Tag Archives: online learning

Using eSports to Drive Virtual Engagement outside the Online Classroom

In my previous blog entry, I made the statement that it is a mistake trying to replicate the on-ground classroom experience in the online learning environment. Generally speaking, that’s a good statement. So it might seem contradictory to present the rise of eSports as an example of positive trending in online education–if one were to think of eSports as a replication of traditional team sports and sporting activities. There are, in fact, a growing number of colleges and universities with eSports programs (here is one list).

One of the reasons eSports is effective at improving engagement is that it acknowledges the importance to the learner of what takes place outside of the virtual classroom. The majority of efforts to raise learner engagement (and ultimately retention) in online classes focuses around addressing issues directly related to the classes. A lot of faculty training things like participation in discussion forums or grading in a timely and thoughtful manner. Providing tech support so learners’ time online (in class) will not be interrupted.  But there is little done to engage the learner outside of their virtual classroom environment. Leadership likely wonders, “what would be the point?”

The point, certainly, is that educators have long acknowledged what happens outside the classroom is important to learners. It’s part of the reason behind all the extracurricular activities. The beautiful landscaping. The dining experience and varied menu of food items. The bookstore. Student Union. All of that. Oh, and yes, the sports for both student athletes and student spectators. What are the analogs to these activities and facilities for online learners?

It’s exciting that adoption of eSports in higher education is starting to grab hold and grow. It’s still a new cultural shift, though, and it’s not something with which even online students are familiar. That’s why the news that eSports is gaining a foothold in secondary education is so exciting. If learners are exposed to something in their high school years, they’re more likely to bring that with them as a cultural expectation, and it will give them greater comfort with their education experience. This article in Engadget is a good read. The author points out that “Many teachers (and parents) still see video games as a waste of time.” What’s not a waste of time is the effort made to increase engagement for online learners. That represents tremendous value. With the technology being as widely available as it is, along with the ubiquitous familiarity that many online learners already have with the content, the value can be realized with a very low cultural cost.

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Filed under computer games, eSports, games, Hap Aziz, high school, higher education, Uncategorized

Leveraging the Online Learning Space for Actual Benefits

One of the quickest ways an institution can fail in online learning is by trying to replicate the traditional on-ground learning environment. This mistaken approach disregards the strengths of digital technology and asynchronous modality. It’s like trying to turn a book into a movie without leveraging the strength of the visual story-telling medium. (See David Lynch’s Dune.)

The good news is that not all institutions are going down that path. Many institutions are doing great work in the online learning space, and the University of Central Florida could be considered a poster child for success. Late last year, Bill and Melinda Gates visited the UCF campus in Orlando (my backyard), and he had some positive recognition for the work going on there. His blog entry is worth the read.

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Filed under Bill Gates, blended learning, cost of education, Hap Aziz, higher education institutions, online education, online learning

Where Online Learning May Lead

by Hap Azizthumb

Several years ago, I attended a CIO conference in Orlando, Florida, and the topic of the day’s sessions focused on the development and delivery of online education. The keynote speaker had done some research on Gen Y and Gen Z student attitudes regarding the online learning experience, and he had brought 14 students for a Q&A session with the CIO audience. While I wasn’t a CIO, my role at the time involved working with CIOs to help them design and implement both the systems and process infrastructures to support online learning initiatives at higher education institutions representing a variety of strategic enrollment and learning outcomes goals.

After a number of questions that skirted around the core matter of interest were asked, someone got directly to the point. “How many of you think online learning is effective?” Of the 14 students sitting on stage, one student raised her hand in the affirmative.

I looked around the room and read the overall reaction to be surprise on the mild end of the spectrum to what I’d most charitably identify as confusion on the other end. The students’ response was unexpected, and I’m sure there were more than a few people rethinking their investment of time and treasure in the online market. I thought to ask a follow-up question.

“How many of you use the Internet to learn new things?” Fourteen hands were raised in response.

