Is online learning working for you?

overhead view of person's hands typing on a laptop and a lot of data streaming beside it.


In the post-pandemic world, an open Silicon Valley campus will mean various channels of online learning for professionals who are upskilling for a brighter future.

Building a more customized online learning experience

FROM THE DEAN’S DESK—The pandemic has been both a disruptive and a transformational experience for most of us. We adapted to working remotely and learning online. Without the luxury of a structured, leisurely approach to changing our behaviors, we heeded the old Nike slogan: “Just do it.”

Clearly, the business of remote work has generally succeeded. And, while the pendulum will swing back some, the future of work looks very different than it did 15 months ago. Learning remotely, however, well, that is still work in progress. Even the companies that have been touting online learning platforms  have struggled with low completion rates.

The Sudden Pivot

At UCSC Silicon Valley Professional Education, we shuttered our campus and transitioned all of our in-person courses to a remote-live format. Students and instructors adapted and improvised quickly. In lieu of the traditional classroom, our world-class faculty created a profusion of fairly effective, remote-live courses. In a few instances, there were also some not-so-impressive, last-minute recordings of lectures with so-so audio. Students in our remote-live classrooms were mostly unaffected and learned successfully. They continued to earn specializations and certificates, successfully navigate the remote job search, and report back with new job titles. 

A Greater Reach

Many of our courses enjoyed a more geographically diverse attendance. People from across the U.S. and throughout the world now had access to UC-branded education and credentials. A recent live webinar on real estate investment drew attendees from nine states and 16 California cities. 

The pandemic, however, upended people’s lives, finances, and career goals; uncertainty was a constant. Our international students were barred from entry to the U.S. They were able to connect with us virtually but, like every institution, we were disappointed to not have them with us to intern and work temporarily in local Silicon Valley companies. We saw many students pause their goals of re-skilling and the upskilling they needed to further their careers.

Lessons Learned

As for the student experience, there are many shades of grey in the online learning environment. We have noticed a clear distinction between that student remote-live experience and self-paced online learning. Remote-live preserves most of the elements of classroom-centric learning. Most of our students and instructors have truly enjoyed the experience. 

However, I believe that self-paced online learning—without instructor attention, peer interaction, or student accountability to deadlines—is problematic.  It only works for a narrow demographic.  A majority of people in the self-paced online course environment, simply drop out. Completion rates can often be in the single digits. Students miss context, guidance, and peer pressure. 

In a way, self-paced online is more about training and less about education, according to an interesting article by Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder, associate professors at Carleton College. They say:

Training makes assumptions; education challenges them.
• Training is packaged; education cannot be contained.
• Training rewards compliance, education curiosity.

We need to tread cautiously into the world of self-paced or pure online. 

Innovating Online Learning

As we reemerge from the pandemic and reopen the physical classroom, there is a new landscape in the making. Many learners have permanently changed their behaviors and will continue with online learning. So, we have the opportunity to create a hybrid classroom with a more customized learning experience.

At UCSC Silicon Valley, we are focusing on building out the online experience to ensure students gain real skills and get the mentorship they need to compete in the workforce. We’ve partnered with Wyzant for discounted course tutoring, The Muse for career coaching, Handshake for career fairs, and many curriculum partners to expand beyond our traditional offerings. We teach how to do coding interviews on a white board, how to conduct a job search, negotiate salaries and conduct interviews. Instructors often help students with resume and portfolio reviews, job references, and introductions to prospective employers.

In the post-pandemic world, an open Silicon Valley campus will mean various channels of online learning for professionals who are upskilling for a brighter future. We’re excited and grateful for our skilled and passionate instructors bringing new vision to the classroom, and, of course, to our students who inspire us to innovate.

— P.K. Agarwal
Dean, UCSC Silicon Valley Professional Education

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