3 Strategies for Leveraging Online Learning Tools

With over six million students enrolled in distance education in the U.S., many universities are adapting existing courses and educational opportunities for an online environment ("Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017", 2017, p. 8). This shift is a result of evolving expectations of today’s college students, how they learn, and the technological tools which are part of their everyday life. Generation Z and Millennial students are passionate about collaborative learning and want to connect their values to the learning process, guiding content, and regularly interacting with their classmates (“The Millennial Generation: Understanding & Engaging Today’s Learners.”, n.d.). Medical students are no exception and are often expected to combine the content they are learning to the latest trends in healthcare and technology.  This shift means it is more important than ever for Medical Education institutions to identify and develop distance education opportunities for their students.  

While working in distance education, I sometimes encountered educators who thought having fancy ed tech and a couple of stellar faculty were all that you needed to make it work.  For those of us in medical education, it is not as clean cut.  With limited time, resources, and infrastructure, medical education encounters more obstacles when implementing distance education than other academic programs (O'Doherty et al., 2018). This does not mean it is impossible, it just means we need to think strategically and ask the right questions. I like to start by considering what are the unique needs of our program and what will be simplest for faculty and administrators to use. Leo is an online tool that was designed to support medical education and with a simple, searchable online User Guide resources are just a few clicks away. So let’s talk strategy.  How can Leo and other learning tools support your faculty as they transition their content and teaching style to the distance education environment?

Team up with IT

Your technology experts and instructional designers are essential for identifying the best ways to utilize distance learning resources. They will know if distance learning is occurring at your school or at peer institutions, as well as which resources might be best suited to your specific environment. Therefore,  IT teams will be essential to your distance learning project as they provide invaluable insight and guidance for the technological tools available to you.  Additionally, instructional designers will know how to utilize existing technologies, tips for creating the best videos, and what students and faculty are doing to encourage distance learning. Lean on their expertise and technical know-how! 

If you are currently using or are interested in using Leo at your institution, connect with our team of experts. We can help you review available features and functionality in Leo that can support opportunities for distance education.

Build your Community

Working with online students, I found creating a sense of community in a virtual space to be the most challenging yet rewarding aspect of my role.  It was the bread and butter of our strategy for creating a meaningful and successful distance education environment. Students often shared that our community was what set us apart from our competitors, and dramatically enhanced their professional and academic success.    You can build connections and engage your class from anywhere by utilizing discussion boards, chat features, and other modes of both asynchronous and synchronous communications. Consider pairing your recorded content with weekly live discussion sessions, offer virtual office hours or review journal articles online. Provide students with opportunities to build community by having them team up to write an online article; while creating a space for them to engage with class content and creating a new resource. Remember, visibility is key, so keep those cameras on!  This allows everyone to feel connected in the virtual environment and encourages greater engagement when they know others can see them. It also provides you an opportunity to read body language and take visual cues from others as you would in a physical classroom, providing additional feedback to implement real-time adjustments.

Leo offers a variety of tools to aid in online communication and allows you to share updates quickly. Email notifications, announcements, and activity notifications allow you to keep your students informed of changes in real-time. Generate conversation and build community across your course, or even within a specific learning event or small group, by utilizing discussion boards! While many students may be familiar with the general format of discussion boards from their undergrad years, it is important to set clear expectations for the quantity, quality, and frequency of posts to really maximize discussion boards within your course or event. You can even create a rubric for assessing participation in this portion of the course and turn that rubric into an evaluation, which allows you to send scores to the Leo Gradebook. 

Curate your Content

Remember above where I mentioned partnering with IT and instructional designers? If you plan to create pre-recorded lectures, reach out to them before creating your content. Someone may be the campus expert in developing online content or could guide you toward some helpful resources. Utilize their knowledge and skills to build videos that are compelling and reusable in future courses. Check out these two articles on creating the ideal syllabus for an online class and modifying your slideshow for the virtual space. Design the ideal syllabus the first time, then make minor changes for each future iteration of the course.   Imagine having all your lectures ready to go!

Add your content directly into Leo at either the Course Section or Event level. Materials and other content in Leo can range from electronic documents to weblinks, and more. You can also credit authors for contributing Materials. Rather than recreating the course each time, you can rollover all of your content into the new iteration, creating a prepared course for the new semester or academic year. With just a few clicks, you can also bulk download some or all of your items to make updates and changes as needed and then re-upload them back into Leo! Plus, Leo provides the capability to map materials to your institution's educational program objectives; a great way to store, share and connect your resources across the system.

Want to learn more about entering the distance learning space? We have more resources for you! Our other articles in this blog series share 9 Best Practices for Distance Education and examples of Using Video in the MedEd Classroom to significantly enhance the student’s experience in distance education.

O'Doherty, D., Dromey, M., Lougheed, J., Hannigan, A., Last, J., & McGath, D. (2018). Barriers and solutions to online learning in medical education – an integrative review. BMC Medical Education, 18(130). doi:
Online Learning Consortium, Pearson, Tyton Partners. (2017). Digital Learning Compass: Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017. Retrieved March 5, 2020 from
The Millennial Generation: Understanding & Engaging Today’s Learners. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2020, from