The learning skills digital literacy highlights the ability of the learner to “study and learn effectively in technology-rich environments, formal and informal” (JISC, 2014). Online learning requires additional skills differing from face-to-face learning, and since online learning is typically self-directed, an absence of these skills will make a students’ learning experience difficult. These skills include:
- Time management (i.e. effectively managing deadlines, schedules)
- Organization (i.e. creating a dedicated study space, ability to easily access material)
- Self-motivation (i.e. scheduling set times for coursework, peer study accountability)
- Self-regulation (i.e. strategies can include breaks, physical activity, meditation)
- Strong written and oral communication (i.e. technical writing skills, ability to communicate with others and ask for assistance if needed)
In face-to-face teaching environments, the requirement to physically attend class, coupled with community accountability, makes a learners’ individual learning skills less relevant for academic success. However, when learning online there is less instructor oversight, motivation, and accountability, requiring the student to have the skills required to learn effectively. While a face-to-face instructor may notice that their student is absent, confused, or falling behind, and will check in on their well-being and offer support for their success, an online instructor often has less opportunity to do this. The learner is therefore required to have strong learning skills, recognize their responsibility as a self-directed learner, and practice these skills accordingly.
The title of the MOOC, Learning to Learn Online, implies that learners, over the course of five weeks, will learn the skills needed for successful online learning. Throughout the entirety of the course, learning skills are embedded in all of the modules. In Module 1, the instructor asks the learner to reflect on how they learn best, introducing the learner to underlying skills that allow them to complete certain tasks more easily than others. Module 2 provides an overview of online learning, which allows the learner to understand the benefits and differences between face-to-face and online learning, as well as any myths or misconceptions that are common to online learning. The content provided in Module 4 addresses the factors learned in the earlier modules, and examines them in-depth. For example, the section about “areas of role adjustment” lists the skills needed for successful online learning, and offers strategies in order to develop these skills, and the “habits” section provides a case study into how an online learner manages their course load, and contains many helpful tips and strategies to encourage success. Finally, Module 5 contains further resources on specific learning skills with the goal of helping the learner create a personal strategy for online success.
Although the MOOC provides plenty of written tips about learning skills, there is no explicit instruction given to students on how to practice these skills within the course. The course could explicitly teach out and provide learners with opportunities to practice the skills needed in order to succeed in a digital learning environment. By creating a task related to a learning skill (say, time management) the learners could make a plan, set a goal, and check-in with peers to learn what works and what doesn’t work for each individual. It is also interesting to note that there is little to no mention of the challenges of online learning. Being transparent about the complexities of online learning allows students to decide if this type of learning works well for their lifestyle.