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Online Learning: Everything You Need to Know

Prepare to immerse yourself in the knowledge-rich realm of online education with our esteemed guest, Dr. Linda Bloomberg. As the Associate Director of National University's Sanford College of Education, Dr. Bloomberg brings a wealth of experience and insights to the table. She provides a comprehensive tour of the current e-learning landscape, discussing the evolving demographics of online learners and the unique aspects of online teaching compared to traditional face-to-face instruction. Together, we also tackle the pressing issue of how the pandemic has amplified the digital divide in higher education.

This episode promises not just to enlighten but to also equip listeners. With Dr. Bloomberg's guidance, we delve into the nuances of evaluating the quality of online teaching. She introduces us to the eight touchpoints that educators should focus on for an enriching online teaching experience. We also discuss the indispensable subjects of fostering a sense of community, addressing diversity and inclusivity, and bolstering learners’ use of technology. Whether you're contemplating the future of online learning or an educator seeking to sharpen your skills in the digital classroom, this episode is brimming with insights that promise to guide and inspire. Come, navigate with us through the challenges and opportunities that online education offers.

Show Notes

  • (0:00:01) - Future of Online Learning and Trends
  • (0:05:31) - Teaching Online vs Traditional Face-to-Face
  • (0:13:52) - Evaluating the Quality of Online Teaching
  • 0:00:01 - Announcer

    You are listening to the National University Podcast.

    0:00:10 - Kimberly King

    Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success - the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today we discuss the culture of online learning, something that peaked during the pandemic, of course, but today we'll talk about the digital divide and what that means, and eight different touchpoints, including ensuring instructor teaching presence, nurturing working relationships and applying facilitator learning techniques. Also that effective communication and how this is all applying to online learning.

    On today's episode, we're discussing online learning trends, and joining us is National University's Sanford College of Education Associate Director, Dr. Linda Bloomberg. In this capacity, she coaches and evaluates online faculty, develops curriculum for graduate research courses and serves as dissertation chair and subject matter expert for online doctoral candidates. Dr. Bloomberg also serves in an advisory and leadership capacity for the university's community engagement platform and was a founding member of the university's diversity committee and inclusive excellence council. She is the founder of Bloomberg Associates, the Institute for Learning Innovations and Adult Development and Advanced Learning Solutions, and a co-founder of Columbia University's Global Learning and Leadership Institute. Wow, that's impressive and we welcome her to the podcast. Dr. Bloomberg, how are you?

    0:01:52 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Thank you. Thanks so much, Kim, for introducing me, and I'm really happy to be here and to talk about something that I'm really passionate about, which is online learning and teaching.

    0:02:01 - Kimberly King

    Yeah, and it sounds like you're passionate because of your background, so why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work before we get to today's show topic?

    0:02:11 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Sure, well, I came to be in my current position 10 years ago, when I started with which was then Northcentral University, in the same role as Associate Director of Faculty Support and Development, and I had come to that after teaching for a number of years in various different online programs, after completing my doctorate in organizational development and adult learning at Columbia University, which I had come to after being a stay-at-home mom for almost 20 years. So my previous master's degrees in psychology actually, which I completed in South Africa, which is where I'm from, were in psychology and then immigrated to this country. After a few years, wink ended a third master's degree in adult education and then straight into my doctoral program. So I really do understand what it means to be an adult learner. I come to this with a lot of personal and professional experience, which I think has helped me really understand the climate and the context of adult learning and online learning specifically as it currently exists today.

    0:03:14 - Kimberly King

    Wonderful. Today, we're talking about the future of online learning and the e-learning trends, and so, Dr. Bloomberg, how would you describe the current landscape of e-learning, online learning?

    0:03:27 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Well, as we all know, a lot changed in 2020, before which there were some specific online learning institutions and universities of higher education that taught specifically online or in a hybrid version, some online and some on ground but since the pandemic, so much changed in terms of context and online learning really has become very mainstream. As you know, most universities now include an online learning component and they- like National University- a lot of online universities that are dedicated to online teaching and learning. So, yeah, a lot has changed and the learners themselves that have come to our programs have also changed significantly in demographics.

    0:04:10 - Kimberly King

    I can imagine, and it seems like you were a little bit ahead of the curve of the pandemic, but I'm sure it's changed, so this is very interesting. Dr., how would you describe the current online learner population, and what specific needs is this population in need of?

