Online learning: State of the art


Tell us about the state of the art of online learning in 20 minutes, the CCD-FLITE project asked me as part of our latest meeting in Lisbon in October.

My reaction?

  1. If you had asked 15 different people to do that talk, you would have got 15 very different talks. Ie don’t take what I say as the last word on the topic.
  2. The topic of online learning is probably not the best place to start. I would prefer to start with what works in learning, regardless of the medium.
  3. We usually frame something new in terms of something old that we think is related to it. Eg TV was radio with pictures, or recorded theatre performances. So online learning was initially, traditionally old-fashioned classroom teaching, digitally packaged. Eg Khan videos, MOOC lectures.
  4. But, face to face learning is a moving target. We are moving away from lecturing to project-based, essential questions, carried out using sources from outside the classroom as much as what you find inside the classroom. We are also using more peer collaboration and review.

So what works in learning?
My go-to resource in this area is John Hattie’s work since it brings together the results of thousands of research studies all over the world. This review led to a list of the most effective factors in promoting learning. And at the top, number 1, is feedback. Feedback in all its forms could include tests and exams, but most usefully refers to constant, specific feedback on performance ie formative assessment. This feedback can come from peers or teachers. The importance of constant feedback also explains why games or game-based approaches are so successful, as the next step in the game is usually feedback or based on feedback.

Therefore my main conclusion was that state of the art online learning is that which includes constant, usable feedback.

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