My insight was that I understood the difference between “formal” online learning experiences designed according to some theoretical framework and the more informal approach of using the Internet to find information presented in a variety of formats that engage the learner across multiple learning styles. What was revealed in the subsequent conversation was a very simple message. Institutions often develop online learning with very little consideration of drawing the learner into a meaningful interaction.

Learners have discovered how to leverage content on the Internet to construct their own learning experiences. Google, YouTube, Instagram, Facetime—all of these are services and content repositories that provide immediate access to an almost limitless amount of information as well as instruction on how to make use of that information. Do you want to know how to tile a floor? Watch any number of YouTube videos. Need help visualizing the Golden Ratio? Look it up on Pinterest. Interested in finding out what Leonardo da Vinci’s top 10 inventions were? Check out the Stuff of Genius blog.

It’s important to remember that institutions of higher education are not simply “How-To” resources, and applying measures of quality for online courses is an essential way of achieving the outcomes that we educators desire as well as the outcomes that learners deserve. In my blog entry “The Quality of Learning,” (https://hapaziz.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/the-quality-of-learning/) I take the Online Learning Consortium’s Five Pillars of Quality Online Education and modify them slightly into these four categories:

  • Framework – Here we consider the quality of technology infrastructure and support across an institution. How well equipped, for example, is the academic technology group in order to provide exemplary levels of service to the various end users?
  • Content – The quality of course design process has a direct impact on the actual materials and media that both educators and learners will interact with during the duration of a particular course. You might think of the difference between a well-curated academic journal and a tabloid pseudo-news publication.
  • Experience – When we think of the quality of faculty and student end-user experience, we need to consider both the end-to-end experience as a service as well as a product. What will students say after they have taken the course? The answer often comes back to how they felt about what they experienced throughout.
  • Design – Program design quality includes components of the three other quality measures, but it is also an overarching theme that spans an entire program of study rather than individual courses. This means that individual course quality measures “interact” in the learner’s mind–so a single poor experience might negatively impact the whole program experience.

On top of these vertical pillars I superimpose four horizontally-spanning themes that are common across all measures of quality:

  • Ethics involves topics from intellectual property policies and considerations to online harassment and bullying.
  • Resources addresses the way in which institutions provision their online operations, hopefully positioning themselves for success.
  • Constituents is all about audience: who is participating, and what is important to them.
  • Measurement is the ever-present need to understand how well we are executing to our goals at every level of the institution from leadership to department to individual instructor.

The resulting composite model looks like this:


Once we’ve established a way of ensuring (and measuring) quality, we can take a look at some of the characteristics of online learning that add value to the learner such as accessibility, the ability to present content that aligns with particular learning styles, and the capacity to provide a multisensory learning experience for improved engagement. In fact, since online learning is a specific flavor of technology-mediated learning, the advantages that technology brings in general to learning are often specifically addressed by online learning and the expansions educators have made to the modality.

In another one of my blog entries, “The Seduction of the Senses,” (https://hapaziz.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/the-seduction-of-the-senses/) I discuss how “traditional” education has been limited by the technology of the alphabet. That is, we have developed a system of learning that first requires mastery of coding and decoding of symbols that represent the real world. While this model has brought education “to the masses,” it has forced us to adjust the way we learn into an artificial process. Online education (along with its variations of blended learning and supplementation of face-to-face learning) offers a pathway for people to learn as we were originally built to learn: through the simultaneous application of all our senses. We’re not all the way there yet, but despite the professional skepticism, the immature state of data-sharing standards, and the uneven application of tools across the K-20 education landscape, online learning brings us a step closer to an ideal state.

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Filed under Hap Aziz, online learning, Online Learning Consortium

And Now for Something Completely Different

Online Learning Haiku
by Hap Aziz

Allows knowledge to blossom
Online as in life

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Filed under communication, haiku, Hap Aziz, online education

Making the Connection between Millenial Students and Online Education

by Hap Aziz

Earlier this week I attended a conference (for our Ellucian CIOs), and one of the sessions that greatly interested me was “Millienial Behaviors and Higher Educations Focus Group Results” presented by Richard Sweeney, the university librarian for the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Mr. Sweeney’s session was actually in two segments: he first discussed what the research has revealed about Millennial students, and then a group of 13 college and university students were brought onstage as a live focus group. He asked the group several questions (the answers the students gave to some of which were quite surprising), and then for about the last 15 minutes of the session, the students fielded questions from the audience.