    0:04:26 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    As I said a second ago, the online learner population and their demographics have changed significantly, because a few years ago, if we think about it, many people that were doing online learning were doing so for purposes of convenience. It was something they could do in addition to their career, their job, their family commitments. But since the pandemic, because the field has opened up so much more broadly and widely, our online learner population is not just that student that came from matters of convenience, but so many students are now enrolled in online offerings, and this really goes the whole gamut, from students that have just left high school to much older students and older the older population who now have come back to study because the convenience is there at their fingertips. So, yeah, so much has changed, and this really changes the way that we teach as well, because understanding how adult learners learn is key to successful online education.

    0:05:31 - Kimberly King

    I love that you meet them where they're at, right, and the gamut is so varied. What is unique about teaching online as opposed to traditional face-to-face teaching?

    0:05:37 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Well, that's a huge one, and I've actually written a book called Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners, because teaching online is very, very different than teaching face-to-face.

    There are so many more things that the educator, the instructor, has to take care of to keep our learners engaged, because there is not that face-to face or on-ground connection. So ways of engaging with our students multimodally through welcoming them, supporting them, giving them what they need, meeting their own unique learning needs become so much more highlighted in the online environment. And in fact, when I wrote this book, which I completed prior to the pandemic and took it to a couple of different publishers, I was told well, online learning is just such a small part of learning out there, it's not really mainstream, and so I didn't get a lot of traction. But once the pandemic hit and I had the book completely written, it was snatched up by Teacher College Press of Columbia University and published and has been incredibly successful in providing educators with those skills and knowledge regarding how to effectively teach online and, as I say, engage with our student population, which is critical. That engagement piece is really critical.

    0:06:50 - Kimberly King

    Boy, you really were ahead of the curve. I hope you went back to that other publisher and said listen, now I have the book.

    0:06:56 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    So there, I had a couple of them approach me, but the book was already with the current publisher and in fact, I also write an ongoing blog for Teacher College Press on different aspects related to online teaching and learning, which I've done now for three or so years, and have published with them over 50 blog posts which are also used as resources for online educators.

    0:07:16 - Kimberly King

    So, with that being said and this is kind of going off of our script here do you have any specific blog posts that come to mind that have gained a lot of interest? I mean sure, everything you're writing, of course, is of interest, but anything that's coming up to the top of your head, that where people are oh wow, yeah, definitely.

    0:07:36 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    When I first started, I started with that transitional piece: how do we transition from traditional teaching methods to online teaching methods, and there were a whole lot of different strategies that I discussed and people were interested in, but now a lot of people know what those strategies are. So I really have transitioned over the past year or so to writing a lot more about how to engage underrepresented groups of learners, including first generation college students, who really need that added support to be successful. So I'm writing a lot about that. I'm writing a lot about multimodal engagement strategies. In other words, not just thinking that you can engage somebody with a quick once off solution, but they're having to be a really very thoughtfully thoughtful set of processes that are brought to the teaching, to the pedagogy, to really ensure that our students remain engaged and that that engagement is sustained. It's not, engagement is not just a once off. You don't just work to engage someone once and then you're done with it. Engagement is ongoing so that that student is really successful. I'm also very much interested in equitable student success.

    0:08:41 - Kimberly King


    0:08:41 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    I'm writing a lot about that. I recently attended two courses through Harvard University that were really dedicated to ensuring equitable student success. Again, it goes back a lot to first generation college students, and how do we engage with that body of students to ensure that they are actually receiving the support that they need? So, yeah, those are some of the topics that I'm really excited about and currently publishing, aside from the blogs, publishing a lot of articles on those topics and engaging in a lot of webinars and other podcasts on those topics as well. So, sorry, I need to stop now, because this is something I'm very passionate about.

    0:09:17 - Kimberly King

    No, I love it and thank you for sharing all of that, and I think what I really love, doctor, is that it seems like you're in one direction and all of a sudden opens doors to other new things that you're finding the engagement from. So you're really going along with the flow, but in a successful way. That's great. I do have another quick question for you, and that is because it's not face to face and it is that online platform. What kind of boundaries do you have to put around? Maybe the teacher, professor, student, or your meetings? Is that something? And especially because you're dealing with a lot of students that are first generation college goers, do they request meetings or what does that boundary look like to have the professor, student meetings with you?

