Pedagogy of Online Learning
“Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology.”
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:
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- there is a lack of system wide distance education opportunities which may result in poor outcomes for students;
- course offerings presently available may not be of the best quality and are based on materials and media which are not truly interactive;
- 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:
- trying to be a good advocate for online learning where and as possible, through dialogue with other instructors and teachers;
- endeavouring to stay ahead of the ongoing research into cognitive theory as it applies to learning and teaching;
- designing course content which is relevant to new theory yet rooted in best practice;
- try to remain open minded about new developments in the field;
- listening to students needs and requests; learning and teaching is a two-way highway, not a goat trail in one direction only;
- advocate for more research into quality control and assurance with professional bodies and associations;
- 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 | elearnnetwork.ca; www.contactnorth.ca, 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