BY ETHEL SPEIGHT
Emmy-award winning TV writer Ellen LeFaivre is no stranger to online education. During a recent visit to Houston to speak at the MIT Sloan Forum, she offered her thoughts on online learning strategies that can take another step forward in bridging the gap between teachers and students.
The president of College Agenda, a non-profit organization focused on revising public policy to accommodate the needs of postsecondary students and their families, LeFaivre highlights several areas where online instruction can bolster the current college education.
Social networks have played a significant role in modern society. Creating relationships online not only enables students to keep in touch with one another during a distance, but it also leads to a more personalized learning experience when sharing with people closer to home. And where classrooms are an isolated space, online courses, videos, and studies created specifically for the digital age can help students engage with peers face-to-face.
To allow people from diverse backgrounds to realize their full potential, online education offers a unique avenue of cultural understanding that other education settings may not provide. Learning that spans across a range of backgrounds, via access to a variety of expertise, can make people realize they have more in common than they may have realized.
“There are psychological benefits of sharing information digitally,” LeFaivre says. “Some people don’t really see you, so you get to see them as not only a person, but as a human being as well. And a person who’s smart, well-adjusted, and deserving of all of those things.”
Further, internet communication, because it’s quicker and offers easy access to information, provides a good platform for the emotional well-being of those studying. This is especially true for certain populations of students, such as those dealing with mental health issues, or those who aren’t the most popular among classmates. Students who fear being rejected or rejected themselves can instead use the platform to learn about every social trend that’s in the press. These individuals are also more likely to express their true self, which in turn can pave the way for critical thinking and increased problem-solving.
According to LeFaivre, online education is important for mitigating class isolation and cutting through the white noise in many large campuses. It also can be effective in teaching students how to adapt to current living situations.
“The opportunities are so immense. And even if you get to the office, it’s one year and that’s the end of it. You come to a class that’s disrupted. There’s no silver bullet. There’s going to be pros and cons. I think those who work with this are still hard at learning how to work with the macro-level, working out the classroom, the school, the department, because the complexity changes from year to year.”
In addition to spaces that provide a sense of community and of coursework, the future of online learning has the potential to extend itself to the classroom by experimenting with devices and modalities to create a more immersive learning experience. They will also encourage a more active class, as students will be sharing information and questions and solutions directly with the instructor.
If online education practices are to be taken to the next level and offer more meaningful experiences for students, they must be relevant to their specific needs. Students—not just those taking online courses, but the students who are bored at that institution and wish to expand their knowledge—will have to take on more responsibility themselves.
“At the same time, students have a significant impact on this system. We need to take the time to listen to our students in terms of what their wants and needs are.”
To this end, more students should work alongside teachers and professors. Doing so will lead to more innovative teaching strategies and better support for all students.