Pedagogy of Online Learning

Pedagogy of Online Learning

“Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology.”
 Rod Paige

           In this segment of the course we are asked to examine the pedagogy of online learning, in effect examining what defines online learning and how we are going to effect changes as designers of online content. Part of the reference material is based on a study, the conclusion of which is that online education is not well received by university and college teachers; in essence educators do not feel there is a valid enough basis to actively support online education as a viable alternate to face-to-face instruction in the classroom.

What have I learned about this topic?

The 2011 Outlook for Online Learning and Distance Education found that:

  1. professors generally had a  negative viewpoint towards online teaching resources and were resistant to the provision of such services at least in part because of internal politics coupled with budgetary constraints;
  2. part of this resistance appears to be a  lack of good understanding of the pedagogy of learning and specifically online based learning theory, professors may  be teaching according to old paradigms which may have applied earlier in their careers but no longer suitable to today’ generations of learners;
  3. there is a serious lack of support for the use of technology in the field of teaching at institutions of higher education, even though there is some evidence which suggests (Bates, Sangra 2011) that given support and faculty involvement there may be cost savings to be realized;
  4. there is a general lack of awareness of the actual costing of online course offerings and whether or not they are viable alternatives to face-to-face courses;
  5. there is a lack of system wide distance education opportunities which may result in poor outcomes for students;
  6. course offerings presently available may not be of the best quality and are based on materials and media which are not truly interactive;
  7. there is a complete lack of data about the effectiveness of online and distance education programs offered at most educational institutions in Canada.       (Bates,  2011)

There must be a concerted effort of the part educators and administrators to develop programs which will overcome the resistance to online offerings which has been documented by the study as noted. Additional work must be put in to the addressing the dichotomy in thinking which on the one hand indicates that instructors are generally resistant to online course offerings yet fully two thirds of a survey group report they have encouraged students to take online courses where offered. (Allen, et al June 2012)

Students of today have different styles, expectations and capabilities of learning. These new ways of learning must be accommodated or the student will get nothing from the educational experience and be less than well served from time spent in the classroom whether physical or virtual. Some of this is as a result of a lack of formalized education on learning theory which comes from teachers never having had the training in the first place or being used to, and less willing to part with a more didactic role in the classroom or when offering course content on the Web. (Bates 2011) It has been shown that the more exposure that faculty have to the online learning environment and surrounding technology the more facility they develop in its use with better resultant student outcomes as well as better use of newer, perhaps hitherto untried educational techniques such as communities of practice and scaffolding which better assist younger generations. (Bates, 2011)

There appears to be a general sense of opposition to adapting existing learning systems to online alternatives. This is seen as counter-productive as it ignores the positive benefits which may be derived: the potential to accommodate more students, potential cost savings, the improvement of learning outcomes and the provision of better access for people such as distance learners, people with disabilities and those in remote locales.  (Bates and Sangra, 2011) Educators must be ready to make adjustments in their teaching regimes which reflect student needs and advancing technology, or do their students a disservice in not providing the best alternatives possible.

In order to move into new areas of learning both teachers and the institutions they work for must attempt to ascertain if online choices provide best value for dollars expended.  Surveys have shown that there is no one conclusive set of data to either support or refute whether online learning is a viable, cost effective option for both the student and institution (Green, 2010).  The conclusion which can be drawn from this is unmistakeable: to better serve their students both teachers and administrators must support efforts to see if this is an effective alternate and offer it wherever possible.

There are a large amount of online course offerings from any number of universities and colleges here in Canada and yet it is still not possible to find a complete undergraduate degree program at other than a couple of institutions. This makes portability of credits and ongoing educational endeavours problematic for distance and dsiabled students which may result in their quitting courses or give up on educational choices altogether. Lastly, there is little or no provision for access for those students who may lack educational requirements to attend college or university but may wish to do so thus creating an unnecessary barrier to learning and not enabling adults and others access to the higher education system. (Bates, 2011)

Bates also cites some US studies which show that the design and presentation of online content may be developed by associate faculty who do not have the appropriate levels of training (or empathy) to put together packages which are relevant to the needs and requirements of modern day learners. This in turn creates an atmosphere of distrust at the faculty level in online educational products and services, further poisoning an already distrusted resource.

Finally, there is a complete dearth of any kind of statistical measurement of the state of online learning here in Canada. This further serves to underscore the sense hostility and active resistance towards online/interactive content making an uphill battle even harder for new instructors or designers.

What does this mean to me in light of online courses?

