Learning and Teaching Online


September 19, 2013 by idinnovation

ID-10080995The internet and personal computers have changed the way in which distance learning occurs, Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, (2012) note that in order to teach and learn effectively in an online environment designers must understand both student-centered learning and distributed learning.  Student-centered learning promotes active learning, collaboration, mastery of content and student control over their individual learning.  It is important to note that not all-online learning is distance learning.  While distributed learning is often associated with face-to-face learning that incorporates technology it is a model of instructional design that permits, instructors, learners, and learning resources to be decentralized yet allow instruction and learning to occur independent of space and time (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).

It is important for instructors to get to know their students even in online learning environments.  The key to creating a successful icebreaker is not requiring that the learner express knowledge about anything except themselves (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).

Some of the methods instructors can utilize are requesting that students submit short biographies during the first week of the course. Referring to the student by name as soon as possible as that is an indication that the instructor is communicating directly with the student, and requesting that students post images of themselves in the course to contribute to a sense of community of learners (Laureate Education, Inc.). The learning management system LMS) serves as the classroom and is the setting for all interactions, shared learning experiences, and small and large activities (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

Students who desire to engage in distance learning must have the both the technical knowledge and equipment required for engaging the systems and participating within the ID-100179235system. It is the responsibility of the learner to inquire about technical requirements if they have not been provided as well as obtain the required technology or hardware (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  Furthermore, learners should have the technical know-how, which can include interacting with the learning management system, the use of specific equipment and following technical procedures (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012), thus exhibiting fluency in the use of online learning technologies is an essential characteristic of a successful distance learner (Dabbagh, 2007). Instructors much like students must be comfortable with the technology that is utilized in online environments such as the announcement section, discussion board monitoring and feedback, the fundamentals to accessing and entering grades into the online grade book and accessing and utilizing other communications tools within the LMS as appropriate (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

Course materials and activities that are distributed across computer platforms promote active learning and facilitate intellectual participation with course content, which is advantageous to students (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). Draves (2000, as cited in Chou, 2003) contends that in Internet-based learning and Web-based learning (WBI) whether real learning occurs is based on the quality of interaction and not course content.

According to Boyd (2004), there are our factors that should be considered in determining a learner’s success in online learning: technical factors, environmental factors, personal factors and learning characteristics:

  • Technical factors include having access to a computer system that is able to operate the online environment, as well as basic computer skills like being able to use a keyboard, mouse, send and receive emails, download and install software, as well as the scholarly ability to search and find information and the perceptual ability to identify images and events that ID-10038630occur on the computer screen and the knowledge of how to participate in discussion forums.  It is important to note however, that while these are listed as prerequisites to distance-learning most if not all of these skills can be acquired during learning.
  • Environmental factors relate to time, place, and support from significant others.  While one of the advantages of asynchronous learning is not having to meet at a specific time for the class it is important that the student schedule time during the week on a regular basis to participate in the course (Simonson, Smaldino, Albringht, & Zvacek, 2012) as online students are often required to log into the LMS discussion forum many times throughout the week as well as complete required homework. Students should therefore setup a place that is conducive to completing their assignments that has a computer, desk, and a place to organize course materials (Boyd, 2004). Finally, Criscito (1999, as cited by Boyd 2004) contends that the support of significant people in the students’ life as well as the employer is imperative or else it presents a barrier for that student achieving their educational goals.
  • In regards to Personal factors, Tait (2000, as cited in Boyd, 2004) contends the reason distance learners prefer the online format is because it makes them feel more confident and competent when participating in class discussions, the online environment promotes equality among learners for these students.  Thus successful online students demonstrate characteristics of taking initiative and being assertive by asking questions, creating groups, sending emails and contacting classmates if necessary (Boyd, 2004).  Tait (2000, as cited by Boyd, 2004) some online students prefer the virtual classroom because they feel both confident and traditional face-to-face classrooms where teachers and a few students dominate. In the online environment, such students feel they are on an equal footing with others.  As noted by the course text Simonson, Smaldino, Albringht, & Zvacek (2012) distance learners should have the ability to take responsibility for their own learning, have the ability to understand the task assigned in the course, and take ownership of their experiences which equates to successful online students being highly self-motivated, self-disciplined (Engineering Outreach, 2001, as cited by Boyd 2004) and exhibit qualities of honesty, integrity, and authenticity (Boyd, 2004).
  • Learning characteristics, the final factors provided by Boyd (2004) include areas such as learning styles, reading and writing skills, and self-direction. As noted Simonson, Smaldino, Albringht, & Zvacek (2012) the characteristics of distance learning tools encourage and promote better instruction than tools used in traditional learning and provide students sufficient freedom which both requires and encourages them to control their learning process (Boyd, 2004). Dede (2005) notes that there aID-10082046re numerous emerging learning styles that include: the fluency in multiple media and simulation virtual environments, guided mentoring as well as being able to express nonlinear, associational webs of representations and design of learning environments that are personalizes for individual learner needs and preferences.

