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.