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Online learning in times of coronavirus: The learning models
Roshna Mohan

Roshna Mohan is a Content Writer at Hotcourses India - an IDP company. A post-graduate in Biotechnology, she chose content writing as her career out of sheer interest. Reading and cooking are her stress-busters. Talk about these to take the introvert out of the ambivert. Her all-time favourite authors are Paulo Coelho, Yuval Noah Harari and Robin Cook.


21 Aug 2020 Book icon 8 mins Share

Online learning in times of coronavirus: The learning models

It is time to embrace online learning. Check out the popular learning models and platforms used by different universities to ensure uninterrupted learning.

21 Aug 2020 Book icon 8 mins Share
Online learning in times of coronavirus: The learning models

Online learning has taken over the traditional learning methods, albeit temporarily. The universities that were confident about resuming face-to-face learning are reconsidering. You may be looking to enrol in a university that is delivering classes online. You need some basic information to ask the right questions and clarify your concerns about the whole learning plan. This article will help you understand which are some of the course management systems in trend now and which are some of the universities that have adopted a particular mode of course delivery online. It will help you form a general idea of what the universities are planning. This, along with an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of online learning should give you enough information to make an informed choice.

Let’s settle your doubts first

Are you disappointed about not being able to go abroad as planned? You might have had your priorities but getting your degree from that coveted university would definitely top the list. The brighter side of online learning is that it will keep you on track on your education journey, giving you a chance to get your degree, no matter what.

But you would have concerns about the facilities and options that you might have access to, as you are not physically present on the campus. Will the universities value your enrolment?

The answer is – international students are of immense value to institutions abroad. If you have been following the news from the higher education sector from major destinations abroad, you would have understood that international students bring in a major chunk of their revenue. India is only second to China in sending abroad a large number of students to universities. Ensuring that your studies are on track is definitely a focus for universities abroad. They are already working on measures to bring in international students as soon as the border restrictions are lifted. Some countries have gone a step ahead and are planning to bring in international students in batches as a trial run. We are uncertain about how long it might take for the pandemic to die down. But we can’t let it take control of our lives. Online learning is an opportunity to keep us going.

You might also have questions about post-study work rights; about the effect on PSW if you have done your course online. Well, most countries have amended their post-study work regulations to favour international students who are remotely learning. This means, even if you complete a part of your studies online, you will be eligible for post-study work rights.

Moving on to the details

The only online learning model that most of the students are familiar with, involves watching a few videos at their own convenience. But when it comes to doing an entire semester or more online, the platforms are different and effective learning requires more than just watching a few videos. So before you start your studies online, you should have a rough idea of what you are stepping into. We have attempted to get yourself familiarised with learning models and course management platforms that are trending now and also a few examples of universities that have accepted these models. There is no one single approach or one model that the universities are resorting to. Some are relying on synchronous learning methods while others are relying on asynchronous learning. Yet others are relying on a mix of both the worlds.

Before we get to the details, let’s see what synchronous learning and asynchronous learning are. The difference is quite straightforward; synchronous learning is more real-time. Here students attend classes while a lecturer delivers it live. Asynchronous learning is when teaching and learning happen through online channels without real-time interaction.

There are several advantages and disadvantages to both. Synchronous learning requires you to be present for the class, which might not be possible when you are in a time zone very different from the destination country. Also, power cuts and other technical difficulties that might crop up during the class will pose challenges. You might have access to the recorded version of the classes, but you tend to panic when you experience technical glitches.

Synchronous learning comes with its own benefits too. You have instant access to lecturers for quick queries and you get to interact with your classmates. The experience is closer to traditional learning methods.

In asynchronous learning, the advantages include freedom to select the time to do your studies and working at your own pace. It also gives you the freedom to go rewind the video and watch it again instantly if a concept is not clear to you. But the major disadvantage is that the chances for interaction with your lecturers and classmates are very limited.

Now a bit about course management systems. Course Management Systems do exactly what the name says. It is a virtual platform for managing multiple courses with a large number of students attending them and accessing instructional materials online. There are several CMS like Canvas, Blackboard and Moodle, but their basic features are mostly the same.

Let us get you introduced to the different platforms and examples of the universities using these platforms.


Canvas vouch for their ‘ease of use, reliability and awesomeness’. Instructors can set up and manage courses, grade assessments and communicate with students through their platform. An added advantage is that it can be integrated into most of the devices. They are hosted on Amazon Web Services and is hence quite fast. It also facilitates blended learning. Learning Objectives can be added using an option called Outcomes and it helps faculty to track or assess a student’s progress. Instructors can use SpeedGrader option for grading the assessments. The option to use camera allows giving video feedback to students. You can also integrate Canvas with other apps like Office 365. Through Canvas Studio, instructors can create videos. They can even get info as to which videos are being watched and for how long – a great way to understand student engagement.