    0:10:05 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    I think, more than a boundary, it's an openness, an openness to really being present for that student, for each individual student, hearing what each individual student needs and then meeting their needs accordingly. Some students prefer phone calls, some students prefer Zoom, some students prefer to meet in a group, some students are afraid of reaching out. So the professor, the educator, really has to be very finely attuned to what students out there are really needing, even if they're not specifically asking for it. One has to really be very intuitive in terms of if the student is not performing according to a level of success, what can I offer them to be successful? How can I meet their needs? And I think that openness, that presence I write a lot about presence, which is one of the key aspects of online learning and was written about in the 70s by a group of researchers Presence, which involves physical presence, emotional and academic presence, is really important on the part of the educator.

    Part of this is all about how to learn to teach online, because it doesn't always come naturally to even the most veteran, experienced, veteran teachers on needing some form of support to enhance their learning approach and their teaching approach. So, yeah, there's a lot that is built into this context of ensuring that students are successful, and I think openness is a key. Openness also is learning. Even those of us educators that are veteran and have been doing this for many years, I think, need to be open to learning what is required for students to be successful. Student success is the bottom line.

    0:11:42 - Kimberly King

    And that great. I love that research that has gone into that. And it almost sort of reminds me of when you have a new client and you say what's the best, easiest way for me to communicate with you? Is it online, Is it through a text or a call? And sometimes, yeah, we all have that different modality. So thank you for explaining that. What are the key skills needed to be an effective online instructor?

    0:12:06 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Again, it's openness to learning. It's willingness to be flexible, to meet the students' needs, to meet them where they are and every student is unique. As we know, Every student has their own set of needs coming from their own context and their own learning experience. And then a willingness to really adapt to the environment and enhance one's skills. So, as I said, it doesn't always come naturally. And so accessing resources, accessing materials that talk about how to teach online, how to effectively teach online if the instructor is open to learn about the new strategies, what works, what doesn't work, what is a red flag, what is something that you can really do to improve your students' learning experience I think that's critical, Great.

    0:12:55 - Kimberly King

    Well, this is such great information and so relevant, so right now we need to take a quick break. More in just a moment. Don't go away. We will be right back. 


    And now back to our interview with Dr. Linda Bloomberg, and we're discussing the online learning and e-learning trends. Dr. Bloomberg, congratulations on writing your new book and tell me a little bit about that process, because you did mention that you wrote it ahead of the pandemic, so who knew what this online learning has done? Tell me a little bit about this whole experience.

    0:13:26 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Yeah, as I said, I'm really thrilled with the way this book has been received internationally, especially since the pandemic did bring about something a new world that we couldn't have predicted.

    And something that I couldn't have even predicted, even having written about online learning techniques, prior to the pandemic, was the sheer enormity of the shift that took place in education, particularly in higher education. Even in K through 12, as we know, students had to start learning online. But talking about higher education, what the pandemic really highlighted was what is called the digital divide, that is, the access that the haves and the have nots have or don't have. And I think that that digital divide really comes to the fore when we think of underserved or minority populations that have not had the advantages that more privileged populations have had in the past, and so even access to computers, access to internet, access to Wi-Fi. The pandemic highlighted that divide so abruptly and so intensely that we have really had to shift in our way that we teach and engage and care for our students, because we cannot assume that all students have the same access.

    0:14:43 - Kimberly King

    You know what it is kind of really leads into, and that's something actually, first of all, people don't always think about that. As we shift through all kinds of changes, you know who has that availability or access to, just like you said. So I love what you've done and I wish you the best of luck with the sales of your book. What you just answered may kind of go into this next question, and that is how would one evaluate or assess that quality of online teaching and what are the factors one would look for in making a determination of that quality of teaching?

    0:15:14 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Okay, I'm really glad you asked me that question, because here I'm really going to refer directly to part of my book. In fact, this is woven throughout the entire book how to engage adult learners and how to evaluate whether a teaching experience or a learning experience is in fact successful and to what extent it can be improved on. So in my book, I actually have discussed what I call eight different touch points which an educator, if they take care of all eight or as many of the eight as possible, have a much better chance of being successful in their teaching. The one is and I go back to what I said earlier about ensuring teaching presence. Are you, as an instructor, present for your students? Are you there? Are you taking note? Are you cognizant of what they need? Are you really addressing their needs in an authentic manner or are you just providing lip service? In other words, are you really there? Are you present?

