Online learning can be defined as any form of learning that takes place either partially or wholly over the Internet. More specifically, online learning refers to courses that are designed in advance to be fully delivered online. This is different from Emergency Remote Teaching, which is an alternative way to deliver traditional course material due to a crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. In Emergency Remote Teaching, when the crisis abates, course delivery returns to traditional classroom-based learning methods.
Online courses are designed to make the most of the online learning environment, allowing students to explore subject areas in ways that may not be readily available in a traditional classroom setting.
Methods of Online Learning
Online learning takes one of two general approaches: synchronous or asynchronous.
Synchronous online learning is where students join a teacher in online classroom teaching sessions. Here, the course material is presented in a similar way to in-class sessions, but with the convenience of the student not having to travel to and from the classroom. The course material is delivered and managed by the teacher where they dictate the pace at which the material is covered, setting coursework, assessments and exams in line with the overall course expectations.
At the start of the course, students will be made aware of the attendance requirements, along with the requirements necessary to successfully complete the course.
Synchronous online learning can offer students a useful means of transitioning from traditional classroom-based learning to a more flexible, online-based approach.
Asynchronous online learning is where students access and work through, pre-designed learning modules at their own pace, and at a time of their own choosing. Each learning module is carefully designed to take students through the subject matter in a way that is easy to follow while presenting built-in tests and assessments to ensure course expectations are being met. Students in asynchronous online learning courses also have regular contact with teachers who are available for video conferencing or email to answer questions or offer clarification should the student need it.
The rate at which the student progresses through an asynchronous online course is completely under the control of the student, allowing them to fit their study-time into their schedule at times that best suit them. Online high schools, such as Apex Academy Online, often place an overall time window within which the course should be completed so as to prevent possible procrastination on the part of the student. In the case of Apex Academy Online, students have up to 9 months to complete all the online high school (OSSD) course modules and take the final exam.
Asynchronous online learning requires students to have a disciplined approach to studying as there is minimal teacher interaction to motivate them to complete the online coursework. In many ways, it is excellent preparation for post-secondary education where the onus is on the student to ensure that their work is completed within the required timeframes.
Tests & Exams
Online learning can pose potential difficulties when it comes to students taking tests and exams online, especially in the area of ensuring that the right person is taking the test or exam. Online schools use a variety of approaches to address these issues, from specifying attendance at in-person test and exam centers to proctored online exam/test environments. Apex Academy Online uses test/exam proctoring where, after verifying the identity of the student, the secure software monitors student activity to ensure that no unauthorized technology, applications, or third-party assistance is being used. Proctoring offers a secure exam/test-taking environment that can be scheduled at the student’s convenience, avoiding potential travel difficulties sometimes related to in-person testing.
Student Life in an Online Course
An important aspect of education is the social development that a student experiences as they learn and interact with their peers. In a traditional classroom setting, the physical proximity of other students creates the necessary conditions that foster a student’s social development, but in an online learning environment, students are not in direct contact and this can create a sense of isolation. Online schools address this by creating social networks that encourage students to, directly and indirectly, interact using technology such as email and video conferencing.
Synchronous online learning brings together a teacher and groups of students in a virtual classroom, recreating a similar dynamic they would experience in an in-class setting. Group interaction is further encouraged by creating student study groups and online discussion boards where they work together on coursework projects as well as supporting each other.
Similarly, with asynchronous online learning, students on the same course are encouraged to interact in discussion groups and on bulletin boards to help provide different perspectives on the course material, helping to broaden student understanding.
The online learning environment created by online schools establishes an extension of a student’s social network where they can freely share and express their ideas in a safe and secure space.