Lesson: think about the difference between on campus and online learning



This technique will supercharge your learning! It’s not a technology, but rather, a way of thinking that makes it much easier for you to adopt new technologies, new ways of working, and to design your own best approach.

You’ve probably heard educators go on about the importance of regularly “reflecting”. What does that mean? It can seem a bit abstract, a bit too vague. But it shouldn’t be. In his studies of the techniques used by successful professionals, Donald Schön discovered that they seem to naturally know when and how to stand back from a situation they are involved in, and “reflect-on-action” – thinking about the progress they are making, the problems they are facing, and the methods that they use. That is what we call reflection. When you are transitioning between different modes of working, from on campus to online learning, reflection is especially important.

We reflect so as to steer the direction in which we are going, to identify and prioritise our attention, and to plan our actions in the short, medium and long term.

However, if you’ve ever been faced with a blank piece of paper and the instruction to “write down your reflections”, you’ll know just how hard that can be. In reality, successful learners and workers use more creative and structured techniques to prompt and shape their reflections. Our expert on innovation methods, Dr Bo Kelestyn, describes this as being a “reflective jam”. It’s about starting with a model, or a snapshot of how things are, and then using it to think about how things are, how they might be if you leave them as they are, and how you would like them to be. You are literally “jamming” or improvising around something concrete. Just as a musician might improvise around a simple tune to discover something more interesting.

In this activity, we are going to jam with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We will use this to think about the differences between on campus learning and online learning. Maslow’s model is sometimes seen as a full description of the human experience. We don’t need to take it that seriously. But we can use it to prompt reflective thinking.

The hierarchy of needs is drawn as a pyramid, with (supposedly) more basic, essential needs at the bottom, going up to more sophisticated and difficult to achieve needs at the top. Have a look at the diagram, and then continue on to find out about how we are going to use it.

One way to use this model, is to think about what helps you personally to achieve satisfaction in each of the layers. Ask these questions for each layer:

  • What (and who) in your life is important to guaranteeing that your needs are reliably met?
  • What makes it difficult for you to satisfy your needs?
  • What could you (or others) do to improve the situation?


We will now use the pyramid as a way to help you reflect on the differences that online learning can make to you (positive and negative).

Download a copy of Maslow’s hierarchy from the list of files below (choose a format that works best for you).

PowerPoint version.
PDF version.
Keynote version.

The file contains two copies of the hierarchy: one for reflecting on on campus learning, and one for thinking about online learning. Each of the pages is divided into “positives” (on the left) and “negatives” (on the right).

You might want to print the file, or edit it on your computer.

Then follow these steps:

      1. Starting with the page for on campus learning, go through each level and write to the left, under positives, the things that help you to satisfy your needs (e.g. being close to your friends helps with a feeling of security). Then do the same on the right, under negatives, writing down things that are challenging or difficult.
      2. Repeat this for the page about online learning (thinking about spending less or no time together with fellow students and teachers on campus).Here’s a demo of steps 1 and 2:
      3. Next, reflect on the differences between on campus and online:
        1. If you have to work entirely online, what would you miss from the on campus environment (the positives on that page)?
        2. What would you gain in comparison to on campus?
        3. Can you think of ways in which you could use online tools and techniques to make online learning as good as or better than on campus learning?
      4. You could also think about how you might use online tools and techniques in an on campus setting – we call that hybrid approach “blended learning”.

Dr Robert O'Toole NTF

Senior Academic Technologist, IT Services, University of Warwick Fellow of the Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellow Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence

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