REIMAGINE ONLINE LEARNING                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Reimagine Online Learning

Ashley Conrad

Jessica Dancy

Nikki Harrison

Tim Konynenbelt

Michigan State University

Online learning has become the cutting edge tool in educational reform but it is not always effectively implemented into the classroom, nor is it used to its full potential. One problem that is greatly impacting education today, as identified by the New Media Consortium (2013) is “reimagining online learning”. Reimagine online learning is considered a wicked problem. Wicked problems of practice are problems that have “incomplete, changing, and contradictory requirements and solutions to wicked problems are often difficult to realize because of complex interdependencies among a large number of contextually bound variables (Koehler & Mishra, 2008, p.10). There is no single way to reimagine online learning in a manner that will be successful in every classroom, school, or district and because of this “solutions to wicked problems will always be custom designed” by educators (Koehler & Mishra, 2008, p. 11). Through a multifaceted solution of implementing teacher preparation and integrating problem-based/collaborative learning, we believe online learning can be enhanced to meet the ever-changing needs of 21st century learners.

One of the greatest challenges with reimagining online learning is that of teacher training. Currently instructors are often asked to teach online or hybrid courses because their administrators believe that they are excellent classroom teachers, but the skills needed for classroom teaching are very different from those used for online or blended learning (Journell, 2012, p.48). School districts

“must provide teachers with sufficient learning opportunities to explore the various nuances of online instruction, such as creating classroom community, learning to implement synchronous and asynchronous communication, and assessing student performance. To move online courses beyond content dissemination, teachers must know how to promote reflective, constructivist learning online-a process that may look different than what is typically done in a face-to-face classroom” (Journell, 2012, p.48).

In addition to district provided professional development for online learning, university-level teacher education programs will also need to provide courses for their students on the specific techniques of teaching online or in a blended environment (Journell, 2012, p. 48).

The training provided to both current and pre-service teachers should follow the TPACK model of instruction. It should equip teachers in technological knowledge like the operating of learning management systems, content knowledge which must be effectively presented in this new medium, and pedagogical knowledge like how to differentiate and personalize learning to the needs and learning styles of various students. Training must not look only at each of these models separately, but must look at the overlap of the three types of knowledge (Koehler, 2012). Teachers must be shown the value of using the online interface not merely to digitize their current materials, but instead to allow it to open up new doors to learning that were previously inaccessible (Tucker, 2013). Teachers must learn to implement strategies to effectively build relationships with students in online settings like providing them with individualized video feedback and sending more frequent and descriptive group email to class members (Cerniglia, 2011,  pp. 54-55). Training is also needed in the different modalities available through classroom management systems and how to best serve different learners with these different modalities.  

It is necessary to provide teachers with presenters who are teachers experienced in blended and online learning settings who can present them not only with best practices, but also with practical wisdom from their own personal experiences. This training should also incorporate online components so that teachers have the opportunity to experience being online learners themselves to get a better feel for the challenges of online learning from a learner’s perspective. A hybrid training system for teachers may also give teachers a better feel for the important challenge of balancing online and face-to-face content in ways that use both systems to their best advantage (Tucker, 2013). To further support teachers, districts and universities should provide some sort of online space where teachers can post their challenges and successes. In his book, The Anti-Education Era, James Gee (2013) speaks very highly of the power of affinity groups to allow for the development of skills and giving teachers the option to be a part of such a group could magnify the results of the training. Empowering teachers to effectively teach in ways that are productive and fully take advantage of the power of face-to-face as well as online time should be the first step in reimagining online learning.  

In addition to teacher training, learning in the 21st century must include the collaboration of many learners. By power of social media (ex. Facebook and Twitter) and other online tools for networking (ex. Skype and Pinterest), online learning can, and should, connect learners with others outside of their physical environment. Humans banded together are capable of solving problems much better than any one person could alone. Group collaboration not only helps advance the individual learner’s knowledge and understanding, but enhances the learning experience for those within.

All students need to feel that they matter and that their opinion counts. 21st century online learning offers the opportunity to join a collaborative group and helps the learner feel appreciated. Building this type of equality within an online collaborative learning/affinity space strengthens the possibility of creating what Gee calls a “Mind” or, “humans as reciprocal tools for each other + non-human tools” (Gee, 2013, p. 165). An individual person can only be considered a “mind”, but when plugged into other “minds” and adding non-human tools, a complex problem-solving entity is created with the potential for finding best solutions for the most complex issues we find in our world today. Online learning allows teachers to model and foster this type of successful collaborative learning to empower students to solve complex problems.

        Reimagining online learning will continue to be an ever-changing and evolving wicked problem of practice as technology continues to advance.  Educators must continue to grow their knowledge of how to effectively integrate this technology as best practice to provide their students with meaningful, authentic learning.  Blended learning provides a multi-faceted solution to this problem through strong teacher preparation programs and effectively balancing collaborative project based learning, while simultaneously being able to provide more personalized instruction.

References:

Cerniglia, E. G. (2011). Modeling best practice through online learning: Building relationships. YC Young Children, 66(3), 54-56, 58-59. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42730944 

Gee, J.P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Journell, W. (2012). Walk, don’t run-to online learning. The Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (7), 46-50. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23210004

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Ed.), Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) (pp. 3–29). New York: Routledge.

Koehler, M. J. (2012). TPACK explained. TPACK.org. Retrieved from http://www.tpack.org/

NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. (2014). Retrieved August 14, 2015, from http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2014-nmc-horizon-report-he-EN-SC.pdf

Tucker, C. R. (2013). The basics of blended instruction. Technology-Rich Learning, 70(6), 57-60. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar13/vol70/num06/The-Basics-of-Blended-Instruction.aspx