Who teaches? Who learns?

My journey to teaching writing in a corporate setting continues: For the next month or so I’ll be blogging occasionally about issues related to designing and teaching courses online.

Most of the online training I’ve had so far has been very passive – clicking through screens full of text for hours on end (okay, maybe half-hours, but it sure seemed like hours) and answering the occasional multiple-choice question.  In that kind of asynchronous web-based training, the “teacher” remains invisible – the Great & Powerful Oz behind a curtain of html.  Web-based training was not a particularly rewarding experience for me as a student; I’m not a passive person. And it’s hard for me to imagine that it’s rewarding for the instructor/designer/creator (or if we’re sticking with the Oz metaphor, the Wizard).

One of the things I enjoy most about training is collecting feedback from the students.  Since all of the training I’ve done so far has been real-time, real-world-based, that feedback has come from seeing the light dawn on a student’s face or hearing well-reasoned answers to my questions.  So far, no applause.  But I’m still hopeful.  But Oz, our web-based trainer, will never get to experience those things.

Synchronous instructor-led online training offers slightly more feedback for instructors: they can see and hear the students and interact with them in something close to real-time (though the magic of technology can’t eliminate the awkward pauses of dead air in between speakers).  In instructor-led online training, instructors function in much the same way they do in classrooms: as facilitator, expert, authority, resource, coach.  Additionally, they are able to personalize instruction to clarify confusions or suggest additional resources.  And students are able to ask questions and enrich the “classroom” discussion with their own thoughts and insights.  These things are not possible with an asynchronous, web-based program.

5 thoughts on “Who teaches? Who learns?

  1. Maria C. Dolce, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE

    Elaine, I am currently teaching a hybrid course with an asynchronous online component and understand the challenges you described. With creativity and planning, methods can be developed to collect timely feedback information from students, as we have seen Kiki accomplish with the Critical Incident Questionnaires.

  2. James Tosso

    Quick, anonymous, online questionnaires at several points during a training session can be helpful to gauge where the audience is at. However useful this feedback might be, it is still a shadow of seeing the 'ah-ha' moment in-person when a student does grasp the material.

  3. Julietta

    Elaine, I totally see your point. As a teacher, I also enjoy the immediate feedback and the interaction with the students, walking around, helping out, etc. most. Right now I couldn't imagine teaching online but who knows? May be I'll think different about it after finishing our course.

  4. Kiki Mulliner

    Great insights! The synchronous classroom is very different from both the live classroom and the asynchronous experience. As a “developer” of learning for years, I completely understand the sort of empty feeling as an “instructor” when you never see the training implemented or never see the students. The synchronous online approach gets you a bit closer as you suggest! My favorite approach remains the one that blends several of the venues to best meet the desired learning outcomes.

    And congratulations on your award! Kudos!

  5. Julia

    Elaine, Nice blog! I would only add one comment re: asynchronous learning. There is another model that is very rich. I am currently taking an online asynchronous course in which the instructor posts readings and questions pertaining to the readings. Students are asked to answer the questions and comment/ critique/contribute to the work of other students. The instructor is online frequently, guiding the discussions and challenging each of us to consider other views. In addition, a “media room” is constantly being filled with internet avenues to explore thus taking the student even further into the subject matter. It has been a rewarding experience of classroom interaction, students teaching students, and teacher facilitated learning and all in an asynchronous platform.

    Oh and I 2nd the congrats on your award!

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