Online instruction is not the same as traditional instruction

While I firmly believe that online instruction can result in equivalent outcomes as face-to-face instruction, I think the pedagogy involved in teaching online is entirely different. Learning online tends to be more learner-centric and active than what takes place in a traditional classroom, which tends to be more faculty-driven where learners are passive recipients of the subject-matter-expert’s knowledge. In an online environment, instruction is often given asynchronously and impersonally. In this form of delivery, the instructor does not know immediately by non-verbal cues that his or her students’ are not “getting it”. Students need self-checks built into the learning environment to help them determine their own level of understanding so they can determine when they need to go over the material again or ask for assistance or clarification. Student motivation and self-regulation are essential ingredients to student success. Also critical is prompt and frequent instructor feedback. Because the instructor is not visible to the students, building an online presence meets an important part of the learners’ needs. Learners also need to participate in an online learning community with other members of their course. Establishing and setting the tone for this community is the responsibility of the instructor.

The role of the online instructor is typically changed. While in a traditional classroom, the instructor may be the key source of information and may spend the majority of his or her time delivering lectures or speaking individually with students, in an online environment, the students are acquiring much of the knowledge on their own from outside sources. The role of the instructor therefore is changed to that of a facilitator of knowledge; one who uses his or her expertise to guide the student to the sources of the knowledge, helps to correct misunderstandings, helps the student make connections to prior knowledge, and engages the student in discussion with his or her peers to facilitate social learning opportunities.

When I met with my teammate to design our instruction, both of us agreed that this was the case. However, rather than influence our online design, our knowledge of online design impacted our face-to-face design. Our topic lent itself to a student-led constructivist approach to design even in the traditional classroom, so we used a face-to-face design that ended up looking very similar to our online design just because we covered our face-to-face instruction using a non-traditional format. The classroom design was very active, hands-on, and collaborative. The online design was the same. I think the reason we both approached our traditional instruction this way is that both of us design online instruction by trade. We are accustomed to determining the best way to find a student-centered, active, hands-on, constructivist approach to online course design. As neither of us design for the traditional classroom very often (unless you count faculty professional development), this design felt more appropriate than a lecture.

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