Teaching and learning is a flexible cycle, with no right or wrong way to go about it; behind desks, outdoors, small groups, online, there are many ways to facilitate it.
Online learning is one of the formats which was greatly expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s been around long before that. When the need for it became a reality, many schools across many countries had to explore what it meant to connect student and teacher across screens.
College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences (CULLS) Assistant Professor Stephanie Moore is facilitating that move to online learning worldwide as a speaker for the U.S. State Department’s U.S. Speakers Program.
“I've worked in online learning for over 20 years now, which really I think is an important point to emphasize as part of all of this work, that online learning has been around for a couple of decades now. It's really meaningful work for me,” Moore said.
Moore, a Barbara Bush Foundation / Dollar General Foundation Fellow and former President Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) is an expert on connecting foreign embassies to online teaching methods.
“Working with folks at the embassies across all of these countries, they're very much engaged in this conversation of how we can be much more planful and strategic so that in the future, in case of a significant disruption, we have a more flexible and agile architecture or ecosystem,” Moore said. “How can we lay that foundation now so that if we have to make that sort of transition again for any reason, then we feel like we've got infrastructure in place and folks are comfortable with using it?”
“It was a mad dash out the door. That's a big difference, so to to be engaged with multiple leaders of multiple countries who are really trying to think very thoughtfully, strategically about how they weave all of this together to create more learning opportunities and a more resilient and flexible educational system…honestly, I find it really inspiring that folks are engaged in that kind of conversation,” Moore said.
Her most recent trip took place in Cambodia, where she presented research-grounded practices for online teaching and learning and strategic planning and institutional support systems. While meeting with teachers, higher education professionals, officials from the Cambodian U.S. embassy and the ministry of education, she showed her research on the difference in success between planned and unplanned online learning systems.
“We talked about the difference between making that emergency dash out the door like you do when you pack in case of a wildfire or pack when the wildfire is nearby. In contrast, it’s when you are actually intentionally planning to deliver online learning and what those differences look like,” she said.
From Sept. 28 to Oct. 7, Moore presented day in and day out on how to best combine cultural practices, and teaching methods to result in flexible and resilient learning ecosystems.
“It's really invigorating work, as I enjoy getting to hear a truly global perspective on how countries and higher education around the world are developing strategies post-pandemic,” Moore said. “I'm honored to get to share my experience and expertise in online and blended learning such that it could inform quality online and blended education around the world and support leaders in their ability to plan and strategize.”
Incorporating virtual, modern aspects however, in countries where traditions are critical, is not always a one-size-fits-all approach.
“It’s being able to say, well, here's what the research has to say about features that you might want, and let's talk about how you would actually support that institutionally. Then let's talk about what a process of change really looks like, because it's not it's not quick. It's not going to be quick for individual faculty or for institutions,” Moore said.
That’s the key focus of her studies–a surprise versus planned attack against online learning difficulties.
“We do know that those institutions that had robust online infrastructure before the pandemic had largely fared pretty well throughout everything because it was already embedded and institutionalized.I think taking that longer term approach is a really wise approach for institutions,” Moore said.
Moore has also provided similar assistance to Morocco, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon. Each program with the different embassies required different tactics and approaches.
“They really see this as an important strategic direction for their countries. They've really wanted to focus on ‘how do we do this?’ both at the tactical level and at the more operational and strategic level,” Moore said.
It’s an important perspective for all educators to understand. Online learning is a unanimous change, which requires a united effort of understanding.
“To me, the takeaway from all of these different countries is that rather than flatly rejecting online learning, folks will be listening and participating in that conversation about how they, as an entire educational system, move forward,” Moore said. “How do they think about online learning not as a replacement, but how do they weave it in with their traditional face-to-face education and create blended opportunities?”
Moore believes that online learning isn't going to replace face-to-face instruction but instead is an important option that institutions should continue to develop so they have more flexibility and resilience in the future.
“We're seeing more districts add online learning as an option, not as a replacement. More universities are developing more robust strategies to integrate online learning. It's never going to be the dominant,” Moore said. “I think it's important to be clear about that, but I'm seeing districts weaving in different options that are really tailored to their district and the needs of individual students. It's already growing since the pandemic, and there's no signs that that's going to change or diminish in any way.”
Still, don’t discount virtual learning entirely.
“If I have my crystal ball, I think I would say that in 10 years, I feel like online learning is going to become a much more normalized feature of the educational landscape. A lot of those opportunities are going to exist that give folks, learners and everyone else the opportunities to kind of move in and out of these spaces more seamlessly, certainly, than what we observed during the pandemic,” Moore said.
Moore is now working on a book compiling her research and trips. You can find Online by Choice on shelves or online next year.
“I do think that we're headed more into the realm of having these ecosystems. If you think of it as like a biological ecosystem where you've got multiple species and that biodiversity is what gives that ecosystem resilience over time; think the same thing for education,” she said.