The starkest change has come in the way instructors engage their students; instructional methods seemed to start off by giving students the benefit of the doubt and trusting that they will have the capacity and fortitude to follow-up on the work without any sort of guidance or structure. Probably the one thing I believe online learners learn the hard way is how to keep motivated and on task. This “benefit of the doubt” makes it very easy for students to become silent observers... In my personal experience, if no one is actively monitoring me in some way, I found it easy to just "disappear." This unfortunately has happened to me on one or two occasions.
Nowadays, online instruction seems to heavily employ constant and consistent engagement, be it through synchronous discussions or regularly assigned discussion posts. Nowadays, it’s harder to become a fly on the wall hoping to fly away (or not!).
Now how have I used online learning to achieve my potential? Well… So while the bulk of my online learning has been for-credit courses to apply towards some degree program, there were a few instances where I sought online learning experiences strictly for edification purposes. Given my current role at the Business School, I’m tasked to be the steward in managing data requests from many constituents. Doing this well required that I learn how to obtain (query) data effectively and efficiently, as the tools that were already provided were canned reports already written by IT staff.
I turned to community college to enroll in courses that were designed for skill building. Learning how to query a database with programs such as Access and MS SQL Server were two examples, both somewhat different to each other. The former required the completion of graded homework and assignments; the latter expected students to complete examples and assignments, but ultimately – your performance on the final exam is what counted. For the former, there was some constructive feedback on my work; the latter was devoid of such feedback.
The one common element to each experience was what I believe to be the element of scaffold learning. You couldn’t move on to the next topic without mastering the prior skill.
I am also a solo student. What I mean by that is, I tend to shy away from courses (be it live or online) that require group work. I like to take complete ownership over assignments. That said, very recently I have come to appreciate group work within an online setting, and I’m not so quick to drop a course that requires group assignments. There is a ton of value in working with others, and that holds especially true given our remote/virtual lives.