The scenario provided today is based around a student who has signed up for an online course because there was no equivalent face-to-face course available locally. The student finds the course very challenging because of the lack of interaction, particularly with a tutor. He feels so isolated that he is considering giving up the course.
I sympathise with his point of view, and can understand how online students can feel without a clear sense of direction. The lack of engagement (both student/student and student/tutor) inevitably leads to feelings of isolation and this becomes particularly acute when students are facing challenging aspects of the course. There may be no sense of a shared experience and no mutual support network. In my view this is largely due to a poorly designed and/or poorly delivered course. Technology, when used effectively, has the potential to create fantastic learning experiences, even when the course is delivered entirely remotely. In this case it would appear that the course design is not making effective use of the technology.
I did a PGDip in Online and Distance Education with the OU, and in three years I didn't have any F2F contact with either tutors or students, and yet it was one of the most engaging learning experiences I have ever had. That's because it was properly designed.
Promotion of flexible pedagogies has been one of the main challenges I have faced over the past couple of years. I have been trying to encourage greater use of blended learning approaches amongst colleagues, and trying to enthuse students about it. I have had limited success. I think this is due to a certain amount of fear of technology, but more importantly I think there is a real lack of understanding about what BL really is. Many staff think if that put their Powerpoint slides on the VLE then that's BL. When staff do attempt to use BL more effectively, they often simply overlay online activities on top of existing traditional learning activities. The result is that students get overwhelmed, and if they have the choice they will simply avoid the online stuff.
If I could come up with a plan I think I would solve my problems! I think there has to be serious commitment from senior management (as opposed to just lip service) and a real focus on learning design.