Random Thoughts

Online Learning Research

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Photo Credit: MaceyBuchanan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: MaceyBuchanan via Compfight cc

Seeing that I’m fully invested in online professional development for educators through both COETAIL and Eduro Learning, I’m always on the look out for research on how to make online learning better. What is it that sets good online learning apart from the OK online learning systems? How can we use that research to start blending our classrooms more and more to prepare students for the universities that away them? Universities that more and more are requiring students to learn online.

New research out of MIT, Tsinghua University, and Harvard came to the conclusion that online learning…specifically MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) do work….or at least work as good as traditional teaching. An article overview of the the research can be found here


google-plus-profileCheck out our online courses at Eduro Learning here.


What’s even more interesting is in part because of this research, MIT released their Future of Education Report. There are whole sections of the report looking at blended learning and game-based learning. What I find most interesting however is their commitment to creating communities both online and offline. Personally this is what sets apart good online courses and why MOOCs work. MOOCs are about creating a community of learners, good online courses do the same. They create a community that allows everyone to learn from each other, to support each other and not rely on a traditional teacher to “teach” the course. That is the mindshift that needs to happen. Not only in our traditional classroom settings but specifically in online courses. Online courses work when a community forms and learns together. 

We continue to improve our systems both at COETAIL and Eduro Learning to be more community centered. Setting up the system to create a community is one thing….helping people to understand how to learn in a community and not from a teacher is tougher.

If you have taken online courses before. What aspects do you like and don’t like about them?

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. I actually have a lot of experience with being an online student. I attended one of the first online high schools in Wisconsin. I loved online learning at that time because of the individualization that it gave me. I was able to work seemingly one on one with my teachers. Every class had required discussion boards where students participated above and beyond the duties of the assignments. It was a wonderful learning community.
    However, I also had an experience taking a few graduate level courses online and these classes were essentially recordings of a live class and there were only about 2-3 online students who were not encouraged to interact much at all. These courses were much less engaging for me and I actually dropped the program because of it.

    Great post! Thank you!

  2. This article is a great sign. If MOOCs are effective, imagine how effective K-12 online learning and blended learning might be?

    I have enrolled in 3 MOOCs, and completed only 1. I think more consistently organized, and better supported local blended learning will end up being even more effective.

    What do you think?

  3. I’ve taken many online courses throughout my career. My best experience by far has been a recent MOOC-Ed course that our district tech integration coordinator recommended: Coaching Digital Learning MOOC-Ed ( https://courses.mooc-ed.org/cdl2/preview ) I expanded my personal learning network and was introduced to invaluable educational resources which helped me to develop lesson plans and contribute to my professional growth plan. Needless to say, I’m a MOOC-Ed fan! 🙂

  4. Hi Jeff,
    I did two of my three degrees online. For me the big advantage was getting internationally recognised qualifications while living in developing countries. I also was fortunate that some of the leading writers on PLCs taught at my uni. This really helped with my thesis. Now looking towards a PhD I am thinking whether I should bother putting in the 3-5 years my uni requires when I see via Linkedin that some school leaders have completed a Masters and PhD in two years. Most definayely pros and cons!

  5. I have just started an online course (COETAIL) – that you are involved in Jeff! It is my first experience of an online course (in fact any course for over 20 years!!!) and I was very nervous to start…
    * Would I be able to understand everything? What would I do if confused and did not have someone next to me in the classroom to ask?
    * Would I be able to keep to deadlines? If you have to be in a class at a set time you HAVE to be there, but unscheduled ‘computer online time’ is so much more flexible, so maybe I would just procrastinate about getting down to work!
    But, I have been pleasantly surprised…I hadn’t thought that there would be online video tutorials to take me step by step through certain procedures – a great idea that I have used in my classroom, or uploaded to the class blog, a couple of times.
    The times I have become ‘stuck’, having someone to ask would have been nice, but it made me use all my initiative and research skills to try and find the answers myself…online of course! I do think it took me a lot longer to sort out issues this way, rather than to ‘phone a friend’. But I see that when you work in this way, then you often get taken to places in your research that you might not have headed to if constrained in the normal way by a teacher.
    The time thing is an issue, when student reports are due, or I have family visit (I live overseas), then I can’t really find the 10 hours a week the course requires. But then this is no different to finding time in a classroom – but would I be spending 10 hours if I was in a classroom – or would the process be quicker? On the upside though, I can study when I want to – not attend a lecture when it’s on the timetable! And it means that I can study with people from vastly different backgrounds, with different knowledge and experience who all live in different time zones – and that is kind of cool!
    I can see that online courses, especially those that have support networks, of others doing the course, built in, could really be the way to go…but I wonder from what age you could do that, or could hope to do that in the future – are we talking about post 16? 18? Elementary school? Where do you see this going in the future Jeff?

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Depending on the content and what is being taught and HOW it is being delivered…I’m not sure. Are some of the online games that students play considered “Online courses” at a pre-K or K level there are mobile apps that are showing progress….even before that we have students who come from affluent homes that are coming to school grade levels ahead of where they use to because they can “learn online” via these apps and games.

      So for the younger ones it’s all about how it’s delivered but for sure for Middle School and above I think there’s a real possibility.

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