In Chapter 13 of The Skillful Teacher, Stephen Brookfield tackles online learning. He challenges the assumption that “traditional classrooms are stimulating and congenial learning environments brimming over with interpersonal empathy and intellectual energy, while online classrooms are lonely and isolated.” (Brookfield, 2015).
This rings true for me, because as with all things – it depends. Physical classrooms can be all of the things Brookfield describes, but they can also be – for an individual student – lonely and isolated as well. The day-to-day slog of going to a classroom where you are forced to sit and listen to an instructor who may or may not be engaged and dynamic, can be endlessly painful. Additionally, everyone learns best at different times of day or in different environments.
Online learning offers flexibility in a way that’s not possible in traditional classrooms, and may be much more suitable and attractive to certain types of students – introverts, parents with small children, people who work full-time. And there are ways for instructors to be engaging and dynamic in online environments, as Brookfield goes on to discuss. He talks about ways to “warm up” the online classroom, to set expectations and parameters, and creating rubrics so students know how they will be assessed – all of these approaches are equally relevant to physical classrooms.
There are many ways to make electronic discussion settings as interactive (or more so) than a classroom setting where students may be afraid to speak up. There are more avenues for different types of communication – polls, quizzes, chat room comments etc. And this environment is more suitable for those who need more time to formulate their thoughts before speaking up – a student who may never speak in a classroom, may be a considerable presence in a chatroom.
I want to empower my instructors with the tools to make their classrooms more dynamic and engaging. I can do this with bringing them tips and tricks and ideas to create a more engaging online environment, and by influencing the development of the materials that they have to deliver. Online learning is very prescriptive, so the instructors don’t have a lot of flexibility, unlike classroom delivery.
But further to giving them tools, I also want to give them the confidence to feel “equal” to classroom instructors – not that they do a lesser job, or can’t cut it in a physical classroom. I actually think the skillset to teach online is very different in many ways, and not all classroom teachers are able to do it.
This is part of the reputation of online learning too – it has a bit of a bad rep. But I think that’s changing as more and more people start to take advantage of the flexibility of the learning model/environment.
Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher, 3rd ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.
What Are the Potential Benefits of Online Learning?. (2016). worldwidelearn.com. Retrieved 24 April 2016, from http://www.worldwidelearn.com/education-articles/benefits-of-online-learning.htm