    The second is nurturing working relationships. All students and this doesn't go just for online environments all students want to develop a good, workable relationship with a person that's teaching them, and so developing these good working relationships is critical to student success. That's the second point. The third is applying effective facilitation techniques, as is often written in the adult learning literature, the instructor is a facilitator of learning. The instructor is not someone who pours learning into the learner's heads, as was done in many years ago, but Malcolm Knowles, one of the four, the writers in the beginning of adult learning theory, and then Jack Mesero, who developed transformative learning theory, who actually taught me in my own doctoral program because he developed that particular program at Columbia. They spoke about this instructor as being a facilitator of learning, really creating an environment that is conducive to learning. So that's the third point- Are we applying effective facilitation techniques? And that brings into discussion all of the different things you can do to make the learning experience successful. Are you welcoming the student? Are you there as an effective, present instructor? Are you listening to the student's needs? Are you communicating effectively? Are you hearing what the student is asking you for? And, finally, are you providing what the student is actually asking you for? So the three that I've mentioned so far are ensuring teaching presence. Two is nurturing working relationships. Three is applying effective facilitation practices. The fourth one is creating a sense of community. Learning is even an online learning population. Want to feel part of something greater than themselves. Nobody really learns as an individual. Learning is a social phenomenon. Learning happens in the context of community, and even informal learning, where people are just meeting to discuss, meeting to have dialogue. That requires community, so the instructor really has to be a facilitator of community as well. And that's the fourth part that I talk about. Remember, all of these are in response to your question about what makes for a good learning experience.

    The fifth one is addressing diversity and inclusivity and, as I said, this has become even more pronounced since the pandemic. Are we being inclusive of all learners? Are we being cognizant of all learners' access to the learning experience and the learning materials? Do students have what they need to be successful or are they being kept out of the context because of their limitations in their circumstances or whatever, even in terms of their openness to learning? We know that many learners have a fixed mindset where they don't believe that they can be successful. As an educator, we really have a task to develop an open and gross mindset in our learners, which Carol Dweck writes about extensively, and as educators we need to have that open and gross mindset ourselves to actually accept that our learners can succeed and not have any fixed preconceptions about why a particular learner or group of learners will not succeed. So this all goes into addressing diversity and inclusivity and access. I'd add access to that as well.

    The sixth point, or the sixth criterion, is embracing learner autonomy and empowerment, and this goes back to adult learning principles, where both Malcolm Knowles, Jack Mesereau, Stephen Brookfield, Paolo Freire, even write about giving learners the autonomy to be in charge of their own learning experiences. Remember, this is what adults want. Children, on the other hand, may be OK with, because of their stage of life, being told by their teacher what they should be doing, but adults want a sense of autonomy. They want to feel empowered, and empowerment is really very much part of what I write about today as well. It's that engagement that goes along with learner empowerment. So learner empowerment and learner engagement are really two sides of the same coin in my view of adult learning and successful learning experiences.

    The seventh criterion is supporting learners' use of technology. This is obvious in the online learning environment, where learners may not always be tech savvy. Very often, the younger generation Gen Z, Gen X have grown up with technology, but some of our more mature learners have not, and so they may have to learn about the technology, even learning how to use a computer, learning how to develop Word documents, PowerPoints, and so we really have to be cognizant of providing learners with that technical support and access to technical support if we are not able to do that ourselves. So most universities, including National University, have a service desk, a help desk that will gladly support all learners with any technological questions that they have, and learners really today do need to have that technological support to be successful and to access what's needed at any particular point in time in their studies.

    And then, finally, I talk about establishing and maintaining a culture of trust and transparency. And that again goes back to what can the educator do to ensure an equitable, successful student experience? And it really is about that trust and transparency and creating a culture around that. Do our students trust us with their education? How are we going to rise to the occasion? How are we going to deliver? How are we going to ensure that each and every student that comes through our doors, even if it's a virtual door, are going to be successful in the course or the program of their choice?

    And so all of those eight criteria together, I think, make for a successful online learning experience, and each of those can be evaluated or assessed individually or in combination, and I talk about that a lot in my book. You know how to evaluate whether a learning experience is in fact effective or successful. I always go back to those eight criteria and I've tried to rack my brains about what there could be, maybe a ninth or a tenth one, and I'm always open to suggestions. So if either of you think about what, or any of the listeners think about what could be some other key factors that I've overlooked, please let me know, because this model is flexible and practical and I want it to be as useful as possible in as many situations as possible.

    0:22:23 - Kimberly King

    You know what I love about this too, and again, the fact that you wrote all of this before the pandemic, when online learning really just blossomed and everybody was online learning. But it's the fact that you really go over everything for the students, so establishing that culture of trust and transparency. But you're really making sure you're fine-tuning everything and making sure your students are not only just happy but very successful in that online learning. So you're making sure to go back, whereas maybe before, when it was face-to-face, maybe I mean you care about your students, but maybe you didn't go over it with a fine-tuned comb like you are now, it seems.

