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National Online Learning Day: What It Really Means to Teach Online


Note: This article first published in April 2020. In honor of National Online Learning Day (Sept. 15), we are sharing it again with readers. Bellevue University has offered online education options since the early 90s. Currently, 93% of the students are fully online. 

I’m Mike Freel, and I’ve been teaching online courses at Bellevue University for about 10 years. I am the Program Director of the Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA). I teach Leadership, Operations, Strategy and Healthcare Delivery.

Teaching online means I have a classroom of students from all over the country who are employed in a wide range of healthcare-related roles – from insurance to mental health, and everything in-between. Having this great diversity of perspectives in conversations is something that’s exclusive to online learning. This creates unique opportunities that are really helpful in engaging students.

Online discussion boards are one of the ways in which the students engage in the virtual classroom setting. It’s an opportunity for students to talk about personal experiences in response to specific questions. That exchange of perspectives inspires the students with information they can apply in their own work setting.

I also add to these discussions very regularly. I help them challenge paradigms and current thinking about what they see in healthcare organizations. I ask questions to broaden perspectives about what’s important in healthcare administration. Presenting these alternatives helps them grow as students and professionals.

I used to think that technology was something that might hold students back but it’s the opposite. There are a lot of different technologies I use to push out information and content that is dynamic and engaging for students. It’s not just posting an article – we’re incorporating videos, different software, demonstrations, etc. This helps with different learning styles – we provide information in a written format and in video format.

In fact, the MHA Leadership course that I teach is the first at Bellevue University to get certified by Quality Matters, a certification from a group of peers external to Bellevue University who reviewed the course. This certification indicates that we meet standards for exceptional, high-quality online learning.

Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, our students and faculty have faced difficulties. It has hit our MHA program especially hard because our students are healthcare workers. Some of our students have had to postpone their education because of what’s happening at work. And if that’s what they choose, it’s the best decision they can make for themselves at this time and I absolutely support that. They have a lot on their minds right now, like keeping their families safe, too. It can be really hard to focus on school when you’re, for instance, trying to figure out how to keep your family from being vulnerable to COVID-19 when you’re exposed daily at the hospital. I have a student who decided to move his children in with a neighbor for the time being and he dropped his classes. And I understand that – his focus can’t be on school right now.

Bellevue University is known for its leadership in adult learning. Part of that is understanding that school isn’t always the top priority of the adult learner. And understanding that and working with the students is key. As faculty, our first job is to support, and our second is to teach.