Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Distance learning a win-win scenario for students, instructors and employers

Imagine being able to do your coursework while continuing your employment and, at the same time, be part of an online community that shares experiences and resources designed to enrich everyone's learning.

Students enrolled in the Flexibility and Innovation in Apprenticeship Technical Training (FIATT) program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, for example, complete part of their training related to four different trades online before attending on-campus classes. That means apprentices spend less time away from work and their communities when they pursue their technical training.

Dalton Mervold, the polytechnic's program head of the Parts Management Technician, Warehouse Worker, Leadership Skills and Blue Seal programs, is a fierce proponent of online learning, provided that "courses are designed to be interactive and engaging, and have content that requires learners to respond."

Effective online learning is more than "putting the manual online and allowing students to submit assignments," says Mr. Mervold, who specializes in distance and online course design and strives to improve the interaction between learners and course facilitators by using innovative communication tools.

Online courses give students the flexibility to "learn on their own time and with a device of their choice, whether it's a smartphone, iPad, PC or Mac," says Mr. Mervold.

Media-rich programs tend to keep learners engaged, for example with short interactive videos, he adds. "When videos are three or five minutes long, people stay focused and don't mind watching them again, especially if they cover essential mechanical processes. We also put the text online for people who prefer to read, are hard of hearing or deaf. And with a 'read' option, you can highlight text and it is read to you."

Removing barriers for diverse learners enables the participation of students of different ages, backgrounds and learning requirements, making the courses truly inclusive, says Mr. Mervold.

"Students share their work online and learn where to find reliable information, whether it's asking someone more experienced or doing research," he says. "Lots of students also shoot photos and videos and upload them to show what's going on at work."

When everyone from the course adds to the online content, the instructor's role becomes that of a facilitator, says Mr. Mervold. "This interaction creates a community of learning. It also makes the education directly applicable – students often tell us they were able to implement new ideas at work the next day."

To encourage further work-integrated learning, online FIATT courses include a component called 'At your workplace,' where students ask their supervisors or employers questions, says Mr. Mervold. "We find that employers welcome the opportunity to contribute to their apprentices' learning."

Feedback from graduates, employers and instructors indicates that online courses, including those part of the FIATT program, create a win-win scenario for all, says Mr. Mervold. "This kind of learning also sets us up to be lifelong learners since many of these skills are applicable in every-day life."

About Colleges and Institutes Canada

Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) represents Canada's publicly supported colleges, institutes, cegeps and polytechnics, which work with industry and social sectors to train learners of all ages and backgrounds at over 420 campuses serving urban, rural and remote communities across Canada.

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This article was originally published by Globe Content Studio.

Published February 2018.