Can online learning be transformative?

In the previous post I concluded that Education for Sustainability had to be transformative in order to be effective. In the Prof E Sus project we have planned a blended learning solution with two weeks of face to face training punctuated by 12 weeks of online learning.

Can online learning be transformative?

I would argue that yes, it can.


Mainly on the basis of experience both as an online learner and as an online teacher.

My first experience of online learning goes back a very long time and has been transformational without a doubt.

The University of Hull ran a course in about 1999 on how to teach online and it was one of the most exhilirating learning experiences I have ever had. And that is really saying something given that the technology at the time was obviously very rudimentary with few images, no video and no synchronous meetings.

How do I know that it was transformational?

Because I couldn’t wait to log on and see how the discussion was going each day. Because the tasks were fairly open-ended so it was exciting to see in which direction they would be going each week. Because my course colleagues were very generous of their time and very knowledgeable and I learned a great deal from them and on and on.

But it was in many ways transformational in much more practical terms because

  • that was the course where I met Nicky Hockly who I still work with at The Consultants-E because I believe that their model of online learning is a great one. I did not meet Nicky face to face until about 3 years after we met on the online course.
  • I also ended up doing a Masters in TEFL which Nicky tutored as a result of meeting her online.
  • Not only that, but Nicky also introduced me to the world of European Educational projects and these have dominated (in a good way) my work life almost ever since.

But basically, the course was transformational because it fundamentally shaped what I expected out of a good online course and gave me ideas about how to achieve this in my own practice. So, job done!

So that’s my story but are there others?

My work with The Consultants-E and  Powerful Learning Practice shows me that other people also experience that transformation since the feedback we get at the end of courses is often effusive. A common way that this is expressed is in terms of a sense of loss or mourning now that the course is over. If course participants express themselves in that way then your course has been transformational! That goes for both online and face to face.

I am in contact with several former participants who often mention how pivotal the courses were in their professional development and current practice.

So it is not just me but I do concede that good quality online courses are still too few and far between. I have previously written about what makes a good online course and pulled together the posts into one book.

So how will we know if the Prof E Sus course has been transformational?

The course consists of four modules:

Module 1: Focus on sustainability – sustainability principles in production and consumption
Module 2: Education for sustainability – pedagogy
Module 3: Teaching for sustainability – action research, trying out a learning session
Module 4: Evaluation of education for sustainability – future plans

In the first two modules, participants will be exploring sustainability principles and how they apply to their area of training. In the third module, our participants will put into practice what they have learned by planning and carrying out a learning session (which could stretch over several lessons). The final module is about evaluation of the action research and plans for future action. So it will be at the stage of the last two modules when we will be able to see how transformational the learning has been.

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