After finishing my B.S. in Adult Education, I decided I wanted to continue in the field. The only problem was that the University of New Hampshire (UNH) had decided to fold the Adult Ed program into the K-12 program. They did not choose to offer any new courses and I had taken all the graduate courses as a senior. At the time, online courses were few and far between. Plymouth State University had a master’s program in adult education, but they are two hours away. They did teach at satellite campuses, including Portsmouth, so I decided to sign up for my first two courses. They went well, with most of the work taking place on weekends, which was convenient for those of us who worked. I enjoyed the people I met and learned a lot.
I waited for more courses to be taught in Portsmouth. I waited, and waited. Nothing. I contacted the school and they told me the program was small and they didn’t anticipate holding other courses in Portsmouth. Not willing to travel to Plymouth, a two hour drive, I gave up. Several years later, I found out from someone that Plymouth had a very robust online program. I took a look and was thrilled to see all the courses I needed. I took a few weekend courses, which were great, but took most of my courses online. Many were great, some were not, but I learned what I needed to complete my degree.
I am currently in my last class towards a certificate of advanced graduate studies (CAGS), also at Plymouth and online. I was thinking back on how much the online community has changed during that time. A big part of it is the technological changes and a better understanding by those who teach about what it takes to teach online. Here are some of the improvements:
- Video technology – You can now easily add a live video conference to a course and also record it for those who might not be able to attend. We did this with my brain based teaching course in the spring and it was a big hit. The course is being offered again in the fall and I already have someone from Zimbabwe signed up. Of course, she is unlikely to attend the live conferences, being six hours ahead, but she might and if not she can watch the video when it is convenient.
- Community – According to a survey of college students in 2017 by Learning House, community is very important to the students. In the past, this has been difficult online, but again the video technology makes it much easier to see and connect with each other. Another way to connect is to put students in a group or cohort for the length of the course. It gives them a chance to create a deeper bond and not be overwhelmed, particularly if the course is a large one.
- Interactive Coursework – New and improved software programs, such as Adobe Captivate and Articulate 360 allow instructors to create interactive programs, adding some stimulation to an otherwise somewhat static experience.There are also many free online options for teachers who don’t have the time or money to buy the more expensive programs, but wish to add interactive programs to their courses.
- Self-paced courses (Competency Based courses) – allow students to proceed at their own speed and move forward when they master a skill, which takes the time pressure off students, which is a nice benefit, particularly for those who work and have busy lives. It’s also great when one finds a particular subject matter difficult and needs the extra time to master the material. I see this as a trend that will be growing over the next few years.
I’m sure we will see many advances over the next several years, which I happily look forward to using to make my classes more inclusive as well as fun and a great opportunity to learn.