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    How can you teach online if you’ve never experienced learning online?

    By Matt Jenner, on 20 January 2016

    Distance Learning doesn't need to be lonely. Image Credits; By loungerie on Flikr

    Distance Learning doesn’t need to be lonely.
    Image Credit: By loungerie on Flikr

    Teaching online requires different approaches to a traditional classroom environment (as does the learning). Teachers who are not prepared or do not know what is involved in the development and implementation of an online course will result in “negative outcomes for students and faculty” (Caullar, 2002).  As Open University expert Derek Rowntree (1992) explains, most newcomers to ODL [open and distance learning] need to develop new knowledge, new skills and very often new attitudes and dispositions.  Students and staff need to be oriented to the differences in learning online and the change in role and approach for both the teacher and the learner (Palloff and Pratt, 2002). It’s recommended to provide staff development opportunities in online teaching (ibid) and that should come at a later stage, but I think a crucial step precedes it:

    How can you teach online if you’ve never experienced learning online?

    You must try it. I’d also recommend absorbing what’s around you as well  – talk colleagues already active in this space, look for existing resources and participate in relevant networking events. But crucially; join an online course, or ten, and experience it yourself.

    Learn online: Take a free course

    There is a growing range of free online courses in which you can use to experience being an online learner. The huge selection of free open courses can be searched and filtered by using Mooc aggregators such as Course TalkClass-Central and Mooc-list. UCL has a partnership with a UK-based Mooc provider FutureLearn and has a growing selection of courses. But you should explore other courses too and you should feel free to sign up for any that interest you – even if you don’t complete them (it’s OK!). Closer to home there’s also a selection of courses on UCLeXtend – UCL’s public-facing e-learning platform – which you can discover from searching the Life Learning course finder and filtering (on the left) to Format > Online and Cost > Free.

    Notable courses

    Getting started with Moodle (via UCL Moodle) provides an introduction to UCL Moodle and e-learning and provides the basic skills required to set up a course in Moodle.

    A6postcard_digital (3) (1)Blended Learning Essentials (via FutureLearn) – created in partnership with UCL and University of Leeds, this is a free online course designed to help you understand the benefits of blended learning and how to make more effective use of technology to support your learners.

    UCL Arena Digital (via UCL Moodle) – three short courses with each lasting two weeks. Each fortnight will end with a live online webinar where you can share your experiences with your colleagues on the course. Topics: multimedia, communication & assessment and feedback.

    Teaching online open course (via – offered as a free mooc from Oxford Brookes University (and offered as a 10 M-Level credit option, if desired) and is an intensive introduction to supporting student learning in online environments.

    (star) Your mooc mission: try to complete one mooc. Sounds easy? Tell us how you got on in the comments section below.

    Learning from colleagues

    Venturing into the world of distance learning is a bit different to that of face to face teaching and you may want to seek guidance from those who have already trodden the ground before you. Within your department you may know colleagues who are running their own distance learning courses, there should be someone within your wider faculty or school. If not, you could look at UCL’s Prospective Student’s course finder for PGT and filter by ‘Distance Learning’ – then try contacting a course team from there. We also run regularly ‘Forum’ events (sign up to the ‘Distance Learning and Life Learning Network’ below).

    Join local networks, forums and communities

    With representation from all schools the Distance Learning and Life Learning Forum is a community of practitioners from across UCL who are all active in the area of fully online courses and blended learning for taught programmes and CPD/short courses. Or, you may want to form your own departmental, faculty or school-based distance learning groups. These may grow from the ground up, out of teaching committees or via many other ways. Regardless, if you would like UCL Digital Education or CALT to sit on these groups, do get in touch and we can come along too.

    For more information we recommend you sign up to the Distance Learning and Life Learning Forum. Note: This can only be done on the UCL network or via remote desktop/VPN.

    Connect with support teams

    Teams such as Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching (CALT) and UCL Digital Education have trodden this ground before, and are always happy to hear your ideas, share experiences and help you design, plan, promote, develop and evaluate your distance learning courses. They will listen to your ideas and suggest others to talk to, approaches to take, resources to work through and even courses you can take online to get you started with distance learning.

    Get in touch with them from their respective websites – CALT and UCL Digital Education

    Next step

    So – ready for your mission? If you have any questions you can always contact us, or leave a comment below.

    Note: this page is an excerpt from the UCL Distance Learning wiki which contains more pages on planning, designing, building and teaching on an online course. 



    Cuellar, N. (2002). The transition from classroom to online teaching. Nursing Forum,37(3), 5-13. Retrieved from

    Palloff, R.M., Pratt, K. (2002). Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom. 17th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from

    Rowntree, D. (1992). Exploring Open and Distance Learning. Kogan Page.

    ABC Curriculum Design 2015 Summary

    By Natasa Perovic, on 2 December 2015

    ABC Curriculum tour dates for 2016 and Summary of 2015

    For questions and workshops contact Clive and Nataša


    Book us early! We start our ABC 2016 tour with a visit to Glasgow!

    The ABC curriculum design method uses an effective and engaging paper card-based approach in a 90 minute hands-on workshop. It is based on research from the JISC and UCL IoE and designed to help module teams design engaging learning activities. It is particularly useful for new programmes or those changing to an online or more blended format. More information below.


