Approaches to online learning

Approaches to online learning

Adopting a coherent institutional approach to online learning often relies on senior managers developing appropriate strategies that reflect the needs identified by market research.

Equitable and flexible processes should support these strategies to facilitate the development of online programmes that are as high quality, rigorous and credible as traditional courses.

Supporting staff and learners to take full advantage of online approaches also requires an institutional commitment to hear and understand differing needs. The voices of past, present and potential students can provide substantial insight to course planning and development.

Some online approaches require the adoption of more innovative and ‘risky’ practice and highlight issues of trust and risk management that present significant challenges for institutions.

Overcoming barriers

Cultural barriers can be as challenging as technological or legal constraints. Your institution will need to adapt traditional discipline approaches, embrace the affordances of new technologies in curriculum design, and transform approaches to developing and delivering content.

Social networking, the web and mobile technologies, for example, present opportunities to embrace more interactive and collaborative approaches to learning and teaching. This can take teaching staff and students out of their ‘comfort zones’, leaving them feeling vulnerable and reluctant to change.

Teaching staff may also come up against barriers to online approaches embedded within the established support mechanisms of institutional IT and administrative systems.


There may even be ‘institutional myths’ or confused perceptions around online learning in your institution, where staff wrongly believe that they are not allowed to do certain things. Your institution will need to engage staff and manage change well to overcome this kind of obstacles.

Throughout this guide, we will consider barriers and highlight actions you can take, illustrated with examples from institutions that have developed useful approaches to overcome them.

Questions to consider

Your institution will need to consider some fundamental questions to assess how ready it is to provide sustained online learning.

You will need to think about questions like these:

  • At a high level –  “why are we doing online learning?”
  • At a team level  -“do we need to change our assessment design?”
  • At an individual level – “do I have the skills to adopt this new approach?”

Others are very specific, such as “do our IT systems support specific approaches such as bring your own device (BYOD)?”

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