The chaos in the learning sector means that many learning providers are having to pivot from a delivery model focused on face to face learning interventions to one that relies heavily on virtual learning. Part-time and virtual learning environments are not new but was is difference is that the location of learners in a physical space is not necessarily possible or probable. This means for a lot of learning providers, whether universities, colleges, schools or learning in the workplace needs to be supported by a different mode of learning that provides every learner with an equal and effective opportunity to succeed.
Distance Learning is an online delivery method for learning, which predominately relies on individual leaners embracing self-directed learning. The teacher and learner are separated through the use of technology which in turn provides the platform for the provision of learning materials and ongoing, communication.
Most distance learning is relying on the sharing of knowledge via documents, videos or e-books. But the online environment offers so much more than simply providing a repository of information. It provides the flexibility in for collective learning to take place, presenting new opportunities for learning to take place among a distributed learner population. There is an option to cultivate social interactivity alongside the sharing of knowledge, feedback, mentoring and experience. This requires the facilitator to provide learners with the opportunity to engage with one another by working on current real-world problems they are facing and the approach they are taking to tackle them. Since all learners bring to the forum a body of knowledge and experience and this enhanced community knowledge may offer a solution which can be applied to the problem.
Creating a learning environment using distance learning
The design and application of the online learning experience can be complicated. What is clear that good learning practices are as important online as they are offline. The creation of an online community of practice requires efforts to integrate the social fabric of knowledge, that is harnessing knowing as a group process, a result of the sharing of knowledge in the learning environment. This requires the development of collaboration, cooperation, dialogue, reflection and active participation to aid individual learning.
Much learning offered online focuses on the delivery of content including the sharing of theories, models, case studies and expertise. Although acquisition of concepts is important, they lack value if the individual is unable to apply them to their workplace.
Although distance learning does rely on learners being autonomous, self-reliant and self-responsible learners encouraging high engagement rather than perfunctory use of the systems, good learner experience and ensuring that any content shared is accompanied with activities that encourage action from the learners in the form of questions and activities, plus signposts to further learning materials. This is further enhanced by providing opportunities for dialogue. This can be achieved through course leaders asking Socratic questions to support reflection, precision of expression and eliciting learners to interpret the material being discussed.
The challenge for learning providers is to deliver a high-quality learning, teaching and learner experience, via distance learning. Although distance learning is primarily labelled as a delivery method, distance learning is also an opportunity to cultivate and blend social interactivity alongside the sharing of knowledge, feedback, mentoring and experience.
A supportive virtual learning environment focuses on individual self-directed learning and the promotion collaboration, cooperation, dialogue, reflection and active participation that could aid individual learning.