On-line learning is core business: Universities shouldn’t conflate remote delivery with on-line learning

Andrea ChesterLeave a Comment

This short piece by Liz Branigan, A/PVC (Educational Transformation), La Trobe University, was published today in Campus Morning Mail.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan’s desire to see higher education return to face-to-face teaching for second semester implies this is the best way of learning.  There is an issue, however, with conflating the urgent remote delivery universities have deployed now with best practice online learning. International scholarship of learning and teaching leaders have more accurately characterised current remote delivery as ‘pedagogy triage’, while Sean Michael Morris, Director of the (US) Digital Pedagogy Lab, labelled it ‘panic-gogy’.

Australian higher education staff have made a stellar effort in a situation of urgent necessity, teaching remotely in the easiest ways possible – basic tech tools, LMS, email and phone. This is what was needed. But quality on-line courses take months to develop. What we are doing now to meet the immediate learning needs of our students is being delivered as we are on our own intense learning curve. It should certainly not be used to characterise on-line learning as less effective for student engagement and success.

Research demonstrates that on-line learning is a key driver of access and equity in higher education. Almost a quarter of commencing domestic students in Australian universities study on-line. A high proportion of these students are older, female, part-time, first in family, low SES, regional and remote, Indigenous or disabled. Students choose online learning because they can fit study in amongst parenting, employment and other life demands. COVID 19 means more students are now grappling with unemployment, or working from home while caring for children. Purposefully crafted and well-designed on-line learning has enormous potential to meet their needs.

Ashford-Rose argues the future of learning is digital at heart. Higher education must take this opportunity to revisit the research and recognise well considered on-line learning as a key component of “core business”. The transformative potential of higher education is only possible, if access to, and opportunities within, education are equitable and accessible – on-line learning is a core driver to achieve this.

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