    0:23:02 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Yeah, I think that the way things have exploded in the online learning environment over the past few years have really made it an imperative that educators are not just satisfied that a student survives, but that a student thrives, and that really is my mindset. I want each and every student that I teach to thrive and to really achieve their own learning goals so that they can make changes in their lives and, ultimately, in the lives of their communities, because learning is not just for learning's sake. Learning is to make change, productive and proactive change, and so if each of our students could come away from their experience, from their learning experience, with the knowledge and the optimism and the confidence that, yes, I can do it, yes, I can make changes in my life and hopefully these will even impact my family and or my community, then I feel that my work is done.

    0:23:50 - Kimberly King

    Perfect, I love that. I'm after you. We'll get your book. So the next question is what are the current hot topics that you are noticing in discussions around the evolution of online learning and teaching?

    0:24:05 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    I think this goes back again to equity, access, equitable student success, what first generation students want and need, because this is becoming really very clear that so many of our students in higher education are first generation college students who previously or whose parents and grandparents may never have had the opportunity to study the way this generation has. But it comes at a price, because they don't have the support very often behind them. And so extra support, extra care, extra listening and real, authentic education is essential, and I think these are the topics that I'm seeing more and more written about, especially around equitable, ensuring equitable student success, like how do we ensure that every student is successful? And that really starts with a clear definition of success. That's another whole story that I could do another entire podcast on.

    How do we define student success and, more than that, equitable student success?

    0:25:03 - Kimberly King

    Okay, great, and why are these important topics to address? So I know you've been talking about this and you just mentioned this, especially with the diversity and inclusivity and access, but are there any more reasons why they're important topics to address?

    0:25:25 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    I think it's important because, if anything and maybe you see this too- the pandemic taught us that we're all humans and all vulnerable, and I think that it becomes even more important nowadays to really see each student as an individual and really take care of each and every student's needs. Students are human. Instructors are also human. Instructors also make mistakes, and it's also important to be vulnerable and let your students know when you don't know something and then to make a plan to actually find it out so that you can provide the student with support that's being asked for. But I think, yes, I think the fact that we are all vulnerable human beings has made this whole endeavor that much more critical.

    0:26:11 - Kimberly King

    That's great. Is there anything that you also wanna add before we wrap up today? This has been such great information.

    0:26:18 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Yeah, it's been really great to talk to you. Do you have anything that you see from what I've said that you wanna delve into a little bit more or expand on, because I can talk about this for a long time?

    0:26:31 - Kimberly King

    That's actually. What I was going to say is that I love your passion and right off the bat I realized oh, I'm dealing with a perfectionist here, because you care so much and you wanna make sure everything is dotted eyes cross-tees.

    0:26:45 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    I will not stop until I know that every one of my students has been taken care of.

    I really will not stop. I mean, I will provide students and provide them with resources to be successful. That is what I really feel most comfortable doing. I work a lot with faculty as well. In my current role, I train faculty and coach faculty to teach online, and that is why I have a lot of expertise and knowledge on that level. But my ultimate goal is student success, because why are we coaching and training faculty? So they can provide the best learning experience for their learners, and so student success learner success is the final end goal, the outcome of all of this work, and I really consider this work very important because, as I said previously, we can and do change lives, and we want to be able to have an impact on lives in a positive and profound way, so that people can move on from their education and really use the knowledge and skills that they've gained. It's no longer, as it was in the past, about, as I said, pouring knowledge into students' heads. Our students are our partners in education and we are learning along with them.

    0:27:54 - Kimberly King

    Oh, I love that. Well, thank you for everything you do and your passion, and we'll all have to go out and get that book, but thank you very much for your time today, doctor, and if you really want more information and want to visit National University's website, it is nu.edu. And thank you so much for your time. We look forward to your next visit.

    0:28:13 - Doctor Linda Bloomberg

    Thank you so much for inviting me. I've really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you, thank you.

    0:28:19 - Kimberly King

    Thank you. You've been listening to the National University Podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at nu.edu. You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

    Show Quotables

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    “Do our students trust us with their education? How are we going to rise to the occasion? How are we going to deliver? - Linda Dale Bloomberg https://shorturl.at/drtS8" Click to Tweet