Educational reforms are taking place across countries and regions aiming to solve challenging tasks posted by the 21st century.
It is an obvious fact that educational system on every its level can’t stay unchanged considering that the world is facing the 4th industrial revolution and technology is bringing distractions in every area of human activities – from manufacturing to arts and culture.
If we look at the existing situation, we will find a mismatch between expectations, opportunities, and educational processes. Online education is performing better because it uses technology, provides flexibility and develops skills required in the job market.
The driving forces behind the expansion of online education in 21st century are based on socioeconomic factors:
- Increased number of candidates who are aiming to enter higher education which causes diversity of student audience, large classes and insufficient funding;
- Growth of educational fees drives students to look for jobs and online classes in this situation look more acceptable and convenient;
- Traditional classroom-based education does create an environment suitable for the development of skills required by the 21st century workplace and adoption of technology innovations.
Online education and the 21st century workplace skills
Today employers are looking for fresh graduates with such skills as problem solving, teamwork, ethics, communication, collaboration, research, information evaluation and analysis. Employees expect graduates to be dynamic and self-motivated.
What about discipline-specific skills?
Discipline-specific skills and knowledge are still considered as important, but employers give preference to new hires who are dedicated to lifelong learning and self-study. These skills become vitally important because of rapid changes occurring regularly in every professional area.
To survive in today’s workplace, students need a specific skillset that can’t be effectively taught in a traditional classroom. It seems that online education is the most affordable and convenient alternative.
Online education has an excellent opportunity developing required workplace skills because it offers collective intelligence, collaboration, sharing, portability, mobility and low costs.
Design of online courses supports personalization of learning, development of time management and knowledge management skills, and shift to learner-directed education.
Online learning gives learners powerful communication tools supported by advanced technologies: discussion forums, chat rooms, collaboration and peer-to-peer evaluation. It changes the role of instructors and assessment strategies. Because of self-directed education, instructors focus on advising, motivation, analysis of performance and finding optimal ways for performance improvement.
Online education is open for innovative learning approaches and the modern technology adoption: gamification, simulation, Virtual reality, robotization.
Managing the 21st century workplace skills development
We expect that the 21st century skills should be embedded in the online course content. While studying the content, students will be able to communicate, plan, evaluate, and discuss respective course topics.
Good social communication skills
Apart from reading the online content, students need to communicate with virtual classmates and the instructor in a variety of ways. Good writing and speaking skills are critically important because of the necessity of regular communication via social media.
Additionally, it also develops social media skills because online learning offers multiple opportunities to communicate using YouTube, blogs, and wikis which are important in areas such as research, business, education, management, journalism, health, and education.
Students should learn to communicate professionally in a concise and clear way, respecting the opinion of others, tolerating differences, and looking for compromises when needed.
Employees in the 21st century must be able to think analytically and apply different methods for problem-solving. Online courses support the development of these important skills since they are based on competency-based learning models and focus on demonstration of knowledge and skills.
Attempting problem-solving, students often work in teams – so, it supports teamwork and the development of collective knowledge as well.
Independent and inter-dependent learning
The ability to continually learn individually or as part of a group is critical for knowledge-based organizations. The important feature of online learning is a necessity for students to take responsibility for managing their learning.
Time management skills
In most of the cases students can study on their own pace, but these are also some milestones to be achieved by certain date and time. Students should learn how to plan their independent studies to achieve milestones successfully.
Online courses can have time framed events: assessments, projects, assignments or online meetings with the instructor.
Students should learn to plan their study sessions, discussion forums, and teamwork sessions.
Online learning offers opportunities for students to conduct their work using applications that are commonly used in workplaces: web-based conferencing, project management, digital media, and communications tools. Today’s students must be proficient in using all these tools.
Challenges developing online courses that meet 21st century requirements
Usually, students enter the online course at different levels of preparedness, knowledge levels, learning goals, and motivation. In some cases, they are not familiar with online learning.
The challenging task is developing a course which will meet expectations of all course participants.
Use a non-linear approach
The non-linear approach provides several benefits in comparison with the sequential approach:
- Allows quick access to some definitions and background content to accommodate learners who do not have required prerequisite knowledge in the subject of studies;
- Access to advanced topics available on request;
- Provides an option to display parallel content;
- Supports hierarchical structure of the content.
Non-linear approach accommodates learners with different background and allows flexible navigation, easy access to specific topics, comfortable display of learning content.
Visualization of the course material
Courses that contain visual components are more interesting to students. Students will spend more time and efforts working with the material that is interesting and engaging. There are different ways how to incorporate visual components in online courses:
- adding images to illustrate ideas,
- including infographics,
- incorporating relevant videos to give “movement” to the content,
- adding simulations to represent the process described.
Visual components in the course content create an attractive online learning environment that stimulates students’ interest and curiosity.
Course content should provide an opportunity for students to obtain, develop, analyze, and evaluate real-life examples linked to the theoretical part of the course. It helps students to retain the content learning. The context can be also created by simulation tools and videos.
Reflection instead of remembering
Remembering facts has limited real-world value and we must step away from the necessity to memorize content.
Modern technologies provide multiple ways how students can reflect on their learning experiences without the struggle to recall names, dates, or facts. Students should have access to information from different sources in the course, and it helps them to create a reflective review and integration of the content. It is highly recommended creating review questions for each learning objective and ask students to reflect on the most important concepts in the course. The ability to use knowledge critically and analytically – is a value in the real-life scenarios.
Practical real-life assignments
These assignments will link the online course with the outside world. Students might be asked to collect data, draw real-world examples of concepts, use mobile phone cameras to ta take pictures of the objects, processes or events. Students can also conduct interviews with local experts in the given area of studies.
Making lifelong learning a priority
Online courses create the foundation for lifelong learning so that someone can:
- recognize what he knows and what he doesn’t know;
- effectively conduct research;
- critically assess available resources; and
- effectively articulate the rationale for the proposed solutions.
Careers of 21st century will require higher levels of education to enable potential employees to find out what they need to know rather than having static knowledge.
Technology will continue influence education providing new opportunities for effective learning and stimulating curiosity and thinking. Educators’ task is to maintain integration of technology into online curriculum that meets expectations of students and society.