For years I’ve been interested in how adults learn. Now, given the range of opportunities afforded by online learning, I am interested in what has remained the same and what has changed in this area. Is there a difference in how we are taught and how we actually learn compared with the past and today?
Learning is also simply a consequence of living. By just getting up in the morning and going to work new learning takes place.
Can we bring quality education to people online? The answer is a bit of a mixed bag. We can and we can’t.
Key factors in learning
Knowledge, skills and attitude are all key factors in how we learn. What is your pre-knowledge about a topic? Do you possess any relevant skills already? And what’s your attitude to the topic? Are you interested in it or a bit ambivalent?
The number of courses that are available online is growing every day, yet when I ask people in my network about the online courses they undertake I hear repeatedly that they don’t complete them. Even if they paid big money for them.
Education is big business and the online market is worth billions. Sebastian Thrun, the founder of online university Udacity, told Fast Company that he is concerned with the low number of people who actually finish any of the classes offered on the platform, which is less than 10%.
Do we have to get people to sit in a classroom to find the peace of mind they need to actually finish the courses they sign up to?
Will online training ever be worth as much as live training? Can we do anything to stop the drop-off?
When does learning take place?
Online learning can take place on YouTube or anywhere else online, and you have to ask yourself when attempting to learn online: will this content provide me with an improved ability to think critically and to ask new questions? And, will this content present the topic from a different perspective or not?
If your answer to both questions is no, then you need to move on and use another source when learning about a given topic.
What drives learning?
Two of the biggest drivers when we learn are inner motivation (your level of curiosity) and your environment – that is, both your physical environment and the people around you. Does the environment you are in allow you to think differently and does it offer you the freedom to find new solutions? Also, another major factor for success is the ability to practice your new insights immediately. The peer group factor.
Creating groups and encouraging discussions online makes a huge difference. Udacity has created hundreds of learning hubs using meetup.com – check it out, there may be people out there with the same interests as you. Social media encourages collaboration and that is one reason why you should get social media involved in the learning process.
If you are a beginner, then formal learning and courses will help you to reach a certain level, but if you would like to become an expert then you need to connect to modes of informal learning. Informal learning takes place at work, during discussions and through hours of practice and personal experience.
Your final customer
Before I began lecturing at INSEEC University in London I worked at a company that certified businesses in ISO 9001 quality management systems. One thing I learned there was that the businesses that preformed the best were those that were most concerned about what the end customer thought about their products and services.
This attitude is directly relevant to learning and online learning. If you as a learner are keen to make the extra effort to learn about a subject more thoroughly, then you will spend the time studying and will listen to online classes. But, if your motivation is to just pass the test and then go back to your normal practice then you will not gain much from an online course. Your final customer will be your employer and your future clients. Will they like you and your service?
My final observation is this: your attitude and why you want to learn something will have the greatest impact on your learning experience whether your learning takes place in a classroom or online.