This chapter reflects on a recent initiative as authors and tutors for the first module of a new online Masters in Public Administration (MPA) programme now offered by the University of Birmingham for public sector professionals around the world.
Our focus is particularly on the key lessons with regard to using the ‘online’ mode for ‘experiential learning’ – that is, facilitating our mid-career practitioner students in the acquisition of added management learning through critical analysis of, and structured reflection on, their work-based experience.
Three particular challenges for online programme designers are identified as follows: the challenge of achieving a ‘learner-centric’ online design (rather than a teacher-centric one); the challenge of facilitating effective communication (within the student group as much as between students and teachers); and the challenge of building an effective online learning community.
The chapter concludes by proposing strategies for approaching and mediating these three challenges in turn. With regard to ‘learner-centricity’ we advocate an approach that promotes in the students a spirit of inquiry and which encourages conceptualisation on the basis of their existing knowledge and experience, rather than following a traditional ‘teacher-centred’ and lecture-dominated pedagogy. In relation to communication, particularly critical is the choice of a high quality course management system (CMS) and exploitation to the full of the system’s capabilities in relation to computer-mediated communication (CMC), both within the student community and through ‘synchronous interaction’, between students and staff. Finally, on the building of a ‘learning community’ of students, we emphasise the importance of facilitating students’ cognitive and social presence throughout the modules and programme through the promotion of active engagement and critical reflection on the key issues in the curriculum.
Dadze-Arthur, A. and Raine, J.W. (2016), "Experiential Learning and Teaching at a Distance: How Distinctive an Experience?", Developing Public Managers for a Changing World (Critical Perspectives on International Public Sector Management, Vol. 5), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 141-159. https://doi.org/10.1108/S2045-794420160000005008
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