real-world concepts and assignments ▪ Peer interaction ▪ Technology expectations
“I’m very busy, so I need to be able to do class at 2 o’clock in the morning if that’s what I need to do. So I knew I had to do something that was online.” “At first I thought, ‘Gosh, how much could I possibly learn because that’s my field and what I do,’ and I learned so much it was unbelievable!”
“I think some people enjoy exams, some people don’t, and to me . . . the projects are the most beneficial, and the readings, getting that discussion out, more so than taking a quiz . . . I felt like I grew more as a professional and educator from actually doing the researching . . . And working with principals and the buildings . . . I think that that’s what’s helped me grow the most in the program.” “I almost want to say some of the assignments are cop-outs.You know, the ones you don’t learn very much from, the ones you give because you’re supposed to give an assignment but it’s easier to grade if you do it this way.”
“What I didn’t really think about was how short a time 5 weeks is. And it was always when I got down to that 4th week and we had that big project due at the end of the 5th week that I would go, ‘What in the world have I done?’ So that was a little challenging!” “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. And I want the experience of going through and really learning . . . I didn’t want to lock myself into something that was going to be a really long program and end up hating it. And I really didn’t.”
“[A colleague in a similar, classroom-based program] was really surprised that I was getting such a wide variety of experiences with an online course, doing many of the same things that she had been doing.” “I know [my friend in another online accelerated program] just went through [9 research papers in a semester] and plowed through as fast as he could . . . I don’t know that his information sunk in whereas I feel like I walked away from that class as a better teacher because I now have that knowledge that I didn’t have before.”
“I always enjoyed the classes where the professors would give you till the end of day Sunday to get all your work turned in. I found it kind of difficult when everything was due on the Friday, because with my own family and everything, Saturday was . . . really Mom’s homework day.” “So I thought to myself, if you can get all of your chapters read today [at the beginning], like before I go to bed tonight, and then tomorrow . . . let it sink in, and then start working on the actual PowerPoint . . . I’ll just stay late onWednesday and work on it . . . and if I get finished early I’ll send it in early.”
“Some of the professors I’ve learned are very much more in tune with letting yourself pace yourself . . . but then all of the sudden a couple of the new ones started saying well, byTuesday you have to do this, and byThursday you have to do this, and then there were actual dates within the week, and that throws off the whole online learning community. . .” “It’s almost like they’re used to teaching in a classroom with students, that then transferring that to the courseroom online was a major change, and some people just can’t do that.”
“I kind of miss the interaction of being in the classroom, and talking face to face with people and sharing experiences and things. But . . . the fact that you can do homework at 1 o’clock on a Saturday night or something, I like that part of it.” “I would always wait – I would post my first post early on, then I would wait till the end to do the responses so that I could see everyone else’s posts, and you really learn a whole lot . . . Because it was online and there were discussions . . . we actually learned more than just sitting in a classroom, because not everyone would have gotten the chance to say stuff, or give their perspective.”
“I like that when you click into [the system] it looks the same every time, and that uniformity is very comforting . . . I can’t imagine if every class were different, I would probably have a nervous breakdown!” “I do think that there needs to be some work on the documents they use to describe projects . . . they need to be brought up to what the expectations are, because sometimes they’re unclear, but . . . if you email and ask they explain and clarify in the courseroom.”
RQ2: Which instructional design characteristics and strategies used in accelerated asynchronous online courses play a role in helping learners reach deeper levels of learning? Course analysis through Merrill’s (2012) rubric and SOLO Taxonomy supported RQ1 finding that learning approach can be promoted through course design Course objectives covered all levels of SOLOTaxonomy Activities provide real-world practice, peer collaboration, field experience, and reflection Courses built logically from one activity to the next to increase depth of understanding and performance level 5 weekly modules, consistent look and feel throughout courses
Projects = positive reaction Tests = negative reaction Big projects favored over “mini-projects” Authentic, real-world projects are essential Courses should be easy to follow – no surprises Provide worked examples as guides when appropriate Be willing to answer questions No midweek due dates!
Online, accelerated graduate course and program design should: Use consistency in structure and scheduling Use real-world projects over exams and other less authentic assessment measures Focus on key objectives and avoid including extra work or information that is just “nice to know” Further research may: Include greater numbers of programs and participants Investigate other disciplines, other types of programs Investigate learning approach in comparison to learning acquisition
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