- Universities can elevate their online portfolios by focusing on five leading strategies:
- Support students to thrive by familiarising them with learning technologies and your university culture
- Use technology to foster connection and a sense of belonging
- Design an optimal suite of learning materials for the online student, leveraging the latest principles and frameworks
- Structure courses so students can optimise their time management and wellbeing
- Include a strong employability focus to prepare students for their careers
To help our university partners to stay at the forefront, OES constantly scans the global higher education sector to identify teaching, learning and education technology trends. Alongside this, we conduct extensive student journey mapping to identify pain points and opportunities for support. We look at how we can test and embed emerging ideas for our partners – and how we can assist them to advance their learning and teaching technology solutions to stay ahead of their competition.
Of course, not every trend equates to best practice online learning. But new ideas that are grounded in a student-centric, high-touch approach are most likely to improve learning experiences.
According to HolonIQ, best practice online learning is “student-centred, aligned with learning outcomes, accessible to all learners and effectively designed and delivered.” So, what should institutions – particularly those that rushed into online delivery as a result of the pandemic – be focusing on to elevate their online portfolios?
Our own student journey mapping and sector scans, combined with current industry research, reveal five leading strategies to deliver highly engaging, genuinely impactful online programs:
Support students as they transition to study
Many students who choose to learn online are returning to study after time away from any type of formal education. They need to be supported to become familiar with the culture of the university, the learning technologies they will be using, and how to thrive in this environment. At OES we have set up a series of ‘getting started’ modules that students undertake prior to beginning their studies. We then ensure students receive support at critical points on their study journey. Our student engagement tool uses learning analytics to identify risk factors and provide real-time updates to tutors, so they can reach out and support students via optimally timed SMS, calls and messages from within the learning management system.
Use technology to foster each student’s sense of belonging
Connection is very important for online students and a sense of belonging is correlated with better student outcomes. Through careful design, the best online courses optimise opportunities for individual learning balanced with activities focused on collaboration with peers. Technology now allows us to have (almost!) seamless virtual interaction. Purposeful use of social interaction tools (Teams/Slack/Zoom/Collaborate etc) and interactive video technologies that allow students to comment and discuss in real time are key. AI and immersive, virtual reality simulations allow students to practice skills and get immediate feedback prior to high stakes industry placements or interviews. Discipline-based learning technologies are also valuable. For example, coding rooms can be employed to enable Information Technology students to collaboratively edit code and learn from each other, and in the Design field, Miro boards can allow students to collaborate and give feedback on design concepts.
Ensure learning materials are fit for purpose
In an increasingly hyper-connected digital world awash with information, constructing learning activities that are engaging, thought provoking and deepen a student’s learning is critical at a time when the learner experience is evolving. For example the TikTok generation are more likely to access information via short, bite-sized videos than the previous Google generation. At OES, an agile learning design methodology enables us to think through these challenges in partnership with academics. We draw on design thinking principles, cognitive and social neuroscience principles, biomimicry and systems thinking frameworks to design the optimal suite of learning materials for the online student.
Structure courses so that students can optimise their time management and wellbeing
It is well documented that mature age students, often studying part time, are at higher risk of dropping out. They are often juggling family and work responsibilities that impact their ability to focus on their studies. It is crucial that courses are designed to enable busy, working adults on the go. The use of the following are all important:
- short, targeted videos to illustrate key concepts
- interactive case studies to practice learning
- concepts summarised into infographics or podcasts.
It is also vital to provide opportunities to accelerate or catch up on learning. For example, for our OPM partners we typically build in an early access week that allows students to get in early to plan for the teaching period and, in longer units, a consolidation week mid-way through to allow students to catch up.
Have a strong employability focus to prepare students for their career journey
Students are increasingly weighing up the cost/benefits of studying and how it will advance their career. Courses co-designed with industry, that embed a range of industry opportunities from projects to placements are highly valued by students, as is the co-badging of university credentials with industry certification . For example, at OES we have developed industry designed and university accredited boot camps that provide intensive upskilling for areas of future demand.
Pulling it all together
Beyond competing to secure enrolments, universities’ ability to successfully graduate students and help them achieve their career dreams is under the microscope. Through technology and design, universities can offer a more inclusive, engaging and relevant online experience. In fact, online providers have the opportunity to set a new standard that leads the higher education sector.