My personal experience in the online learning space
Over 20 years ago, I can remember being one of the first in my professional circle, pushing to implement virtual content in a variety of educational settings. I met this push with fierce resistance and many questions that I didn’t yet have answers. At the time we were experimenting with different forms of online and blended models and still had many features and details to figure out.
During this time, we were in need of enhanced tools and practices to better serve a homeschool population of students with diverse abilities and backgrounds. Additionally, we were in need of effective solutions for common pain points within the industry: serving mobile and distant learners, the need for real time data of remote students and the need to diminish curriculum prep time to enable teachers to devote all of their time on individual instructional time.
Although online learning has transformed the industry of education in many ways, not all have acquired ultimate success implementing it. In his book titled Reinvent Your Business Model, author Mark Johnson claims that “everyone is experiencing or talking about digital transformations these days, but its important to remember that simply adding a digital component to an existing business does not fundamentally transform it. New technologies can enable business model innovations, but the technology is just a means, not an end.”
I believe this precisely is what has hindered success with online learning implementations. Many attempts at online learning have included the transition to the online platform only, without any modifications to the model itself. For example, a school may implement the online program without buy-in or training or another may expect the online program to replace the value of teacher support. In either case, online learning cannot be successful.
I have compiled a list of modifications to an existing model that I believe are necessary to include as part of an online implementation to ensure success.
Buy-in & investment
The online implementation will only be as successful as those who will be implementing and ensuring its success. As a sales rep for an international curriculum company, I have seen many online implementations decided on by a single person within an organization and forcefully delivered to those that would be using it. I have yet to see this as a successful venture. Buy-in and investment from all users is critical for any new implementation to be successful.
As an online implementation “artist” it takes input, collaboration and a sense of excitement for the implementation to take off in the desired direction. Versed in the challenges of implementing change in any organization, I believe implementing something brand new requires a type of artistry like no other.
Ideally, a future user proposes the implementation, but when that is just too hard to come by, having those involved from the very beginning can make a world of difference. Recruiting ideas and input on how to modify the overall model to support the implementation promises a level of investment that will ultimately ensure success.
Sufficient exposure and training
Anything sprung on anyone without any preparation is likely doomed from the very start. Implementation are most successful when time have been put into introductions and consistent discussions amongst all stakeholders. This way there is ample time to identify and work with those that are not in support of the implementation and for troubleshooting issues or needed modifications to infrastructure not previously identified.
Ideally, having a team of new users that not only works on preparing for the implementation, but has a role in identifying the need for the implementation from the start is most effective. This team will have an overall desire for the implementation to succeed that can then spread to all other new users.
Sufficient initial and ongoing training is critical. I have overseen many new curriculum platform purchase that did not include training due to the organization either not having the funds to pay for it or not having the time and it can prove to a fatal mistake. There is no chance of an implementation to be successful if the users don’t; know how to use it.
Effective use of the online tool
This may sound logical, but it is a common reason why many implementations aren’t successful. Many organizations purchase online tools without being sure of the following three necessary things:
- Does the tool align to the organizations’ overall goals and objectives?
- Is the tool a fit for the student population in which it is intended?
- Will the organization be able to modify necessary pieces of the model or infrastructure to ensure implementation success?
Organizations looking to implement an online tool should always conduct some sort of needs assessment to be sure the following three things are explored and thoroughly addressed.
Coupled with instructional support
No online curriculum can effectively function as a comprehensive learning tool without regular teacher support. Online programs, no matter how advanced, aren't successful at guiding, motivating, and getting work output from students on their own. An online tool can provide enhanced flexibility, a variety of modalities, real time performance reports and more, but it cannot act as the teacher who knows the student’s tendencies best. There is no substitute for instructional support, so combining that with a planned online implementation is non-negotiable.
Proper use of data and reporting
This could conveniently fit under training, but it is mentioned separately to emphasize its importance and chronic misuse among new users within new implementations. There are endless reporting features and adaptive capabilities available today that can make or break the success of an online implementation, Knowing which features are best for the student population an organization serves and applying appropriately, can make most implementations highly successful.
Opportunities to collaborate and share
Providing time and space for user collaboration, troubleshooting and sharing best practices for the specific environment upon implementation can be very effective in ensuring ongoing success. Some users may become more proficient than others and this should be leveraged to lift the entire user team. Sharing positive and negative experiences can alleviate any pent-up frustrations and provide the organization time to problem solve and address any issues that are hindering ultimate success. Learning something new can be a frustrating experience for many and collective support can make a difference. This collaboration time doesn’t always have to be face to face meetings, it can in the form of an online collaborative project work space where all can post suggestions and ask questions at any time.
At Method Schools, we've built an independent study school that combines online learning with close teacher support and learning extensions we call Tiles. We're now enrolling students in all grades (K-12) for Fall 2018.