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This paper describes a study being undertaken to explore whether course material delivered using a combination of online and problem-based learning approaches will lead to a deeper understanding of the learning issues by the students. The process of delivering an Online Learning (OL) Module using a Problem-based Learning (PBL) approach in a Postgraduate Diploma in Third Level Learning and Teaching at a higher education institute in Ireland. The students who undertake this Module are a cohort of academic staff (Faculty Members) in Higher Education who are taking this module part-time. They are hitherto referred to as participants. This module is one of eight offered on a Postgraduate Diploma in Third Level Learning and Teaching. The entire PG Diploma is entirely voluntary and only Faculty who are keen to implement novel pedagogical approaches in their own subject disciplines apply for a place on the modules. The aim of this module is to enable the participants to become aware of the practicalities of developing, co-ordinating, supporting and evaluating a short online course in their own subject discipline; but the key to their success is by using the principles of PBL to share valuable information with their colleagues in a variety of other disciplines. The crux of this Module is providing the participants with the opportunity to develop a range of online materials. Their beginning point is to justify a decision to deliver a course online rather than by conventional face-to-face methods and conducting a training needs analysis in support of it. They then explore the selection of an appropriate structure and mode of supporting the module for a specific target group and producing a plan for its design, development and evaluation. Thereafter, they examine how to design appropriate teaching, learning and assessment strategies and develop online learning materials for delivery within the proposed online module. Finally, developing a cost analysis for the production of the specific online module is included. It is felt that throughout, developing the participants’ ability to reflect on their own and their students' learning through the maintenance of a reflective log is important for their individual development and for the collaborative process that they are undertaking online. This collaborative process is supported with appropriate online and face-to face tutor sessions. The opportunity is being given to enhance group learning in a real life multi-disciplinary learning environment. The question can be asked why use an online approach for this, rather than continue allowing participants to work in a face-to-face learning environment? Quite simply, the main idea is to provide these participants with a taste of what is possible in an online learning environment, and the problem-based learning aspect played an important, albeit, secondary role. Therefore, the role of PBL is for its motivational benefits - for the participants to learn new online skills, and new skills online, all collaboratively. They are involved in active learning throughout, working with real-life problems in their teaching situations and what they have to learn in their independent and collaborative study is seen as relevant and important to enhance this.
Arguably, all these factors are important in today’s global learning marketplace, but this study seeks to take this further by exploring the depth of learning that is actually taking place.
Donnelly, R. (2002) Delving Deeper with Online Learning? EDINEB 9th Annual Conference, Mexico, June 19-21, 2002.