online education
By Lauren Dixon, Associate Editor

With the explosion of online education, business leaders have a new tool to develop their organization’s talent. Still, there are some distinctions leaders should consider when using online platforms vs. face-to-face learning.

1. Even Though It’s Online, Facilitate Student Collaboration

One of the biggest draws of online education — the ability to learn anytime, anywhere — can also be its biggest drawback. The distance between peers means online courses need to get creative to promote learner collaboration.

To accomplish social collaboration online, Larry Bouthillier, an instructor of computer science at Harvard Extension School and director of online education at New England Institute of Technology, instructs his students to do weekly practice problems and exercises, followed by their peers assessing the work and providing feedback. This helps his students get to know each other in an online environment, which in turn helps them learn the course material.

2. Use Video, But Be Authentic

Another way to reach students is through online video. More than 80 percent of smartphone users stream video, according to The NPD Group Inc., a market research firm, making the medium an effective way to engage users online.

Bouthillier said his courses feature canned videos as well as informal ones, which he said promotes student engagement and success. His informal videos last between seven and 14 minutes, and he keeps his tone conversational, avoiding a lecturing style. “More importantly, I do fresh video every week, in which I talk about interactions with students the prior week. It shows I’m listening and reacting and that I care about what students are doing,” Bouthillier said.

3. Use Online Components With In-Person Education

In some cases, online education is a great tool for in-person learning. Gautam Kaul, a special counsel on academic innovation to the provost at University of Michigan and a professor of finance and business administration who also teaches on Coursera, said his students learn course material online outside of class time, which is then used to reinforce concepts through peer discussion and application. This helps students learn more in the same amount of time, Kaul said.

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy.

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