#ocTEL – why shouldn’t students with less than ideal ICT skills study online.

Hi, I appreciate it can be frustrating to try and understand the learning experience from the perspective of the student. I have many years experience too, meeting students who enrol for an online distance learning course. Our students have varying levels of ICT or digital literacy skills. This can make one question why they have then decided to enrol on an online course. About a third of our students are based overseas – some of these students have extremely limited broadband activity at home, or none at all. They have to use a local internet café, and even when using broadband at home, power supply problems can make it difficult for them.

So why have they then decided to enrol on a distance learning course? Well lets look at it from the student’s perspective, rather than throwing terms around such as ‘flabergasted’ as has been done in this discussion board a little too easily I think. That someone wants to learn should be encouraged. Many learners, especially adult learners, maybe enrolling on a course to further their career, to maintain their current job, to go into another area or work, or, especially reflecting the points by Knowles, to find out something that they need to know now. If a student took part in a face to face course, we wouldn’t criticise them for having poor oral communication skills, (I hope we wouldn’t), and in good institutions, we would provide support, encouragement and maybe skills development workshops to help them develop these skills. Similarly, we wouldn’t question why someone who had to take a lengthy journey to get to the college had enrolled for the class.

So let us not so easily be open to criticise students enrolled on an online course for not having the ideal level of ICT skills and equipment. What we need to consider, is that is it good enough, at this point in a course, from which their skills can then be developed. And what support do we as learners/learner organisation need to provide. We also need to ensure that the initial information provided for prospective students makes it very clear what the requirements are for taking a course.

It is too easy in education to criticise the student without looking at our role as educators too. One thing I have been encouraged in the past couple of years, with the shift, amongst some at least, in the power balance between student and teacher – MOOCs have opened up a debate about social learning, but there is no reason why these ideas cannot be integrated within education overall. For too long, teachers / educators have sat rather comfortably on their table at the top of the class. Crowd-sourcing on any course like this, quickly highlights how much individuals have to contribute, with the social constructionist pedagogy allowed to shine through.

A slight rant, but with no apology. Teaching students from all over the world, on an online distance learning course for the past ten years, has helped me open up to shift my position towards starting from the perspective of the student, rather than expecting them to jump to my tune. Within an organisational setting this is not so easy, but the more we challenge and question this then hopefully we can shift the relationship. We need to let go of our elitism largely based on fear – and meet the people we teach more on a level.

Here my experience is in higher education and adult learners. I imagine school settings maybe different in some respect.




"a technophobic in recovery" . Hello - I'm a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, England. My subject area is Public Health. I spend most of my time teaching postgraduate students on a fully online distance learning programme in public health and primary care. I have come from a research background in public health and primary in the UK National Health Service. My main research & public health interests include the evaluation and impact assessment of public health interventions. I have published papers on randomised controlled trials, cross sectional studies and systematic reviews. My teaching and learning interests, more recently pursued, include pedagogy for vocational postgraduate students in an international context; the use of web-based technology for learning; Open Learning and MOOCs and the development of critical thinking skills and research training.

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2 comments on “#ocTEL – why shouldn’t students with less than ideal ICT skills study online.
  1. kshjensen says:

    I really enjoyed reading your rant because it seems to me that when you add distance and online learning to the mix it exposes assumptions that have remained unquestioned in face to face education.

    • Hi Kas, thanks for your feedback on my rant. I was quite frustrated at the post I had read which acted as the catalyst. Perhaps I would have had such views a few years ago. But now I try and find more balance towards the learning needs of the student. Of course, difficult to do. But as you refer to, we shouldn’t accept that what had been done for centuries in education, doesn’t mean it is the most effective method.

      What things are you involved with at Huddersfield? I’m trying to network a bit more to learn about other groups work and share good practice.

      Take care


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