Visions of Online Learning

Are we, as educators, approaching this in the right way?

To deal with the growth, the University of California is launching an extensive effort to make sure applicants’ online high school courses are on par with traditional classroom instruction.

More students across US logging on to online classrooms – The Boston Globe

To be honest, I am not sure that I want online courses to be “on par” with traditional classroom instruction. While I do not want to get in a finger-pointing, name-calling game, the fact of the matter is that “traditional classroom instruction” is becoming more and more a relic of education’s past, not a model to emulate.

Moreover, what is it about the “online experience” that makes it an online experience? If it is simply listening to video versions of lecture and completing the same homework assignments that have been given year after year with Word or Excel instead of a pencil, paper, and calculator, then we are going about it all wrong.

Shouldn’t, instead, the purposes of online learning be to engage students in reading and writing tasks that require multimedia authoring, collaboration with others with whom we typically would not or could not work, and engagement with materials that are fresh, relevant, and contextually useful to one’s own inquiry?

This is not to say that there is not a place for some traditional “content” in online learning. However, my experience as an online instructor was one where I simply monitored students as they were supposed to work independently through a prescribed set of curriculum. One of our coordinators called it the “nag and brag” version of online teaching, only to touch base with students when they did something wrong, fell behind, or did a great job on something.

This, to me, is the failure of our current paradigm about online learning. We do not need to replicate traditional classroom experiences. Instead, we need to think about what it means to engage with content and collaborate with others in ways that will both catch the attention of and expand the abilities of our students.

I hope that Michigan, as the first state to adopt an online learning component, is able to move beyond the traditional visions and be, instead, visionary. Perhaps we are moving in the right direction.

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2 thoughts on “Visions of Online Learning”

  1. I think you allude to this point, but perhaps you are missing the larger irony of the original quote… The same voices that strongly imply the inadequacy of “traditional instruction” are suggesting that we find a way to emulate it in online environments?

    Oh, and be careful what you wish for… that “collaboration” you call for in your posting just might involve negotiation and compromise that does, indeed, “catch attention” — but not in good ways. I know you are savvy enough to realize that collaboration is a messy business; but couple messy (due to necessary collaboration) with different (resulting from not doing “traditional instruction” online), and online learning might have some problems being taken seriously, no?

  2. Wow, this is a delayed response. Sorry ’bout that.

    But, I think that you make a good point about learning, especially online learning, being messy. I think that we do, indeed, need to be careful what we wish for; take the new Michigan High School Content Expectations. Now, we have a curriculum full of opportunities for digital writing and reading, yet we don’t have the human or technical infrastructure to support that work in schools. Sigh.

    It is all messy, my friend, and I hope that we can continue to revel in the messiness.

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