It would appear that there must be a shift in thinking on the part of both administrators and teachers as a whole. Attitudes must change in order for students to get the best value for monies invested in tuition, especially for online courses. More time and attention must be focused on winning over die hard anti-online proponents.  The cost vs. benefits of online courses should be studied more effectively to provide a good statistical basis which support arguments for online course material as a cost effective alternative to classroom courses. It is clear that more educators both on the front line and behind the scenes should rethink their ideas of the structure and nature of their own  understanding of the pedagogy of online education, in effect becoming re-acquainted with both old disciplines and the new. More research must be engaged in to ascertain the levels of effectiveness of online learning both in relation to costs and deliver of a quality product which gives students good value for money invested.

As an aside I personally happen to agree with the assertions made in the study. A nephew of mine taught Art History at a large eastern university, and he has expressed the opinion that both he and his colleagues there felt the average online college and university courses were, quite simply, garbage for exactly the reasons as mentioned above. This opinion was offered well prior to my starting this course so it was with a certain amount of interest that I noted his comments. While it is in no way a scientific statement of actual survey questions it does anecdotally give some credence to what is noted above, namely that faculty are resistant to the provision of online content and course work.

How will I apply lessons learned here in my design practice?

I will take some of the lessons learned here forward into my practice by:

  1. trying to be a  good advocate for online learning where and as possible, through dialogue with other instructors and teachers;
  2. endeavouring to stay ahead of the ongoing research into cognitive theory as it applies to learning and teaching;
  3. designing course content which is relevant to new theory yet rooted in best practice;
  4. try to remain open minded about new developments in the field;
  5. listening to students needs and requests;  learning and teaching is a two-way highway, not a goat trail in one direction only;
  6. advocate for more research into quality control and assurance with professional bodies and associations;
  7. attempting to remove barriers to online learning wherever possible.

I am still not happy with the content of this journal entry and think that I will use this as a basis for other explorations I other directions, for now that’s all I can do.


1)-  2011 Outlook for Online Learning and Distance Education,  Dr. Tony Bates, Contact North |;, 2011;

2)- Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education 2012, I. Elaine Allen, Ph.D., Jeff Seaman, Ph.D., Doug Lederman, Scott Jaschik, June 2012;

3)- Digital Faculty, Professors, Teaching and Technology 2012, I. Elaine Allen, Ph.D., Jeff Seaman, Ph.D., Doug Lederman, Scott Jaschik, August 2012;

4)- Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning, A. Bates  and A. Sangrà ,2010  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

5)- Green, K. C. (2010) Managing Online Education, Encino CA: The Campus Computing Project/WCET

Third post: requirements for learners and instructors, are they so different?

This is part of the week 2 assignment where w e examine the needs of our learners and ourselves. I am going to post these for you to contemplate and to sere as another part of the  gauge to see where this blog is going and where it is taking me, personally and in terms of the course, I still have no idea but imagine that as a certain amount of time passes a pattern will emerge. I know that I am still not intimately connected with this medium as yet, but I will try harder, will make it work out…

First some things about the students

I am in a unique position as my learners come from a wide set of backgrounds. Somewhat like Lilia they are from all over the province (and in a few cases across the country).

There is wide variability in what they do and the hours they work:

  • some are shipboard personnel who work a 28 day on / 28 day off cycle, 12 hours per day;
  • some are shore side who work a 2,3 or 4 week rotation at lifeboat stations and must be available 24/7,
  • some are shore based and work a ‘regular’ job from 0800 – 1600

There is wide variability in their educational backgrounds:

  • some are university educated;
  • some have technical school backgrounds,
  • some have Grade 12 and some do not

There is wide variability in their work areas:

  • some work on ships up and down the coast and in the Arctic in the summer season;
  • some at lifeboat stations, some of those quite remote (Bella Bella for instance);
  • some at lightstations, in most instances quite remote, removed from technological access by factors such as weather.

So, the first several questions are fairly easily answered: they are a diverse bunch, with varied educational needs and limited technological access in a lot of cases. This produces challenges for both the designer/instructor and student as there are certain things which just cannot be changed or made easy, depending on the technical content of what you might be teaching. Assessment for any course is one of the key components, we all know that intuitively, and are careful to design tools which help us see where our students are lagging behind or not absorbing the lessons.

Some signs that might indicate learners struggling with course content might include:

  • particpation for the first portion of the course then tapering off or no attendance at all;
  • assignments started but not finished or not started at all;
  • students not communicating with the instructor;
  • students not participating in course forums or posting on message boards.

I have given a lot of thought about strategies to deal with this type student frustration, but aside from the normal things one would contemplate: an easily navigated & understandable LMS, course content made easy and seamless, understandable course outcomes and expectations, regular communications where possible, and  trying to encourage student community I am at a loss.

