Online Learning — Good Teaching?

One of the challenges many teachers face is identifying and refining teaching strategies and practice to increase the efficacy and enjoyment of learning. This statement is true for face-to-face settings as well as online learning environments. With the advancement in technology and the influx of many new buzz words related to instruction (blended instruction, flipped classrooms, personalized learning), there seems to be a strong pull in changing the teaching and learning environment.

Migration of the learning environment into online formats is more about creating a different structure for the teaching and learning environment. The following elements are listed in the article as a conceptual framework for online learning. These experiences are listed as being supported by technology, but I would argue that ALL of these best practices are essential in both synchronous and asynchronous environments, as they can support constructivist philosophy.

Expository instruction — Digital devices are the conduit to communicate knowledge resources. Course management systems, resources, and information needed to participate in class is included in this element. In this learning experience, the learner is receiving direct and explicit instruction. (Creative teachers can find ways to make expository instruction active and interactive.)

Active learning — In active learning, knowledge is based from an active experience where interaction takes place between the learner and the setting. In an online setting, the learner can utilize simulations, contact experts, utilize web based resources, games, access articles, join professional learning communities, and a use variety of digital resources to build knowledge. It is important to point out the constructivist nature in the active learning section. The learner is selecting a tool to construct and build knowledge. The research paper indicates that online resources such as quizzes and multiple-choice skill and practice type activities yielded little results. It is apparent that such resources could be classified as passive learning (think about it in a traditional classroom setting — how effective were quizzes in the learning process?).

Interactive learning — Interactive learning is at the heart of constructivist philosophy. Learning is an interactive and interpersonal activity. Learners gain knowledge when they interact with others. Collaborative projects, discussions, chats, and virtual reality are examples of methods to increase interaction among learners in an online setting.

Another major point that stuck out in this article is that the role of the teacher changes when looking at these experiences. The three practices listed are not practices to employ in isolation. I am looking at these experiences as progression, or stages. In the expository instruction stage, the stage is being set for the instruction. I look at this as the teacher providing guidance and explain the concepts and skills students are required to learn. Background knowledge can be activated and new challenges can be presented. From there, students can move into active learning. At this stage, learning is interpersonal, and the teachers should act as a resource to enhance the learning experience. For example, the teacher can provide rich resources for the student to explore and manipulate. In the last stage, interactive learning, learning develops through interactions with peers, and the teacher becomes a “guide on the side’. When a teacher assumes this role, he/she also puts himself/herself in the seat of a learner.

I think it is worth pointing out that the experiences listed above are, in my mind, essential components in teaching in a 21st Century classroom. This statement is true from kinder to higher education. These three experiences are vital in both an online and a traditional setting.

5 thoughts on “Online Learning — Good Teaching?

  1. Hi Craig,

    Nicely said. The one caveat I would add to your assertion that all of the listed best practices are essential in constructivist asynchronous and synchronous environments has to do with expository instruction. You mention that a creative teacher can or should be able to make their exposition active or interactive. Is it still expository or does it then become active/interactive learning?

    It is a small thing, if it is a real thing at all. I do think the worst online learning experiences I’ve seen try to use synchronous methods for long one-directional delivery of audio or video content. The “webinar” or three-hour lecture-based synchronous audio course… I’ve seen a lot of attempts to record regular face-to-face lectures and then repurpose those into online “lectures”… Not very effective.


    1. In my experience, “webinars” are basically code for “I’m going to keep this window minimized and listen while I do other things.” That’s not just me – that’s coworkers, other students, etc. I’ve been in distance courses that used…uh…whatever Blackboard’s video thing is…and the professor will just lecture at you for an hour and a half and then the synchronous meeting is over. It is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the most ineffective learning experience I’ve ever had. Thankfully, all of those classes have been outside of ONID! And they seem to becoming less and less common, at least in education. The “webinar / three hour non-interactive live video lecture” is still alive and well in the realm of professional development, though. I’ve been through many trainings at UAF just like that.

      1. Yes. We’ve all had these. Blurgh. There can be a mechanical efficiency to them. Is there a brilliant future out there where these no longer exist?

        Maybe we can be thankful that at least we can sit in our own offices with the window minimized going on with our own lives instead of being forced into some dreadful mandatory classroom experience?

        The humble webinar gets the blame, but maybe they are worthy of praise as agents of liberty?

  2. “Migration of the learning environment into online formats is more about creating a different structure for the teaching and learning environment. ”

    “For example, the teacher can provide rich resources for the student to explore and manipulate.”

    This is one of the things I’ve often felt is the weakest about online classes. The resources that the instructor provides are, usually but not inherently, static. A teacher lists, say, on the high end, 10 resources. Three of those are required, seven are extra. That’s still kind of low compared to what a professor can recommend you in their office. And no conversation develops – and I think the narrative that comes from conversations about resources is important! Some of the best leads I’ve followed in my educational history have been from books that got recommended to me off hand half way through an impromptu office meeting. You miss that online. It’s nice to have personalized resources from an expert that you don’t have to seek out. Yes, there are things like diigo (which I don’t like and think is very awkward) and I guess a professor can create some sort of fluid recommendations and explorations page, but in my experience that seems uncommon. I dunno. It’s my biggest qualm with online courses and I’ve yet to see a way around it that is particularly satisfying.

    1. I think I just shared some links on motivation with Kim, and I believe earlier I shared a link to Jiro Dreams of Sushi? Used well, it seems the web is possibly even a better medium for sharing references. The world is at my fingertips, and via links, I can share that world with you.

      Whether we do or not – that’s on me – and on you.

      My masters was online and we took full advantage of the potential. But, that gets to the type of community. Education communities are a bit “meta” by their nature, perhaps. Many are here because they want to teach a topic they’re passionate about, not necessarily because they’re passionate about pedagogy.

      Some of the xMOOCs are probably the best examples of highly engaged online communities. A few of the big cMOOCs get off the ground in this way. Also, the further you get in discipline specific grad courses, I think you’ll find more direct literature sharing.

      Link on MOOCs. 🙂

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