By Sean Scarpiello
When it comes to designing effective online education programs, there are many things that need to be taken into account. One piece of the puzzle in formulating the ideal learning program needs to be the intrinsic psychology of a student. Therefore, educators need to take into account the different motivations and mindsets of students. We need to identify these areas and ways we can avoid related problems. We also need to ensure that this education is not too specialized and appeals to more than one type of student. Online programs need to be versatile enough to include all types of learners with different mindsets. This is not an easy task, so it is best that educators look for similarities that all students share.
One of the first similarities has to do with the mindsets of students. I think to some extent, that all humans are innately lazy; however, their true potential is discovered when a lot is asked or expected of them. For example, given the choice between reading a book and watching television, most students will choose television, because it requires less thinking and is less work. Therefore, this means that educators need to find new ways to keep the course material engaging. Plus, since the program is based on the computer and internet, educators need to ensure that the material is much more interesting than distractions like video games, social networking, and more. For educators to make the material more interesting, students need to be actively participating, answering questions, solving problems, and applying principles all throughout their learning. This also needs to be formulated in a way that lets students understand and relate to the material. For younger students, things like silly cartoon characters or easily identifiable figures should be used. For older students, real world applications should be mentioned, as older students quickly begin to ask “when will I ever use this in life?” If these sorts of ideas are not put into place, students will be in a situation where they are alone with their computers and asked to read a book online while they have access to a vast array of distractions.
This sort of laziness is even found in schools today. In one of my college English courses, the professor described in the beginning of the semester that our assignment for the entire year is to read three certain books and then write a 5 page paper for each. She also described that all three papers were due by the last day of class, but you could turn any of them in as they were completed. We were not required to go to class unless we wanted to share our ideas from the readings, which we assigned ourselves. Although we didn’t have homework every day, we really had a lot of homework every day -- it was only up to us to assign it. For many of my classmates, this ended in a disaster as everyone struggled to turn in 15 pages of well written material on highly analyzed topics in each book during the last two weeks of class. In light of this, we can see that all students would procrastinate and do only the work assigned as it is due. Therefore, an effective online learning program would also take this into account. One way to carry this out is make assignments due daily or putting time limits on the assignment. It is, however, important to make sure the time limit is not too short, so slower learners are not cut short. One other novel way around this would be to have online programs designed with a sort of placement test. This would allow the program to judge the strengths and weaknesses of each learner. The program could then take this information about the learner and apply it so students have customizable degrees of challenges facing them as they learn. Therefore, slower learners would not be rushed along by the faster-learning students, as in the many of the traditional education structures.
One final way educators can avoid the innate laziness of all students is encouraging learning to occur in a controlled environment. For instance, when I need to do work, my house or my college dorm room is the last place any work gets done. This is because we associate these places with relaxation and fun; plus, they are full of distractions. However, in an environment such as a library or café, students are surrounded by others who are working, so they feel obligated to as well. It would even be possible for students to continue to go to school and extract the benefits of the school’s controlled atmosphere and social settings. Many educators feel that the future of education will be without physical schools where students learn each day. This is the exact opposite of what students need. Although it is expensive and time consuming to transport students to school every day, students still need to learn with their peers and interact with each other socially. If not, society would be setting up future generations to be extremely antisocial.
In all, we can now identify where the natural degree of laziness in all humans could affect the learning process of students. As online educators are now beginning to construct the framework for the future of education, it is important that we understand these traits in humans and find ways to avoid flaws in the system. When these traits are taken into consideration by education professionals, online programs will be much more effective for both students and teachers.