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The pleasures and challenges of online learning

The internet and world-wide-web have revolutionised so many aspects of society, it’s no wonder that they have changed how people learn. (It’s only surprising that it hasn’t changed more already.) Online learning has provided so many opportunities for people all over the world, that it has become extremely easy and often free to learn just about anything. This can happen in very informal ways, but also in more traditional formal classes delivered online.

Over the past years, I’ve taken a variety of formal classes. I’ve learned Portuguese (um pouco!), how the brain works, Java programming techniques, online assessment tools, how to teach the IB Diploma Computer Science course, and many more. I’ve taken courses accredited by universities and international organizations as well as courses taught by private tutors. Some I’ve paid for and many have been free.

For me, the advantage of taking online courses is that I can learn wherever I am and whenever I have time. It’s an obvious advantage to online learning, and one that’s touted by online course providers. It also can lead to some serious challenges when you have a traveling lifestyle!

A perfect case in point happened to me this summer. I signed up for an online course offered through Thinkport (I recommend their courses – very well organized and useful). I needed a few credits to renew my Maryland teaching certificate, so I signed up for the summer course on Blended Learning. I’m experienced in that, so I thought it wouldn’t be too challenging and I could easily complete it in the summer, but I also knew that I could benefit from new ideas, formal training and communication with other teachers.

I started the course while on holiday in the US, and it was easy to work in the readings, discussions and projects while relaxing in my parents’ house in El Paso, Texas. However, we’d booked an Alaska cruise to celebrate my 50th birthday (and that’s another blog post or two!) and the course required log-ins and activity every few days. So I needed to make sure I had connectivity while cruising so that I could do readings and post to the discussions. It made for some interesting early mornings, watching the mountains and whales glide by from the “Crow’s Nest” cafe while I read about keeping students engaged while online! We then left the US and headed home to Ethiopia, first spending a week in Kenya with family in our beach house. Again, I found myself watching the water while reading and posting – this time from our beach house’s roof deck looking out over the Indian Ocean. (I’m an earlybird, so I saw a lot of sunrises over the ocean while doing coursework!)

The biggest challenge came, ironically enough, when we returned home. Despite being stationary and having all my resources around me, it became even more difficult to meet deadlines. School was starting and I had to prepare my classes, as well as set up our new student information system and oversee the distribution of student laptops to all the Middle School and High School students! It was during this time that I actually missed deadlines and lost points. My instructor was kind enough to give me some leeway, but I almost took it as a badge of honour that I put my students’ learning before my own and allowed my work and learning to suffer to make sure theirs got off to a good start for the year.

With all the challenges I faced over that course, and with the slightly diminished grade due to the opening of the school year, I’m valuing the completion of this course more than many of the others I’ve done. I’m looking forward to keeping that course certificate and framing it. It’ll be a reminder of the process and what I’ve learned about blended learning – both from the content and from the process!