“Where do I begin?” is the most difficult challenge when I am given the instruction, “Develop a list of principles for effective online instruction”. This medium for instruction is definitely making waves in the field of education. However, the scope of education is so broad (extending across stages of mental and physical development, social class, subject areas, and to a certain extent psychological and psychosocial environments) that it is quite challenging to pinpoint principles of effective online instruction that is all encompassing. Nonetheless, I am going to attempt to discuss these principles in general terms, without targeting a specific educational demographic mentioned in parenthesis.
A sense of community gives education context by which we form meaning and purpose. Many educational theories include a social element as part of their basis; in theory terms it is referred to as community of practice and community of learners (Jonassen & Land, 2012). As education moves more into online environments these practices of community may look different from the traditional form of education, yet they are necessary to establish. The community edifies the learner through his or her participation. Even as I write this, I am motivated by the fact that someone in my learning community will read it.
One popular idea related to community in online learning is “social presence” (Palloff & Pratt, 2006). Earlier attempts at distance education and online learning were not as successful due to the isolation of the learner from the source of instruction. Even now, many still believe that online learning is inferior to traditional classrooms because of this same perception. However, advancement in web tools are creating more opportunities for social presence online, and in some ways create more enriching learning communities than the traditional counterpart.
- Establish a regulated learning environment
One key concept related to a regulated learning environment is netiquette (Rice, 2011). In order for the learners of an online community to feel safe and valued, guidelines need to be set for acceptable and unacceptable behavior online.
- Be aware of digital inequality and learning disabilities
I have included the gap in digital inequality as a reminder to myself because sometimes its easy to overlook that some students have not obtained certain skills with computers and online tools. Many online educators are developing software, hardware, and online instructional techniques as part of a plan called universal design, which considers the needs of all learners without sacrificing the content (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer).
- Engage the virtual senses
Information is not only transmitted in text. Tap into the visual and auditory techniques for sharing information. This is a reminder to use the vast amount of multimedia resources available online. In many ways technology tools provide for a more enriching learning experiences than the traditional classroom because it gives the learner more direct and individual contact to multimedia sources. Besides textual information, video recordings, audio recordings, and screencasts can provide the teacher with great tools for communicating information to a student.
- Chunk educational scaffolding in time segments
Deadline related tasks encourage students to participate regularly with the course and the instructor (Graham, Cagiltay, Lim, Craner, & Duffy, 2001). Tasks should be presented with scaffolding techniques so that the learners can build a foundation in which knowledge and understanding of a specific concept can grow (Patnoudes, 2012)
- Provide collaboration with measurable objectives
Students can collaborate by providing opportunities for open discussion with a topic or by having students work together to accomplish a task (Carwile, 2007). The online educational environments provide many opportunities for the constructivist approach to learning.
Questions and Response:
What does good online instruction look like?
It returns the “awe” to learning. Online instruction is a breath of fresh air for many learners and teachers who have watched traditional forms of education stagnate in old practices, or turn their back on modern social practices. It is hard to speak of good online instruction in a specific sense because the opportunities are so numerous. So generally speaking, good online instruction is open to the possibilities. Since I have chosen this road, I have developed my own personal motto for any problem that arises in the epistemological practices of education; if technology does not have the solution, it will soon.
Does it look the same for all grade levels and content areas?
As I mentioned in my introduction, the scope of education is very wide. The list of best practices is intended to be general enough that it can apply to all levels of education. However, the teacher will certainly have to accommodate specific strategies to meet the cognitive and maturity levels of his or her students.
Will effective face-to-face teachers be effective online teachers?
Yes and no. Good teaching is a versatile skill that can transfer easily from traditional learning environments to non-traditional online environments. However, each teacher is an individual, harnessing skills, experiences, and special talents into his or her instruction. Therefore, not everyone is going to be equally as effective in one environment as the other.
Jonassen, D., & Land, S. (Eds.). (2012). Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments (2nd ed.). Routledge. pages 38-50
Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass. page 30
Rice, K. (2011). Making the Move to K-12 Online Teaching: Research-Based Strategies and Practices (1st ed.). Allyn & Bacon. page 79
Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Lim, B.-R., Craner, J., & Duffy, T. (2001, April). The Technology Source Archives – Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses. Retrieved February 25, 2013, from http://technologysource.org/article/seven_principles_of_effective_teaching/