The University of Hull is planning a combination of Online and face-to-face learning. They do understand that it is not feasible for all students to make it to the campus for the September semester. They are aiming for a blended learning approach whereby some lectures will happen live, online (synchronous) and some asynchronous learning supported by staff. Students will have the liberty to learn at their own pace. They are relying on Canvas for laying down ‘physical timetabled activity’ and ‘directed learning’ for students on a weekly basis. The approved system might vary from course to course and it is advised that students refer to the university website for more clarity.

Another university that relies on Canvas is Liverpool John Moores University. LJMU will also be conducting a mix of face to face and online learning when the semester starts in September for undergraduate students. They call it the Active Blended Learning.


Blackboard offers a scalable platform, that can be integrated with existing systems like the Student Information System. They also collect data to provide insights which will be especially helpful for the universities to inform decisions. Content on Blackboard can be in the form of text, images, audio or video. It also provides the facility to upload learning materials for asynchronous learning. Their technology allows them to set up exams and quizzes on their platform. There are several ways in which students can interact with the instructors and their peers. For example, in Blackboard Learn, instructors can manage blogs where students can create posts or view and comment on other blogs. Blackboard Learn also gives the option to the instructors to put students into groups. This will increase your interaction with your peers. Students also have personal spaces for interacting with their instructors to raise concerns, share ideas, get inputs etc. If your institution uses Blackboard Collaborate, you will have the option to interact with your instructor as part of the entire class or individually over video. Public or private chat facility is also available. 

The University of Bristol will be following a blended approach for teaching. They are using Blackboard in integration with Microsoft Office 365. Most undergraduate courses at Bristol will begin in October.

One more among several universities that leverages the possibilities offered by Blackboard is the University of Westminster in the UK. They are using the latest version of Blackboard called the Blackboard Ultra. Some other digital tools they use are Collaborate, Panopto and Padlet. Exams at the University of Westminster will be in the form of timed online assessments.

The University of Alabama is relying on a combination of Blackboard Collaborate and Zoom.


Moodle boasts of its easy interface. As a student, you have the dashboard for quick access to your courses, separate folder to share private files, chat facility to interact with your classmates, options to participate in discussions and more. You will get a quick view of the assignments on the dashboard itself. You can use the chat option to make quick notes to self too. If you are interested, do check out their demo version where you can log in as a student or teacher and explore Moodle.

M College, Canada relies on Moodle, which is integrated with Microsoft office 365. They are delivering online classes at flexible times to accommodate more students from different time zones. They have a dedicated team especially for handling technical issues for students in India. The lectures will be recorded and can be accessed at any time.

CQ University in Australia uses a combination of Moodle and Zoom sessions to offer online learning. Moodle will be the platform for submitting assignments and checking grades. These along with other online tools promise maximum student-teacher interactions. They also conduct consultations sessions with the librarian, online. CQ already has enough experience delivering online lessons.


By now, you would be familiar with Zoom, whether you signed up for a course or not. It is basically used for video conferencing, meetings etc. When it comes to online education, Zoom helps in delivering lectures to hundreds of students at the same time. It also provides features to send quick messages during the call. It can be private messages or group conversations. Like available on Moodle, Zoom also offers a private space on chat where you can write messages to self or save files and these will be visible only to you. The facility to share screen over zoom is an added advantage when teachers want to show a document or students do a presentation. It is recommended that you use the latest version as the providers frequently update the versions. Most institutions require their students to have the camera on during online classes. That's when Zoom’s virtual background option comes in handy. It is winning hearts for the convenience that it offers and also for the variety of background options available. Zoom can be integrated with OneDrive and Dropbox. Zoom rooms are a bit different from regular zoom in that, it can turn a room into a fully functional video conferencing room with high-quality audio/video experience.

Pace University has raised the Zoom experience a notch and call it the HyFlex model. This is a hybrid approach whereby lectures will be delivered online and in-person at the same time. Selected classrooms will have a Zoom Station installed so that students who are not able to be physically present on the campus can view the class synchronously as the lecturer teaches students who are in the classroom. This ensures that online learning feels closer to traditional learning methods. This also allows students to choose their mode of learning, provided the classroom capacity restrictions are adhered to. They also have the web-assisted model by which some classes will be held on-campus boosted by some online elements. They also have fully online classes, which can be synchronous or asynchronous.

Lakehead University has adopted a combination of synchronous and asynchronous online learning to ensure uninterrupted learning. They call it the web-based delivery by which course materials are made available for the students to access and learn at their own pace, keeping the deadlines in mind. All the synchronous learning majorly happens over Zoom.

Apart from these models and course management systems, some universities like the Fanshawe university has their own course management system called the FanshaweOnline. Students can use this to view videos, read content, complete assessments etc. It also offers real-time interaction with instructors and peers. 

While most of the universities have adopted online learning and decided on the Course Management Systems that best suits them, some others like the University of Warwick are still hopeful about implementing face to face learning. Some universities are planning to start their courses online and transition to on-campus later. You can look through the list of universities on our site to find the ones that have adopted this model. There will be sustained interest in online education even after we go back to the pre-pandemic period simply because of the convenience it offers. Knowing the way around learning platforms would definitely help you in the long run.

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