Friday, February 24, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online Series – Part 2

Readiness to Learn and Self-Directed Learners - Does online learning help or hinder?

By Dr. Vanae E. Morris

Last time in this series, I introduced you to online teaching and learning and how this can no longer be an isolating process if it is to remain a viable teaching and learning environment. I also talked about adult learning principles and how using active learning strategies encourages and engages the adult learners in your class, especially in an online class.

Two of the principles mentioned were self-directed learning and readiness to learn. Are adults self-directors of their learning? Sometimes, this principle can be confusing because when you think of self-directed learning, you may think of self-teaching “. . . whereby learners are capable of taking control of the mechanics and techniques of teaching themselves in a particular subject” (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005). Self-teaching reminds me of the independent study courses I talked about in part one of this series. However, the more prevalent understanding of self-directed learning is that of personal autonomy. “Autonomy means taking control of the goals and purposes of learning and assuming ownership of learning”(Knowles, Holton, & Swanson). So, this begs the question, does the online teaching and learning process meet the criteria of self-directed learning and autonomy? What do you think?

The principle of readiness to learn also brings with it the prior experiences of the learner. When you begin planning your course, do you take into consideration the situational factors that will affect your course design? Factors such as specific and general context of the teaching and learning situation, the nature of the subject, and the characteristics of the learners and instructor (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005; Fink 2003) are important to consider in the overall planning. Adults generally become ready to learn when their life situation creates a need to know something or they want or have a specific goal in mind they want to achieve. Going to school or learning a new skill can become that goal. Pratt (1988) talks about two core dimensions of adult learning, direction and support. Direction is how much assistance from other persons is needed in the learning process and support is how much encouragement a learner needs from others. Is readiness and knowing what situational factors (prior experience) exist, important to the teaching and learning online process?

This brings me to the next two best practices in online teaching and learning, which are creating a supportive online course community, and using a variety of learning approaches (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010; Ko, 2005). Creating a supportive online community helps to fulfill the support dimension of an adult learner and using a variety of learning approaches offers the direction (and self-direction) that adult learners need when they take online courses. In the online management system, Canvas that the University of Utah has adopted and will begin using exclusively in the Summer of 2012, instructors can create learning communities within the course. A learning community describes a collegial group who are united in their commitment to learning. They share a vision, and work and learn collaboratively. Allowing a space for students to meet, discuss assignments, practice skills within the course, and peer review assignments, creates that collegial group who can work and learn together collaboratively. This learning community also creates opportunities for the students to meet the criteria of the Phase II part of lesson planning (Guided Practice and Collaboration) and for the instructor to conduct formative assessments (Fisher & Frey, 2008). The second part of creating an online learning community is the involvement of the instructor. How involved does the instructor need to be in the course, the discussions, the course mail, or other aspects of the course to create this sense of a collegial group working and learning together? I feel that each individual instructor needs to determine this based on the course and the situational factors of the students; however, back to the first best practice of being present in the course, four or five days per week checking in, answering course mail and emails, creating course materials within Canvas, guiding and facilitating the discussions, and grading (to name a few) is a good best practice.

The next best practice is that of using a variety of learning approaches. What exactly does this mean, you ask? This means not doing the exact same thing for every Phase I (presentation of material), Phase II (Practice), and Phase III (Assessment), which are the main components of a lesson plan (with a warm-up and wrap-up as bookends) (Fisher & Frey, 2008). Using a variety of learning approaches means to use a variety of active learning activities mentioned in Part I of this series including such things as case studies, peer activities, project-based activities, think-pair-share, group projects, debates, guest speakers, and integrating multi-media, library, and web resources into your online course.

Online teaching and learning does not need to be boring and can be interactive and fun!

The next part in this series will include the importance of preparation and setting expectations.


Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2008) Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th ed.). New York: Elsevier.

Ko, S. (2005). Student-centered online teaching: Best practices. Retrieved from

Pratt, D. D. (1988). Andragogy as a relational construct. Adult Education Quarterly, 38(3), 160-181.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

1 comment:

  1. Work focuses on understanding the relationship between teaching and student learning and thinking.