The Jubilee Centre has launched a new online course on character and leadership which, in its first month, has attracted over 1,000 students from 45 countries. The timing to launch such a course could not have been more opportune, as the coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of developing quality online learning courses. Our experience is that online learning is both hugely rewarding and can attract new audiences from across the globe, to our research and teaching.
We have a strong history of delivering quality online learning in the Jubilee Centre. We realised soon after setting up the Centre the importance of providing innovative and interactive on-line experiences utilising the latest pedagogical knowledge about on-line learning. We launched our first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Character Education and Virtue Ethics in 2014 and had great success with nearly 20,000 people registering for it across multiple iterations. The success of the first MOOC led us to create a second one, in partnership with some of the largest charities in Britain, on building character through youth social action, and directly specifically at young people looking to better understand the benefits of engaging in social action activities.
Creating and delivering the MOOC provided us with essential learning about how to develop on-line learning materials that are engaging for learners, and create environments that foster a culture of curiosity. Over the last few years, we have developed and launched the world’s first distance learning MA Character Education course. Since launching in 2016, the course has taught nearly 100 students and has consistently received favourable reviews from cohorts of learners. We developed the 6 taught modules, bespoke dissertation and student support sites in partnership with Birmingham Digital. As we were developing the MA course, we were simultaneously developing an online course on practical wisdom for lawyers, teachers and doctors that was used by over 2,000 pre-service professionals from 11 UK universities.
The recently launched free online teacher CPD programme, entitled, Leading Character Education in Schools, has been the product as much of the learning done in delivering the other courses as by the research that underpins it. Hosted on Canvas, the CPD programme is the product of a rigorous research project, which included an extensive review of the literature, an online survey with over 450 teachers, and visits to schools across England. Teachers were continually consulted during the design process to ensure the on-line content and structure enabled the learner to get the most out of the experience. The CPD was piloted over a six-week period by 100 learners (mostly teachers) from six countries and the content and design was reviewed very positively by participants.
We can conclude from our experiences to date that creation and delivery of on-line courses need time, planning, preparation and enthusiasm to be successful, in addition to content that is well-structured, engaging, and relevant. If we, as academics, can develop quality on-line learning assets and experiences, these will help us not only meet the present challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, but also prepare the University for future innovation. This includes the possibility of offering life-long learning to students around the world and micro-accreditation linked to professional education.