Millennial students were defined as those now going to school that were born between 1980 and 2000 – aged ranging fr0m 12 to 32 years old. In a study* comparing Millennial medical students to Generation X medical students, the Millennials were found to be more warm and outgoing, more abstract than concrete, more adaptive and mature, more dutiful, more socially bold and adventuresome, more sensitive and sentimental, more self-doubting and worried, more open to change and experimenting, and more organized and self disciplined. One of the key findings of the study is that Millennials “have greater needs to belong to social groups and to share with others, stronger team instincts and tighter peer bonds, and greater needs to achieve and succeed” (p. 574). The implications are fuzzy when it comes to online learning. Must these social groups be face to face, or will online social networks provide the requisite connectivity between the individuals?

In either case, as educators we need to optimize the social characteristics of the online experience in order to facilitate the Millenials’ feelings of belonging and abilities to bond with their peers. Another datapoint** shared by Mr. Sweeney is that for Millennials, “interaction and a sense of community are the key requests of those born digital when it comes to online learning, as surveys indicate” (p. 248). If we look at examples of online interaction such as participation in Xbox Live or the Playstation Network, we see that it can be quite compelling. Millions of recurring users subscribing to a pay-for-play model is a strong indicator of success in this case.

Having the student focus group allowed us to ask a sample of Millennial students about their perceptions, and one of the questions was whether or not they liked the online mode of learning. Without exception, all the student panelists expressed the sentiment that their online courses were not engaging, with consensus that online courses were not effective as an avenue for learning. I wanted to dig deeper in this direction, hoping to draw a distinction between online courses and online learning. I asked the students whether or not they were comfortable going online to learn about anything, say for a hobby interest or particular need they may have had at some point in time. Again, there was unanimous agreement–this time to express that going online to learn things was something that the students did regularly. The content that they were able to access for the personal needs was much more engaging than was the content developed for their online courses.

The answer to this question certainly requires further study, but it reinforces an intuition that I (and many educators) have had for quite some time: while online content developed for the general consumer (in a highly mind-share competitive environment) captures attention and brings users back repeatedly, online courses are often bland and uninspiring, and the reasons for their use may vary, but the quality of engagement of the overall online course experience is not among those reasons. This doesn’t surprise me, as I sample online courses developed for and within the current breed of learning management systems. There is a cookie-cutter feel to the content, and while there is greater integration of multimedia materials, these elements are episodic within the courses rather than integrated in a way that provides a true interactive experience to engage the learner.

Is this an artifact of the “mass production” of online courses? Perhaps, but there is little reason for this to be the operational model. A decade ago, designers discussed the power of the World Wide Web based in the ability for the “mass customization” of content. Yet when we examine online courses as currently developed, we see the presentation of an experience that is the same for each and every student within the same course. Every student progresses through the same discussion forums in the same sequence, answering the same prompts. Every student completes the same assignments, usually in the same calendar-driven sequence. Every student listens to the same podcasts, flips through the same PowerPoint slides, and watches the same video clips assigned by their instructors.

The important question to answer now becomes one of transformation. How do we as educators infuse online courses with the level of interactivity that will actually engage our students? (Hint: Think computer games, but think “small” at the same time.)


*Nichole J Borges et al.  “Comparing Millennial and Generation X Medical Students at One Medical School.  Academic Medicine;  81.6 (2006): 571-576
**Pauley, John and Urs Gasser. Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.  New York: Basic Books,  2008


Filed under computer games, education, education course content, education technology, face-to-face instruction, games, gamification, Hap Aziz, higher education, Internet, Learning Management Systems, Millennial students, online education