    December 2015 – ALT Winter Conference webinar

    The ABCs of rapid blended course design by Clive Young and Nataša Perović. Recording of the session is available to view here:


    December 2015A brief overview of ABC curriculum design method by Clive



    October 2015 – Presentation about the ABC workshops




    September 2015 – Progress with ABC Curriculum design and downloadable ABC workshop resources and participants’ feedback 



    March 2015 – ABC beginnings, by Clive and Natasa


    March 2015 – Blog post about the First ABC Curriculum design workshop


    Blended Learning Essentials has definitely got started!

    By Eileen Kennedy, on 7 November 2015

    A6postcard_digital (3) (1)

    Managing the ambitious Ufi-funded MOOC project that is Blended Learning Essentials has required a leap of imagination. Back in May, we had no video, no scripts, no quizzes, no Padlets, no glossary, no crib sheets, no Digital Champions, no flyers, no tweets, no conference keynotes, nothing built on the FutureLearn platform. Diana Laurillard and Neil Morris had expressed a desire for video of actual teaching with actual learners using actual blended learning techniques in actual colleges and actual private training providers. Where were we going to get that from? And to add some extra spice, by the time Suzanne Scott from Borders College had consulted teachers in the Vocational Education and Training sector to establish what we needed, it was the height of summer, and all the colleges were having a break.

    Thankfully, we had a supremely talented team combining Evans Woolfe Media, who travelled the country interviewing, shooting and editing video, and University of Leeds Digital Learning Team who put it all together, and as if by magic we started to see a MOOC emerge. Meanwhile, Maren Deepwell from ALT was working tirelessly on planning a marketing campaign to beat all others, and plotting accreditation pathways for our learners to progress from the MOOC. In the background, Richard Nelson from Bradford College was assembling a force of Digital Champions to support the MOOC, and creating a plan for how they could do it.

    I was working with further education teachers to make the crib sheets – including the brilliant Wendy Rogers, just retired from a glorious career at Croydon College, Phil Durrant, and my colleagues at UCL Institute of Education – Rebecca Wilson, Tim Neumann and Kit Logan, who also helped to bring them to life in our UCLeXtend Moodle course. Rachel Challen from Loughborough College was thinking about the best way to evaluate the course, and all our other partners in colleges and organisations (AELT, ETF, AOC, Tinder Foundation, NIACE, Sheffield College and Northern College) were contributing to videos and promoting the course to their members. So many people, so much enthusiasm, so much talent! Even so, it was an incredible challenge – six months to launch the first of our two MOOCs to transform the landscape of vocational education and training.

    But finally it is a reality, and we have reached the end of week 1. It was a major feat from our end to be sure, but that was only ever half the story. The participants themselves are the main part of the picture. I am seriously impressed by the energy and insight of the contributions that everyone is making on and off the FutureLearn platform. I have never enjoyed a MOOC so much – the discussion is great. Obviously, it is my favourite subject, but even so – I have to stop myself spending all my time reading the comments, and following the links that people have posted. It is making me think that this project could really change things and it is great to have been a part of it.

    Guest Post – Dr Mat Disney on using Adobe Connect

    By Learning Technology Support Service , on 21 March 2011

    Downtown Chicago, 10/4/2003 in ‘real’ colour (RGB)

    Downtown Chicago, 10/4/2003 in ‘real’ colour (RGB) © 2011 GeoEye

    from Dr Mat Disney

    As a Lecturer in Remote Sensing in the Department of Geography I get to talk to (at?) students on a regular basis, something I enjoy. Over the past few years I’ve looked for opportunities to present my research to school students in a range of environments, something UCL encourages through our partnership with City and Islington Academy for example. I’ve spoken at workshops, schools, the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, as well as running hands-on practical sessions and writing about what I do for school science publications (see SEP’s Catalyst for example). It doesn’t hurt that my research is very visual – satellite images, 3D models and animations, fires, trees and so on.

    Recently I had the opportunity to talk about remote sensing to high-school students from under-served communities in Chicago as part of a programme to introduce real-world applications of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) outside their normal curriculum. The students voluntarily attend sessions for three hours on Saturday mornings and interact in real-time via video, interactive whiteboards and instant messaging using Adobe Connect.

    Mat Disney using Adobe Connect

    Screenshot of the session using Adobe Connect

    The Chicago session was co-organised by Ian Usher, a former UCL Geography colleague who is now e-learning co-ordinator for Bucks County Council, and Roxana Hadad in Chicago. I showed the students various satellite images, including some striking high resolution satellite images of downtown Chicago, the Mall in Washington DC showing a large rally that took place in late October, and Stonehenge, and discussed with them what their environmental and scientific applications might be.

    I was very impressed with the level of interaction provided by the software – me in my garden office at home, and them in a well-equipped classroom half a world away. I was even more impressed by how enthusiastic and welcoming the students were. They were very quick to work out what they were looking at – for example the dried up river system around Stonehenge, along with the context and significance. They very rapidly arrived at the idea that Stonehenge might be a prehistoric calendar of sorts.

    Landsat image of Chicago, 10/4/2003 displayed in false colour (near infrared, red, green)

    Chicago, 10/4/2003 in false colour (near infrared, red, green) © 2011 GeoEye

    I think the novelty of being able to interact so directly and immediately with students outside their normal sphere like this is a really powerful way of attracting and maintaining interest. The advances in bandwidth and software tools allow for rich two-way interaction which brings the whole process alive (compared to web-based delivery of video for example). It was a very enjoyable experience, and I really look forward to more activities like this – it’s a great way help bring UCL’s expertise to a wider audience.

    This is a further follow up to a brief report by UCL News in January