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e-Learning and Technology Improve Learning Outcomes in Community College Classrooms

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 9, 2014
In the first blog reporting on the results of a National e-Learning Landscape Survey of community college faculty commissioned by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship and HP, we learned that the use of e-learning and technology is increasing in community college classrooms. In this post, we look at how this development is helping to improve student outcomes.  

Based on survey responses, community college faculty members are confident in the ability of online learning to improve learning outcomes. Among the 250+ respondents, the top five benefits of online learning identified were: 
(1) Increases access through location and time flexible learning; 
(2) more resources and information are available to students 24/7; 
(3) wide variety of tools and methods teachers can use for teaching; 
(4) a good supplement to face-to-face curriculum e.g. as additional study materials; and 
(5) it can lead to a richer learning experience if integrated correctly, freeing up class time for more engaging activities.

How Online or Hybrid Classes Facilitate Learning 
When asked when online/hybrid classes best facilitate learning, respondents raised a number of features that are found in the HP LIFE platform:
  • Depends on the nature of the course (29%): Online learning works better for more self-paced courses that tend to require students to work individually; for more basic and introductory courses that are less applied; for teaching technology skills; when supported with face-to-face – modules on HP LIFE are designed to fit different delivery methods, can be a supplement for F2F and also for individual, self-paced learning. Topics simplify complex concepts.
  • Depends on the resources available to the online course, including its format & features (23%): Need for teacher training, high quality content and curriculum design, use in conjunction with real world problems and situations, opportunities for student-student and student-teacher interaction, discussion boards, collaborative team projects, activities (e.g. exercises, quizzes, assignments, presentations), online simulations 
  • Depends on accessibility (7%): Need for basic or adequate technology skills (e.g. able to troubleshoot on their own).  One suggestion is to include a module on ‘how to succeed in online and hybrid courses’ – such a module/course is under discussion with HP LIFE partner New Media Consortium.  
Technology Allows Teachers to “Flip the Classroom” 
“Flipped” learning strategies were also cited by survey respondents as being particularly helpful in facilitating learning in online/hybrid courses. For instance, the teacher can pre-record lectures that students watch online before class, thus allowing class time to be spent on mastering the material rather than just hearing about it. Flipping the classroom, which is made possible by technology, is a learning strategy that is growing in popularity at all levels of education.  

Our survey asked faculty when online or hybrid classes best facilitate student learning. Here, 38% responded with answers related to the nature of the student. The availability of online learning for students who face time constraints, such as working students, or who face distance-related challenges in coming to school was cited by 18% of respondents as factors that make online or hybrid courses helpful to student. Similarly, 18% said online or hybrid courses work best for students with the right motivation, time management skills, discipline and focus. Just 2% suggested that more advanced higher education students (e.g. graduate students) might be better able to benefit from online/hybrid learning.

Thirteen percent of survey respondents said that the nature of the course being taught determines the extent to which online or hybrid courses best facilitate student Among these, 5% felt that online learning works better for more self-paced courses that tend to require students to work individually (e.g. research); and 5% felt that online learning works better for more basic and introductory courses that are less applied. A few (2 respondents) also expressed that online learning is particularly useful when the topics being learned are equipping students to use technologies. 

Format and Features Are Important
The resources available to the online course, including its format and features, was deemed an important determining factor in its efficacy to improve student out comes by 23.19% of survey participants. The top resources mentioned by this group included:
  • Teachers/teacher training, for instance, when an instructor is able to help students make meaning out of material, or when the instructor takes every step to design and facilitate a robust and interesting course. 
  • High quality content and course/curriculum design, such as through using videos and review documents. The online learning experience can also be improved when used in conjunction with real world, real time issues (current events and current problems/issues), and when they are relevant to student's interests.
  • Student-student and teacher-student interaction in online learning environments. Discussion boards were commonly cited as useful in fostering communication and interaction. 
  • Collaborative/team projects to generate interaction. 
  • Exercises, assignments, quizzes, and presentations are helpful. 
  • The flexibility offered by online courses is important. 
  • Online simulations 
Other Methods that Would Help Support Teaching Entrepreneurship
When it comes specifically to teaching entrepreneurship, other online tools/information that respondents suggested that could increase effectiveness in classes included: 
  1. Other types of teaching/learning methods – e.g. flipped learning strategies  
  2. More teaching resources – e.g. social media, videos, case studies, webinars
  3. More collaborative activities – e.g. funded competitions, community engagement
  4. Broader content / topics – e.g. training for “soft” skills, info on start-up funding
  5. More school-wide resources – e.g. incubators, entrepreneurship clubs
Still Can’t Take Accessibility for Granted 
Finally, 7% of respondents said an online or hybrid course’s ability improve student comes depended on its accessibility. Five percent pointed out the need for basic or adequate technology skills (e.g. able to troubleshoot on their own). Two percent noted that students must have access to Internet/devices, including at home to succeed with such courses. This points to the fact that while most of us consider fast Internet connectivity as a given, many community colleges across the ground serve vast rural areas where this convenience cannot be taken for granted. 

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