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Online learning in renewable energy education at your fingertips

Posted by: matthew@solarenergy.org
September 24, 2010

Matthew HarrisBy Matthew Harris, Sustainable Building Program Coordinator

It has been said, "The World Wide Web (W3) was developed to be a pool of human knowledge, and human culture, which would allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas and all aspects of a common project." As I sit here today and type this blog via the web, and as you are reading this on the Internet, we are in fact fulfilling the web's mission. I'm not sure if the founders of the web could possibly imagine the breadth and speed at which their technology has affected the world. In our day and age of Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, technology has transformed the way information is shared and has transformed human consciousness as well.

Coming from the world of architectural design where I learned to draft by hand, and the construction industry where I used my brain and my body, never did I think I would be transfixed by technology in the way I am now. Especially when it comes to learning online. Now I certainly will use the Internet for educational purposes — from reading news stories to watching documentaries. But the idea of taking an educational course online never occurred to me as the best way to learn. When seeking continuing education, I need an experience with a personal connection between the instructor and students. I love to learn by feeling and understanding the texture of a subject. Research says there are three types of learners or learning styles. Auditory - Visual - Kinesthetic. I am in the definitely a kinesthetic learner with a little bit of auditory.

I am a child of the '90s, when computers and the Internet were just getting their legs. I started my video gaming with the Atari in the '80s, which may seem archaic in today's world. I learned with books and lectures. When I went to college, the idea of taking a course online was sort of new. I am 33 now and 10 years ago, coming out of college, it was hard for me to think of online education as being valuable, fun, and engaging. Until maybe four years ago, when some young, fun and artsy work traders came through Solar Energy International's training program.

At the time, SEI did have an online learning platform so it was not so inspiring to me. These web-savvy guys turned me on to social media and multimedia technologies. I mean imagine it, I was 29 (they were 24) and I knew nothing of social media. I had barely looked at YouTube. They were whiz kids with this stuff and showed me the amazing possibilities and opportunities. A light went on in my head. I was not interested in the mundane sociology of letting the world know what I am doing every minute. It instantly occurred to me that learning online could be fun, and the thought of sitting in front of a computer reading and learning was not a turn-off anymore. I was hungry for more and began learning about Web 2.0 strategies — how to create and edit video and audio files, flash animation, graphic design and more. As this was happening, Solar Energy International too began to see the wonderful opportunities to develop an interactive and diverse learning platform that does not take away from the SEI culture. 

So now here I am, still young and excited about learning and enjoying the lightening evolutionary speed of Internet technology I, too, have evolved quickly and am mesmerized by the spell of technology. I now find myself developing curriculum and teaching in SEI's online program which provides user-friendly, anywhere, anytime access to our world-class curriculum and highly trained instructors. As I have tried to point out, I admit online learning may seem daunting. It once did to me, but at SEI we have built our Online Campus with sound learning theory in mind. As you take an online course from SEI, you will have the benefit of learning through:

Solar Energy International's Online Campus

  • Streaming video with instructional examples and expert interviews.           
  • Online forums and discussions.
  • Chat rooms for real-time discussions.
  • Live office hours for student-instructor question-and-answer sessions.
  • Quizzes with immediate feedback and grading.
  • Downloadable course notebooks for offline viewing.
  • Engaging exercises with easy-to-read graphics and schematics.
  • Readings and resources authored by industry leaders.

And now, even more exciting, SEI is launching open enrollment for our upcoming course Green Building Design & Construction online course. Starting Sept. 27, we will be piloting this new enrollment option for the rest of 2010. Our open enrollment model allows you to:

  • Begin your course on the same day you register.
  • Experience ongoing instructional support from qualified teachers.
  • Still enjoy the same six-week enrollment time to complete the course.
  • Receive a clear weekly pacing guide and enrollment end date dashboard.

It is hard to say where technology is taking us, but I am determined to keep the human touch alive with online education and have to say I feel honored to be a part of SEI's evolution in this space. I hope you consider taking an online course with us today.


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