This is a diverse, committed, truly vibrant community of people and I want to do the best I can for them to remove the sense of isolation which can be a fairly common occurrence. Any one have further suggestions?

Michael’s online learning needs

Some things I need to make my online course go along well are:

  • An easily navigated LMS which doesn’t crash and is intuitive to use;
  • Links to sites and videos etc., which all work and are updated promptly as needed;
  • A clear statement of course expectations;
  • Feedback mechanisms for both student and instructors;
  • Timely assessment of assignments;
  • Access to the instructor at reasonable times which work for everyone;
  • The early establishment of a sense of community amongst students and the instructor;
  • Appropriate online resources: ebooks, links, videos etc.,
  •  Encouragement of online meetings between students where possible.

So what is the point of all this? Students are individuals, who come from diverse backgrounds educationally,  culturally and age related.  They have different varied needs but one of the common needs they have is to get the most they can from our courses. We can learn from our needs for this course (they seem to be remarkably similar for most people in  the course) and apply those things to our design process when developing course material later.

It is our obligation to provide the best we can for our students, however varied their ages, education or cultural background: an educational environment which is free from bias, welcoming,  enriching, stimulating and  free from barriers to learning. It is our task and our challenge to provide this environment as best we can.

A quote for today:

The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.
Jean Piaget

Now on to the assignment. Joanne, I am trying hard to keep mt oar in but this is proving a challenge. I may be a bit late with the assignment (i.e.: tomorrow morning) but it will be done…

Second post

 Joanne had us put together five points we considered important to pre-course development. I think that we are being asked to enter into a reflective exercise with blogging so will enter these points and then see what happens as time passes. I’m sure they will change, and if I take the time to look back at the QA guidelines exercise we completed in 4150 am forced to admit that

After some consideration I think that the five points I would choose first off are as follows:

1)- Preparation: the site and all course materials, links, video feeds, forums etc., should be thoroughly checked and verified as being ‘student ready’ so there are as few problems with access as possible;

2)- There should be  clear and unambiguous descriptions of course expectations and outcomes for both students and instructors, with as little left to chance as is possible;

3)- A thorough explanation of the site functions, assignments and time lines;

4)- Methods of communication between students and instructors completely explained with pre-set times for activities such as video conferencing clearly established,and fall back methods outlined as well in case of unavoidable scheduling clashes;

5)- The encouragement of a sense of community should be stressed right from the beginning: bringing students together in a supportive environment through introductory forums etc., to encourage involvement and a sense of inclusion for all.

Looking back on this I must say that I have a feeling this will change as time goes on, but that is the way this particular game is set up isn’t it? We learn and grow and change to meet new challenges arise. Think I’ll close with a quote:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Alvin Toffler


First Blog post

A first for me: a blog of my own! I know what they are and have friends that are inveterate posters but I’ve never had the need or inclination. I am interested to see where this new reflective tool will lead though, so away we go…

As the first exercise we are to examine how we feel about blogs and blogging;  explain why we do or do not read or follow blogs and examine concerns we may have about our abilities to contribute to an ongoing posting type resource as well as set a goal that we would like to see for the finished product.

I follow several blogs: two about water supplies for the developing world:; and   which examine the plight of people who do not have enough of one of the most basic of human needs as well as what issues to need be addressed  to assist  them in developing better sources of supply and storage. We here waste water in the most shameful manner and seldom even think about it:  our responsibility as citizens of the globe is to be good stewards of the resources we use and re-use.  It’s unfortunate that in a country which is  blessed with so much we care so little, are so cavalier.

As well I read a from time-to-time post by friends who cruise the coast from here(Victoria) to Alaska and back. As someone who lives on a boat this allows me to live a vicarious existence and enjoy someone else’s experiences. We have done some travelling up-coast and I probably know  more good hidey-holes on the North coast and the Charlottes (oops Haida Gwaii) than a lot of people but just haven’t had the time be able to go…

My abilities as a blogger? First-timer, completely green,  completely in-experienced. That will get better with time and reflection.  As for concerns I have tons but I am sure that as time progresses these will be allayed and I will probably develop some facility at posting.

As for a goal I must admit to not having one as yet:  it is simply too early on in the course. I think that this might be a good platform for reflective practice as well as a really good place to develop community.  I’ll have to think more about this as we go further into the course but as an initial stab at things a great place to meet and exchange ideas about the course and how we are developing as students and teachers.

There is obviously much more to do, and to learn about blogging. I’ll get better as things transpire and the quality of the posts will improve as well.