Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Good Online Learning Design is Good Learning Design

Associate Professor Elaine Huber,
University of Sydney
It is good to have a study which confirms, with scholarly rigor, what educators already knew: engagement is most important, with a focus on the student experience, and a supportive environment (McEwen & Huber, 2024).

What makes good teaching applies equally in a classroom, & online. It is just easier to hide bad teaching in a classroom. As an educator I have found that students are just as happy with well designed online courses as classroom based. There is plenty of research over decades to say the learning outcomes are much the same. 

Educators need to stop treating learning online as something new and novel. This is the normal way students have been learning for at least the last decade. It is just taking a long time for educators to admit this.

I first tried to teach online in 1999, shortly after joining a university faculty. Being a computer professional, I had no problem with the technology. The problem was my fixed idea as to what university teaching was: I was trying to emulate the lecture online, & failing to engage students. What I had to do was give up the idea that I was central to the student learning, and instead the student was. I then had an Epiphany, when I found myself announcing, at the end of a lecture series, it would be my last. I stopped giving lectures, & accepted a commission to prepare an online course, after being trained in vocational education techniques. After teaching vocational students, I discovered the same course content, & techniques, worked fine for university students.

Later as an online student myself, I experienced what it was like at two Australian universities, a vocational college, & a North American university. What was surprising was how achingly lonely & frustrating the experience was, how it was much the same on both sides of the Pacific, & how despite the problems, online 14,000 km from home was a better experience than being on campus at an Australian university.


McEwen, C., & Huber, E. (2024). Developing an Analytical Framework to Compare Students’ Experiences of Online Learning with Indicators of Good Online Learning Site Design. Advancing Scholarship and Research in Higher Education, 5(1).

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