We live in a hyper-connected and increasingly mobile world. Cell phones, tablets, and laptops have a consistent presence in many schools and homes. We communicate with each other online, through email, messaging apps, and social media. We consume our entertainment online, through YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify. We shop online, ordering food, clothing, books and household items directly to our homes. Technology has been integrated into just about every aspect of our daily lives, and we’ve become quite effective at adopting and adapting to this lifestyle.
But do the digital skills and knowledge that we use to navigate our everyday world help us to become effective online learners in a formal education setting?
That’s what we set out to explore in this book.
The project begins…
In March and April 2020, we, the authors, enrolled in and completed Athabasca University’s 5-week massive open online course (MOOC), Learning to Learn Online. We read the text-based content, watched the videos, completed the activities and quizzes, and participated in the discussions. Throughout the experience, we asked: how is this course helping online learners develop the digital literacies that they need to thrive in online learning environments?
This book is, in many ways, a documentation of that experience. In the first section of the book, we review each of seven digital literacies. For each, we explore what that digital literacy means for the online learner, evaluate how the MOOC asked students to demonstrate that digital literacy throughout the course, and determine if and how the MOOC’s curriculum explicitly taught that digital literacy.
In the second section of the book, we look at the MOOC through the lens of specific learner profiles. Each online learner is unique, and viewing them as a group with uniform needs contributes to the continued marginalization of certain populations. In this book, we take a closer look at the needs and digital literacies of traditional learners, English language learners (ELLs), Indigenous learners, and mature learners, exploring how the MOOC, through its delivery and curriculum, supports these learner demographics.
In the final section of the book, we review the MOOC through the lens of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. This section explores the overall quality and effectiveness of the MOOC by examining the ways in which the MOOC facilitates teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence.
Exploring digital literacy
Digital literacies are the skills and knowledge required for an individual to productively live, learn and work in a digital society. Digital literacy is not simply the Information Technology (IT) skills required to navigate the digital world, but also includes a much wider and richer set of digital behaviours, practices and identities (JISC, 2014). JISC, a non-profit company in the United Kingdom that specializes in digital resources and technology for higher education, created a digital literacy framework in 2014 that identified seven key elements of digital literacy. Throughout this book, this is the framework used to evaluate the MOOC; you can learn more about the framework in the Chapter 1 introduction.
Defining ‘online learner’
Before continuing with the book, it’s important to clarify the term “online learner.” Throughout the MOOC, it became clear to us that course definition was all-encompassing, and included both learners participating in formal learning (i.e. through online coursework) and informal learning (i.e. conducting a Google search, participating in a social media community for the sake of gaining knowledge). Throughout this project, and therefore throughout this book, we have defined the online learner as a learner participating in online courses in a higher education setting, an approach that aligns with our work and daily experiences.
Whether you are an online learner or an online instructor, we hope that you find this book useful. Our goal is to help shape your understanding of what a learner needs in order to succeed in online learning, and how online courses can help learners develop and enhance their digital literacy skills. We want to live in a world where all learners can thrive in online learning environments—and we think that world is within our reach.