The National Institute of Online Learning (NIOL’s) Online Learning Certificate

How many of our institutions need to get certified in online learning right now?

Chris Edwards, Senior Vice President of University Partnerships at MindEdge Learning, joins Dr. Cherron Hoppes, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Helix Education, to talk about the National Institute of Online Learning (NIOL) and why it’s an important organization to bring back to the higher education conversation right now.

MindEdge and the Certificate of Online Learning

Founded by Harvard and MIT educators, MindEdge has a mission to improve the way the world learns. Since its beginning in 1998, MindEdge has served more than two million learners. 

The organization describes itself as a learning house with four doors — credit content, development content, continuing education content, and custom solutions, working primarily for those who do online and focus on adult learners. 

One of the things that came out of MindEdge’s early years is the Certificate of Online Learning influenced by the early work the organization did in understanding the landscape and its evolution over time. 

The certificate itself consists of five component courses — an introduction, narrative learning, online learning accessibility, teaching online, and the technology of online learning. 

“At MindEdge,” Chris said, “our perspective really spans all kinds of topics and learners. So it’s not specifically focused on academic implementations and outcomes. It talks about online learning broadly as it applies to any learner that wants to really dig in and have a great experience.” 

What the Certificate in Online Learning Provides

NIOL’s certificate in online learning provides instruction in the major tools, techniques, and models involved in developing and delivering online instruction. Students review general learning theory and then consider how it applies to online course learning design and delivery. The certificate also includes instruction in online learning technology.

Throughout the series of self-paced courses, students use video content, games, flash cards, and real-world case studies to explore the subject matter. They also engage in reading, interactive exercises, and self assessments.

The certificate requires 22 hours of study across five courses, and students have access to each course for 90 days. 

Online Learning Needs to be Better Than This

The whole world plunged into online learning a few months ago. Since then, the conversation around internet-based education has tilted based on the perception that what the world has done since March is the same as the online education options evangelists have been touting for years.

No. No. No. This isn’t online learning.

After Harvard announced it was going all online, Chris even saw a snarky Tweet that said, “So Harvard’s the University of Phoenix now.” 

Here’s what that Twitter commentator needed to know: University of Phoenix created and delivered fantastic practices and research to meet adult learners. Every institution that’s doing an awesome job has probably adapted a lot of those same practices that come straight down that tree. Yes, that includes Harvard and whatever institution you’re attending. 

Here’s where online learning is and where it needs to go

The brand of “online learning” has been wrapped up for the last 5-7 years in technology that hasn’t proven a promise in a lot of respects, especially the foray into complicated adaptive learning practices. The public almost perceives it as a black box of magic that’s supposed to deliver awesome personalized outcomes. 

In fact, it’s probably just branches from a common tree that have been picked up and influenced by data, but also, online learning has been developed heuristically. We understand how things work, and it takes a lot longer to lay out the best practices of those branches than it does to market a black box and presume that all the answers are inside. 

That’s one of the reasons MindEdge brought the online learning certificate back. There needs to be a translator for a lot of what we’re doing in online learning. It’s almost as if there’s a bit of a maturity index around institutions and how they’re set up to deal with these things.

The #1 Online Learning Topic People Don’t Want to Talk About

How do we know students are progressing? How do we measure learning? Without eyes and ears on a student, how can we know that the learner is engaging with the material? 

Evaluation is the bugaboo of many online learning settings. It’s the hot topic on any campus you walk into, right? For a lot of learners, monitoring and evaluation is simply about finding the way you can apply resources to ensure equitable outcomes. But a lot of folks look at it and say, “It’s surveillance.” 

The fact is that we’re stuck in the middle. We’re between everything online learning brings — analytics, outcomes mapping, informed practices, continuous improvement  — and the majority of the faculty who find that giving a lecture, taking questions, and keeping office hours is easier and more immediately fulfilling. 

What’s Next for the Certificate in Online Learning?

NIOL is working with the Helix team on a number of initiatives, including an advanced certificate that looks at next-level topics in online learning. There’s more to doing education right online than just having a good course experience, after all. 

It’s vital that everybody starts to understand the 360 degrees of what it means to deliver learning in an online way in the context of academics, equity, opportunity, efficiency, convenience, and costs. There are definitely opportunities to bring new and diverse perspectives to the forefront.

Learn more and enroll in NIOL’s Online Certificate Course.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Chris Edwards from MindEdge. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

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