We know we have always had a loyal following of students at the Department for Continuing Education, but what has been especially gratifying in recent years is to see this developing online. On a purely commercial basis it is great, with about 30% of our students returnees each term it helps our recruitment, but as someone interested in learning design there are a lot more plus points that this. It is great to know we are creating something they like – our course designs work, but more importantly we have a group of students who have bought into this way of learning.
This is more significant then it might seem – our students are only a minority internet “residents” the majority are at best “visitors” (see our isthmus work on this) in addition we know they value traditional ideas of teaching and learning – when asked, they want an expert to teach them the course.
This means that online study based around a model of learning through activities, exploration and discussion, as much with each other as tutors, may make for good elearning, but does not meet their expressed preferences and is not in their comfort zone. Yet it is working and it is our students who make it work.
Our repeast students are improving the experience of study for the whole cohort, by modelling the sort of behaviour that make these courses work best. They want to discuss, they are happy to contribute (admitted some a bit too much!) and are prepared to support each other. It is great to go into a course in the first few days and see new students being supported as much by thier peers as the tutor – and it makes our lives easier.
I do feel very strongly that you cannot expect all students to contribute all of the time (being a lurker is not intriscily bad) but this sort of learning does not work unless enough students are happy to join in – so it is great to know that you can rely on our repeat students as much as our expert tutors, wonderful academic authors, and excellent course design, to make courses that work.