Students currently have an unprecedented level of choice when it comes to the courses they take and the subjects they learn in school. In Michigan, this is made evident by the goals of Section 21F of the State School Aid Act, which allows public school students in grades 6-12 to take up to two online courses per academic term, selected from the statewide catalog of online courses at Micourses.org.
Often the discussion around a student’s enrollment in an online course begins with the question, “Is this student the right type of learner for an online course?” Initiating the conversation with this question leads to a misguided discussion, as it sets up a sort of pre-screening process that can potentially exclude the student from partaking in a valuable learning experience. Instead, the conversation should center on how prepared a student is for certain aspects of online learning and what can be done to improve their readiness.
Educators should make every effort to provide students with realistic expectations about taking an online course. The Online Learning Orientation Tool, or OLOT, can help in that effort. OLOT is a freely available, self-paced learning tool designed to help students understand what online learning entails and introduce the skills and knowledge that are key to success. It also includes an Online Learner Readiness Rubric to help students assess themselves (or allow a mentor to help assess students) on a number of characteristics and skills that are indicative of online learning success. OLOT content is divided into four modules and covers a broad array of topics, including the nature of online coursework; the technical skills needed for online course participation; the influence of learning skills, interest, and motivation on online course performance; and basic organization and workflow tips for students.
While students can navigate OLOT freely, picking up where they left off or repeating components, the tool is designed to be used with the help of a facilitator — such as a parent, teacher, or mentor — who has a level of familiarity with the students’ skills and abilities. A facilitator’s knowledge, coupled with the use of the Online Learner Readiness Rubric, helps provide a more targeted and focused experience for the learner, as they can spend time completing units where their skills may be lacking. The facilitator can help direct students to specific modules or units of content that need their most targeted attention using a crosswalk between the rubric and units created for this purpose and found in the user guide (available for download on the home page). Each unit includes a short quiz and the option to print a certificate of completion, a useful feature for holding students accountable.
Online learning should not be regarded as an optional skill. Nearly all four-year public colleges and universities offered distance education programs in 2013. Higher education programs are incorporating more online elements into their face-to-face courses, businesses are opting for online professional development opportunities, and the nature of work itself is changing as more workers telecommute – thanks to online technologies. So asking whether a student is a good online learner is ignoring the importance of learning online as a skill in and of itself. Instead, we should be asking, “How can we ensure students are fully prepared for learning in a digital environment by the time they graduate high school?” OLOT can be a valuable tool in that effort. Learn more about OLOT