Last week I discussed the format of an online course I completed. Now I want to reflect on how I felt being a learner again.
I recently completed an online course that had a very simple design. You can read all about it here.
It was such an odd experience to be a true learner again! I didn’t know a whole heap about the topics in the course (hence why I was doing it), and I’ve never done an online course before, so I was quite new to the whole experience. What I discovered was a little bit of a surprise.
Learning the Content
I haven’t had to sit and ‘learn’ anything since finishing my teaching degree 5 years ago. Getting the proper learning hat on was exciting and also a bit of a struggle. Doing this online course was completely voluntary, and in no way necessary for any aspect of my life. I chose to do it because it’s free and I figured it would help me with the running of the three sites I founded.
The fact that it was optional was a blessing and a curse. As was the fact that I could do it at any time of day or night, from my laptop or mobile. It meant I was always feeling like I should be working on it, but also that I could drop it in an instance if I got bored or wanted/needed to do something else.
Learning the content was as simple as watching a short video, and maybe reading the transcript. I say short, because the longest video was just over 5 minutes long, and most averaged about 3 minutes.
With almost every single video, I found myself drifting away into a different mental space. I’d start thinking about food, or my baby, or our parrots, or Facebook, or any number of things. It took real mental strength to bring myself back to focusing on the videos sometimes. Sometimes I’d even drifted over to other websites (Facebook included) as ‘something to do’ while listening to the video, even though they had important graphics and demonstrations in them.
I was really surprised at how quickly and how often my attention wandered while attempting to watch these short videos. I wonder if part of it was always knowing in the back of my mind that I didn’t have to be doing it. I’m an adult, and on holidays, and I could choose to do any number of things with my time. But I never really felt like I was wasting my time (except maybe in the social media section), I just couldn’t concentrate on what I was supposed to be concentrating on. Some of the content was interesting and relevant to me specifically, some of it wasn’t, but it didn’t seem to make too much of a difference either way to my attention span.
No wonder our students are feeling the same in class. They all but do need to be there, and the lessons are much longer than 3-5 minutes. I’m so glad I’ve moved away from lecture-style lessons and into a more interactive space (sorry to any past students who I bored to tears!).
Taking the Assessments
This was possibly the best part about the course. After you’ve watch the videos, you sit a short assessment on each little topic; when you’ve finished all the little topics, you sit a slightly longer assessment on the unit.
The short assessments were only 1-4 questions about the content that was discussed in the video you just watched. It was a good feeling to be able to test my understanding of the content immediately. I didn’t have to worry about ‘memorising’ it, or ‘understanding it deeply’ so that I could answer questions about it at a later date.
It was an even better feeling when I got an answer wrong and it gave me some written information to help set me on the right track. It meant I could review the content on the spot, and self-correct my misconceptions and misunderstandings. Not once did I need to go elsewhere to search for more information.
And even better again was the fact that I could re-attempt the questions I got wrong straight away. After reading through the extra information, I answered the same question again. Sometimes I didn’t even get it right on the second or third go, but I was able to keep re-reading the information and re-attempting the question until I did get it right. If I felt the need, I could re-watch the initial video too. The majority of the time this resulted in a ‘oh duh’ moment when I finally did get the correct answer – I certainly didn’t lose anything by attempting the exact same question multiple times.
This same process was applied to the end-of-unit assessments, which had up to 10 questions in them. None of these questions were the same as ones I’d already answered in the shorter end-of-topic assessments; rather, they covered slightly different content or framed it in a different context. I liked this too, it made me examine my understanding in a slightly different way, while still obviously being directly related to the content I had just learnt.
I wish our students could have this opportunity. In the ‘real world’ you often get second chances, especially when it comes to your content knowledge about things. If you don’t know enough about a topic, you can always go and find out more. I don’t like how our education system is set up for single-sit assessments, and the outcome is usually unchangeable. Students don’t truly get an opportunity to assess their understanding, find out where they are going wrong, then work at it until they eventually get it right.
I guess it comes down to the age-old question of what we are actually assessing, and why. But that is a topic for another post.
Me as a Learner
Overall I learned that I still enjoy learning, even if my attention span is lacking drastically. I also enjoy the gamified approach this course uses, with short topics, re-atemptable questions, and badges to collect to show your progress.
I can and do understand why our students struggle in the classroom – all this instant gratification they get elsewhere was used as a driver of the structure of the online course I took, and it worked wonders to my motivation and success.
I wonder how much of this I can incorporate into my teaching this term. I might need to do some more research while on maternity leave next year so I can better incorporate it later.
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.