Best Practice

Making the Move to Online

Last September our new Masters in Work and Organisational Psychology (MAWOP), in the School of Applied Psychology, welcomed its first class.

As well as being a new programme it was our first major foray into blended learning across an entire programme. As course director I probably held my breath from June to November, until it became evident that this experiment might just work.  In this post we share some of our experiences of moving online.

 

Why blended learning?

For us the key drivers for experimenting with blended learning were to offer wider and more flexible access to our programme as many of our potential students are already in employment and work/live at a distance from UCC; to develop digital literacy for both our students and ourselves; and because we hoped that the blended model (particularly in terms of a ‘flipped classroom’ approach) could be used to overcome pedagogical challenges due to for example, differences in student backgrounds or levels of knowledge.  Thus more introductory elements of modules could be online with self reflection, self-pacing and some assessment, leading to face to face workshops and classes that operate fully to meet expectations at level 9.

 

How is the programme designed and delivered?

The MAWOP is blended in design, which means that approximately 50% of the core modules are delivered via online activities and resources and students attend core classes 2-8pm on one day a week.  The modules incorporate a combination of self-guided online materials, web-based videos, online discussion groups and some online assessments.   Just as with traditional lectures each module lecturer designed their module to suit the purpose and outcomes of their specific area.  Going online doesn’t mean there is just one way to deliver material across a programme, you can tailor the amount and types of activities and resources to suit your particular student and module needs.  That being said its probably a good idea to have a clear and consistent approach to the ‘look and feel’ of online modules so that students can focus on engaging with the content and activities in each module and not get lost when switching between diverse styles.

 

What have we learned so far?

It’s a work in progress, but here are some thoughts about moving online:

  • Collaboration with the instructional design team was invaluable in getting started. Much of their great advice is now available on the Instructional Design website and taking on board their suggestions and expertise really helped us in getting started and developing our online materials.
  • Your first attempt at moving online doesn’t have to be perfect, any good course involves an iterative design process. I have never been happy with a traditional face to face lecture series until it has gone through at least one and probably multiple iterations of delivery, feedback and improvement.  The online space is not any different, so we are planning our next round of tweaks and improvements.  Feedback from our first group of students indicates that they really liked the blend of online and face to face sessions.  Week by week online activities, resources and readings meant that they engaged continuously throughout modules and in their own words ‘we worked harder but learned more’ than traditional delivery modes.
  • Wherever possible think about how form and function can blend in an online environment, for example
    • One of our modules on research methods asked students to create a web based resource to teach qualitative methods as part of their qualitative methods assignment.
    • Another module on learning at work asked students to write a report (in the context of learning about training needs analysis) which described a plan for the identification of training needs, and to design and evaluate a training programme for an online learning task.
  • Rather than isolating students we found that the blended approach encouraged more meaningful interaction and peer group based activities both online and in class.

If you are thinking of getting online there are some great ‘getting started guides’ here at http://instructionaldesign.ucc.ie/2016/01/07/online-learning-where-to-start/  . Based on our experiences thus far…just do it.