I’m Kelly and I’m an online addict
I wanted to follow up from my post yesterday about the lonely online learner with a personal story. I’m gonna share why I am addicted to online learning and why I found it lonely. There’s going to be tears, so careful. And it’s long.
It all started back in 1993, when I lived in a small town on Vancouver Island (Campbell River) and I was worried about being a bag lady (a deep-seated fear of all women). The local economy was plummeting, which was built on resource workers who logged, mined, fished and milled.
I was an accountant then with a practice catering to small businesses … in a dying town. So I looked to expand my horizons because I didn’t want to go back to Vancouver, which was becoming an impersonal, overcrowded, and crime-filled place compared to the country where I could roam along the expansive ocean side…
You get the drift.
I ended up teaching at a local, and successful business college. It was successful because everyone was unemployed in the town and were receiving training funding.
Where else would they go, these large men with fingers like sausages who spent all their life in the rough outdoors and the elements?
We were to teach them business skills … right. I was teaching entrepreneurship … in a dying town. Did I mention that?
All this hit me as a single woman in her 30s.
I knew I needed to increase my skills and education so I decided to pursue a teaching degree. I could have pursued more business education but I would rather eat a bucket of dead slugs then get a MBA.
Oh, I jumped ahead of myself. I decided to pursue educational studies because I majorly sucked at teaching. The evaluations from my first class at this business college were brutal.
It was a turning point in my life.
This is where the online learning bit comes in.
[Just a sec. I need more coffee.]
The instructional program I enrolled in was in Vancouver and I lived in a northern region of Vancouver Island, so it was a bit trek for me.
- I had to take off 1/2 of Friday and travel to Vancouver
- struggle with the flippn’ BC Ferries (I have a love-hate relationship with them)
- and pay for food and accommodation.
An extra burden for a future bag lady…
I did that for 6 years.
I earned two adult instruction diplomas. Oh, and my teaching vastly improved.
The learners sorta loved me. :0)
Then an opportunity arose that the University of Alberta would honor my two BC college-based diplomas and roll them into a bachelor’s degree in education. And it was ONLINE. Score! First. time. ever. learning. online.
I was ecstatic! My whole world opened to the virtual universe of info, resources and people. And imagine, bag lady toiling all day long helping Randy, the logger, with market research skills and coming home to the classroom.
No more traveling or associated costs.
So there I sat night after night, and weekend after weekend on my dial-up connection attending class online. Empty dinner plate pushed to the side, reading and writing into the wee hours.
And it was lonely.
Yeah, we had to post 3 things on the discussion board by Friday to our ‘learning community’, and we had one live session a term, but all in all, it was just lil’ ol me and the content on the computer.
Being the super A-type that I am I pursued two more degrees in the same manner. With these online programs, we did congregate during the summers where we met our fellow learners and professors, which was cool.
But the slogging was on my own.
At times while working online, my eyes would burn as I worked late into the night killing my retinas with the computer screen glare. At times, I was so happy to have finished a project (and literally kicked it into cyberspace once done… be gone. Who says cyberspace anymore?). And at other times, I was frustrated or didn’t understand what was expected of me.
As a potential bag lady, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get stellar marks so I could apply for higher degree programs.
When you design learning for the online or web-based environment (whether workplace e-learning, blended learning or fully online), know that your learners are engaging with that, by themselves. Your course, content, activities, exercises and all that jazz is the teacher. I don’t care what anyone says, online learners teach themselves. It’s a lot of flippn’ work, so help them out.
How to help online learners?
- Add supports along the way, like ‘How To’ guides, immediate tech help, assigning learning buddies, providing work examples. Anything!
- Create engaging learning, especially in postsecondary. I can predict with 99% accuracy what an online academic course would look like (I took nearly 40 of ’em). Here it is: Uber long syllabus where the prof dumps everything into it like readings, assignments, and rules… and then walks away leaving ya to it. A million links or go-find-it instructions to articles that are disjointed and way too long with no lead for what to focus on, and the almighty discussion board where for 14 long weeks we are to post 3 things by Friday. Yup, nailed it. That is what academic courses look like. So please, read current literature (and all the research pumped out by academics) on building learning for the learner with creative yet challenging exercises, multimedia, real communications and an actual learning community. And follow well-developed learning outcomes, k?
- Respect the fact that your learners want to learn, that is why they are there. And they are people with dreams, goals, responsibilities and struggles. You don’t have to hold them, but connect with them – outside of office hours for that 1 hour on Thursday. Get creative – read current stuff on connecting. It’s called social networking.
So, that is my story about why I love online learning and why I think it is lonely and why I try to make it more engaging and create happy online learners.
All those who want to join the OA (Online Addicts) group, jump in!
PS. I am no longer a potential bag lady. All the education is kicking in, my business is going well, and I married an oil & gas guy. Ha!
I’m Dr. Kelly Edmonds, an e-learning specialist with oodles of experience and knowledge on creating online/e-learning products. Follow Me!