Online Science Education at Scale: Open and Distance Learning, MOOCS, and Other Learning Assets for Theory and Practice

Alston, Peter; Gleave, Terry; Hirst, Mark and MacQueen, Hilary (2022). Online Science Education at Scale: Open and Distance Learning, MOOCS, and Other Learning Assets for Theory and Practice. In: Witchel, Harry J and Lee, Michael W eds. Technologies in Biomedical and Life Sciences Education. Methods in Physiology (METHPHYS). Switzerland: Springer, Cham, pp. 383–416.



In this chapter we examine what is meant by online distance learning. We consider briefly the history and refinement of the early correspondence course model, and outline the modern principles of learning design that ensure an enjoyable deep learning experience for students. We also consider the breadth of the distance learning audience and look at some of the barriers to learning that they may experience. The well-intentioned aspirations of truly open education, accessible to all, currently remain unfulfilled, but a good deal of progress has been made in that area. A range of learning offerings exist, from 30 and 60 CAT point long courses (up to 1/2 of a year of full time study) through to short learning assets that can be studied in a few hours. We note the situations in which MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses), BOCs (Badged Open Courses) and practical assets can supplement or replace traditional face-to-face teaching methods. We use a case study to illustrate the mechanics of producing a successful MOOC. We also describe the issues around teaching practical science online, and offer some examples of how this approach can not only be pedagogically successful but can also deliver a learning experience that students enjoy. In particular we point out the need for attention to detail during production, good quality assurance processes to ensure maximum accessibility, and the value of ongoing engagement with, and support of learners. These features enable the production and delivery of effective, deep and enjoyable learning.

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