Online learning

Also see: Classroom Tech and Making videos

The covid-19 pandemic has prompted a mass transition from in class tuition to virtual learning. It’s an incredible pedagogical experiment, and I’m intrigued as to how it will play out. ESCP Business School was an early mover – our Turin campus made a complete switch online on February 23rd. I’m the Teaching & Learning coordinator for our London campus, and we have been anticipating and managing as smooth a transition as possible since then. We went fully online on March 16th [the day after I wrote the first draft of this article].

This crisis situation has prompted an immediate action, but it reflects a deeper trend away from the classroom. I feel well placed to react because I’ve made online learning a key part of my professional strategy. In 2016 I launched an online Managerial Economics course as part of ESCP’s “Executive Master in International Business” (EMIB). Following that, I added a new online course every year, such that in 2019/20 my online teaching exceeded my in class instruction. I am a digitally minded person, and have loved the opportunity to develop such courses to be able to recognise more clearly the value of being physically present. For me at least, those two forms of teaching are complementary and teasing out how they interact has been satisfying.

This article isn’t intended to be updated in real time, and maybe it will become quickly outdated. But to start off with here are some key resources I’ve used recently:

It’s not obvious that teachers have the right skillset to create online courses.

The key skillset for a lecturer:

  • Knowledge of the content
  • Personable delivery
  • Ability to grade exams

The key skillset for an online instructor:

  • Ability to curate content
  • Aptitude with alternative technologies
  • Choice of assessment

So instructors should think carefully before attempting to move online. It takes preparation and experience, and may be detrimental to in class instruction.

I see four basic models for online learning:

Model 1: Your own pace

These type of courses remove students from the dreaded (and stupid) syllabus and allows us to package a course into a simple process:

  • Read this
  • Watch this
  • Listen to this
  • Do this

The platforms that I use and recommend are Coursera and Udemy. I am also impressed by edX. I’ve built a course on Teachable, but it’s expensive. For ESCP enrolled courses I use our existing learning management system, which is Blackboard, because it integrates with grading and students already have password protected access. Some courses I run are via Canvas, which is substantially better. I still find it surprising that it’s non-enrolled programmes that provide an effective user experience, and elite business schools that use glorified file management systems.

For economics instruction, I like the Foundation for Economic Education, but by far the best options are run by Marginal Revolution University. In particular these courses:

You could also do a lot worse than simply watching Jacob Clifford’s YouTube channel.

For some non economics courses, consider:

Finally, my own course on Analytics (including Numeracy Skills Bootcamp; An Introduction to Game Theory; and Collecting and Presenting Data) follows a student led model. As does my Blended GMP courses on Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. A key thing to ensure is a structure, such that students pass through the modules on an appropriate timescale and remain motivated.

Model 2: Virtual classroom

When built well, student led classes can be very effective. But they can be a challenge to ensure consistent student engagement. It’s no surprise therefore that for many traditional courses that are having to transfer online, the prevailing course structure is important. The need to retain a timetable, and get students to interact, more closely replicates their previous experience. Don’t forget, one reason people pay for gym membership is the discipline of going to the gym. If students wanted a DIY alternative they’d already have chosen that, and would have saved a large amount of money in doing so. So how do you keep the class together?

Model 3: Remote classroom

Remote classrooms use the technology of the internet to distribute content but don’t fundamentally differ from a distance degree. The key value being provided by the university is therefore the grading of assignments and student feedback. They are paying not for the content per se, but to have a professional instructor grade it for them. Automated quizzes don’t cut it in this context. Examples:

Model 4: The watcher

This is when a physical course is delivered as normal but participants receive remote access. This has a bigger emphasis on hardware needs (e.g. high quality cameras and mics throughout the audience) and editing. But it’s an easy way to grant access to those unable to attend physically. Some examples:

I think for all serious online courses (i.e. ones where students pay big money to a reputable institution), the key factors for success:

  • Strict schedule
  • Tough assessments

I see a major advantage for online courses being the opportunity to crowdsource and aggregate grading into quick, responsive, 360 feedback. I like to ensure that students are viewing, and critically engaging in each others submissions.

Finally, I have taken, and recommend, the following online courses:

and I really like the look of these:

It’s never been easier to learn online, and thanks to coronavirus it’s never been easier to teach online. Experiment and have fun!

Note: this article has been routinely updated since it was first published