The course audience must be considered by the instructional designer/ instructor during the planning and implementation process, as the success of the final learning experience is dependent on the designer understanding the target audience. Distance learners are highly motivated by their goals and their ability to shape their learning experience (Boyd, 2004). Web 2.0 applications are primarily utilized outside of the education field however, Web 2.0 technologies provide exceptional benefits to learners through their learner engaging functionality and should be used in the next generation of course management systems (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  Education should not be too serious engaging activities, communication, interactions and a carefully and correctly constructed learning community will enable learning to occur (Laureate Education, Inc., 2013).


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

Boyd, D. (2004). The characteristics of successful online students. New Horizons in Adult Education18(2), 31-39. Retrieved from http://education.fiu.edu/newhorizons/journals/volume18no2Spring2004.pdf

Chou, C. (2003). Interactivity and interactive functions in web-based learning systems: a technical framework for designers. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 265–279.

Dabbagh, N. (2007). The online learner: Characteristics and pedagogical implications. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 217- 226.

Laureate Education, Inc. (2013) Launching the Online Learning Experience, retrieved on September 19, 2013 from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_3466249_1%26url%3D

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.





5 thoughts on “Learning and Teaching Online

  1. Lisa Eaton says:

    Sharifa, You state “The key to creating a succesful icebreaker is not requiring that the leasrner express knowledge about anything except themselves” (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). I think that this is one of the most important criterion for an icebreaker, as students need not feel pressured about their knowledge right off the bat. I always told my writing students to write about what they know. It is a good way to make them comfortable and be able to really express themselves.

  2. Patricia D. Beamon says:

    Hello Sharifa,

    What a post you have presented this week. First let me begin by saying that if I didn’t know anything about teaching and learning online your post has certainly made me aware of a great deal.

    In addition to understanding student-centered and distributed learning an instructional designer must also make some essential preparations such as allowing their students to get to know them on a somewhat personal level. This can be accomplished through a video or audio at the beginning of the course. I agree with you that it is vital for instructors to get to know their students as well. Icebreakers are a great tool if you can get participation in an online environment. Only information about the student should be required as Conrad and Donaldson (2011) stated. Another important piece to remember is not to mandate students to post their pictures in the class. Some students may feel they might be treated fairly when a picture is posted. Instead of a picture allow students to post a picture of interest (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). This can also be beneficial to students who are introverts who can now feel free to express themselves more (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

    As for technologies being used in the online learning environment they should be kept simple when an instructor is introducing the course for the first time online (Boettcher & Conrad, 2011). Technology is wonderful when it works and it is even better when students know how to use it. Making sure students are comfortable with the technology for a class is essential and giving options and resources for technical support is a must (Boettcher & Conrad, 2011).

    I feel one of the main reasons students feel comfortable with online learning in addition to what you have stated is because of the flexibility of completing assignments. I know that is the main reason I chose online learning. Initially I thought that I would not be able to cope with learning online but once I began courses at Walden it was the best decision I could have made to further my education. Online learning can be exciting and very convenient but it is definitely an individual choice that has to be well thought out. If you have no technology skills at all I believe online learning will be a challenge but success can be achieved with the right resources in place.

    Great post this week!


    Conrad, R. & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the Online Learner. Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction. (pp. 9, 11). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Launching the online learning experience.

  3. Hi Sharifa. You mentioned that, “students who desire to engage in distance learning must have both the technical knowledge and equipment required for engaging the systems and participating within the system. It is the responsibility of the learner to inquire about technical requirements if they have not been provided as well as obtain the required technology or hardware (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). Students should know what they are getting themselves into when they sign up for online classes because they are different than traditional classes. They should read the syllabus and find out what materials are needed for the class. Also, they need to be comfortable with technology and get used to typing instead of talking. In fact, students quickly learn how to build trust and interdependence with each other because they will never see each other face-to-face (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). Interaction among the students is the key to a successful online experience because they will talk to each other, learn from each other and apply it to what they need to learn. Likewise, frequently using online course tools helps students to increase their comfort level (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). If students need more help, they can watch tutorials and ask the instructor for resources that may be helpful.

    Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Franciso: Jossey-Bass.


  4. marlarobles says:

    I truly appreciate your recognition that technical know how makes a difference. I have taken several courses with instructors who knew less about the technology utilized than I do. This was very difficult to deal with. It is important as a student new to online courses that the instructor be more knowledgeable than me.


  5. idt2me says:


    I think that all instructors should encourage student to take an online learning readiness assessment. I found a very good one @ http://www.unc.edu/tlim/ser/ with a simple Google search. I also like that you pointed out that technology skill deficits came be overcome. I believe it is incumbent on instructors to communicate that point to their students.



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