The 2021 paradigm: Providing a quality online equivalent to traditional learning

Seats in empty lecture hall

It is irrefutable that 2020 was a catalyst year for Edtech. When higher education institutions were forced to close their doors as the pandemic took hold, online learning became the new frontier of education across the world. The problem was that many institutions were not ready for it. 

Online education is not simply a case of uploading current content to a digital platform. It requires considerable planning, which is grounded in both theory and practice. However, as Adedoyin and Soykan note, this translation process ‘witnessed the absence of proper planning, design and development of online instructional programs due to the pandemic’ (2020, p. 8). At insendi, mitigating the risk of mistranslation has always been the central focus.

Pedagogy before technology. It sounds like a straightforward concept, and one that should go without saying, but it is often overlooked. In the translation of traditional learning into online learning, there is the risk of focussing too narrowly on the technological aspects of the course. This, unfortunately, is where many online courses fail to match their traditional counterparts. O’Shea et al., found that the most significant factor for engaging students in online environments was ‘high quality courses that are specifically designed for online learning’ (2015, p. 55). If the focus remains on pedagogy before technology, then the high quality of the courses will supersede the fact that they are delivered online. This finding was noted before the global pandemic forced online education to hold the frontline; the message, far from being side-lined, has become more pertinent than ever now that traditional learning is no longer the most viable option. 

Creating a quality online equivalent to a traditional face-to-face course involves considerable pedagogical planning, development and design that is catered specifically to individual courses. It is a delicate process of aligning various elements. Learning design involves understanding learner archetypes, which are often much broader and more complex than face-to-face contexts. It involves scaffolding and constructing content in line with learning objectives, which must be carefully thought out in an environment in which the sequencing of ‘teacher talk’ is not simply a case of talking it through in class. Most importantly, it involves designing pedagogical methods that will foster interest and engagement. Learning from a distance within an online platform is a completely different educational space, and as a result, the pedagogical tools need to reflect that difference and promote the most effective learning for an online environment. 

If higher education is to succeed in the new digital frontier, it cannot simply be a case of copy and pasting what we have already onto a screen and hoping that it will translate. Many students have a significant financial investment in their education and expect quality provision. There is no need for online learning to be considered subpar to traditional learning. If pedagogy is put before technology and courses are effectively designed, developed and backed up by pedagogical theory, then edtech has the potential to become the most proficient means of educating future generations. 


  • Adedoyin, O. B. and Soykan, E. (2020) ‘Covid-19 pandemic and online learning: the challenges and opportunities’, Interactive Learning Environments, pp. 1–13 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/10494820.2020.1813180.
  • O’ Shea, S., Stone, C. and Delahunty, J. (2015) ‘“I ‘feel’ like I am at university even though I am online.” Exploring how students narrate their engagement with higher education institutions in an online learning environment’, Distance Education, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 41–58 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/01587919.2015.1019970.
Dr. Eloise Symonds

About the author

Dr Eloise Symonds is a Learning Experience Designer for Insendi. She holds a PhD in Educational Research from Lancaster University and prior to this, Eloise studied for her MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck College, London and her BA in English at the University of Leicester. Eloise is a published academic author, having disseminated her research in academic journals, including Critical Studies in Education, the British Journal of Sociology of Education, and Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. She has a forthcoming publication in an edited academic book entitled ‘Reimagining the Higher Education Student’, due to be released in March 2021.

Her research interests focus on the power relationships between learners and teachers in higher education and the way in which these are negotiated through structured social roles and their associated behaviours. Eloise uses her research background to create innovative pedagogical experiences for students, with a focus on fostering effective learner-teacher dynamics for enriching online provision.