Monday, March 28, 2016

Teaching and Learning Online: A Reflection

I am sometimes troubled when I hear people disparaging online learning as somehow being automatically inferior to face-to-face (f2f) learning. I admit, learning online is often different from learning f2f...but different does not mean it is inferior.

Some people seem to think that online courses are automatically less work or less rigorous than their f2f counterparts. Having conducted doctoral studies in the field of Educational Technology entirely online over the past three years, I can assure you that these courses require plenty of work (I average at least 10 hours per week per course) and they are extremely rigorous (I have been stretched incredibly over the past three years, and I have learned so much about my field, both through the readings, writing, and discussion that is part of the course work as well as tacit learning from learning in the online environment.) I'm sure that there are online courses that are less work, or less rigorous...but to assume that all online courses take this path is naive.

I mean, really: are we going to honestly suggest that every f2f course is rigorous and challenging? That every f2f course demands higher-order thinking, excellent writing, and demonstration of deep understanding of the content?

Come on...has every f2f course you've ever taken been amazing? I would argue that statistically, at least half of them have been awful. Some of them were probably fantastic...but not all of them, right? The same is true of online courses: there are probably some really good ones, and some real stinkers, and quite a lot that land somewhere in between.

Speaking as an online instructor, I think it's important to remember that there are many different ways to teach online. We don't assume that all f2f courses are taught in exactly the same fashion, right? Some instructors lecture, others use socratic seminar, others use case studies, others use field-based learning, and still others use collaborative learning. Some instructors use video, others have students read extensively, others place a premium on writing, while others have students discuss topics to make sense of them. Some instructors use deductive, didactic approaches, while others use inductive, inquiring approaches. Some instructors focus on memorization and rote learning, while others strive to have students develop deeper understanding of the concepts being studied, while still others demand students apply their learning to novel situations, analyze complex situations and issues, evaluate the work of others, or even create their own innovative products to solve real problems or otherwise demonstrate their learning.

There are many different ways to teach a f2f course, and the savvy instructor matches his or her teaching methods to the needs of the students, the needs of the content, the needs of the program, the needs of the institution, etc. The instructor makes all kinds of decisions about the methods employed, hopefully in the intent of creating the strongest course possible to result in meaningful learning for the students.

Teaching and learning online--ideally--is no different.

My dog often keeps me company while I am doing my (online) homework.
Image by Dave Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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