Successful online learning during the coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus crisis has forced many educational institutions to almost completely make the switch to online learning. For some teachers it’s a big step. For others, it’s a logical follow up. They’ve already used blended learning; a mix between physical and online learning. But how does that actually work in practice?

06/24/2020 | 11:27 AM

Ines Lindner, associate professor in the department of Business and Economics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, has been using blended learning for some time. Lindner is therefore strongly in favour of moving to this teaching method on a larger scale. Lindner says, ‘We’ve known for a long time that lectures are actually not very effective for information transfer. Research shows that our minds wander about 50 percent of the time when we listen passively. I constantly catch myself doing this when listening to long presentations. In teaching, the most important thing is that feedback is given, interaction takes place and a sense of community is created’, says Lindner. ‘We also call the last one connection with the programme. It’s really an event to sit with students in a lecture hall. That’s why in-person contact moments on campus are absolutely essential.’ Lindner argues that these moments should certainly be preserved, but, Lindner says, ‘we can take the students to the next level if they prepare for class with video clips. Then we, the teachers, have time for real contact and targeted guidance.’ There’s no one-size-fits-all format for blended learning. That depends on, among other things, the course and also what year the students are in. ‘For example, in some courses, students are less intrinsically motivated for quantitative subjects. Then I’ll have to monitor a lot more to prevent procrastination. But we also have that problem with traditional educational formats, and monitoring can be done more easily online. I can see if students have watched the clips and with an online quiz, I can easily test if they’ve thought about it.’

Activating students online big challenge
Lindner now uses largely the same format she has always used. In short, classes virtually completely online. Lindner says it’s mostly a mind shift that students need to get used to, because they weren’t used to the concept of blended learning at first. ‘But after corona, blended learning has become the new normal. Teachers also generally like online education after being compelled to take this approach’, says Lindner. ‘I have just interviewed many colleagues and the general view is that traditional lectures are indeed no longer a model of the future.’ At the same time, she also sees that everyone agrees on-campus education should definitely be back as soon as possible, only done more wisely. The role of the teacher is thus becoming more and more providing guidance rather than the traditional role of transmitting information. And the internet is now bursting with top-level college video clips. ’I work with a book for which there is a MOOC – a Massive Open Online Course. It’s from the same author from Stanford University. The lecture videos are excellent. It would be utter nonsense if repeated the exact same thing in a lecture. I prefer to focus on activating the learning process and exam training.’

Working groups are proving more difficult to offer online in practice. Lindner does this now, because it’s necessary, but she notices that in-person is indeed easier. ‘In a lecture hall, as a teacher, you get a better feel of the group. There is a lot of indirect information in body language. Activating students in live online meetings is a real challenge. They are quite active in the chat, but as a teacher you can’t keep an eye on that while you’re explaining something. For that you need a moderator, preferably someone close to the students’, Lindner explains. ‘In period 5, I experimented with a co-ownership model, which worked very well. In Canvas, I grouped the students into smaller groups of 25 with a student as group leader. They were the ambassadors of their groups during the course and the moderators during the live sessions. So, they could say, ‘Ines, stop for a moment, a lot of questions are coming in about this.’ In addition, they let me know which tasks the group found difficult. That was hugely valuable information, which otherwise I wouldn’t have had.’ Co-ownership is, therefore, very activating and creates a sense of responsibility among the students. Lindner says, ‘I’m all about the content and making sure it’s at a certain level, but in addition the students have a say. They feel heard and I get feedback during the course instead of evaluations when the course is already over.’ This requires a lot of trust – between teachers and students, as well as among students. ‘Be vulnerable’, Lindner advises. ‘Students really like it when I say I need their help. Being vulnerable is good for your learning process because you feel safer. Besides, students always laugh when they catch me make a mistake too!’


Ines Lindner is head of the SBE Innovation Center and has also started the Online Summer Prep Campus for SBE, for which she received the VU Innovation Prize in 2017.

NWO SBE toekenningShe is also an associate professor for the Bachelor’s programme Econometrics & Operations Research.