Learner-centred online environments

Key terms

Individualised (adaptive) teaching: Teaching materials (usually...

Online learning affords learner-centred environments some unique opportunities. Computer-based learning, for example, has a long history of support for adaptive, individualised teaching and can be easily incorporated into online courses. Indeed, Carol Twigg (2001) argued that individualisation was key to innovation in large introductory courses, with learning technologies being used to facilitate initial assessments of students' knowledge and skills and manage their learning trajectories within an array of interactive learning materials. Such individualised approaches address the knowledge students bring to their online experiences, focus on student learning in an ongoing manner, and diagnose and remediate any misconceptions they might acquire.

Online learning

Learning delivered primarily over the internet.

The value of online discussions

Practical tip

It is important to recognise that the development of a good asynchronous...

Well-developed asynchronous online discussions can be uniquely supportive of multiple voices and the social construction of knowledge. The discussion transcript might be viewed as an explicit representation of the social construction of knowledge as it grows like a crystal from the contributions of many. Researchers have found online discussion to be more equitable and democratic (Eastmond, 1995; Harasim, 1990) because its asynchronicity provides time for all participants to contribute, while making it very difficult for anyone, teachers included, to dominate. That same asynchronicity encourages reflection (Garrison, 2003; Poole, 2000) because students can consult the transcript in crafting their own contributions, which they can, in turn, consider and refine before posting.

In the following video, online practitioners talk about learner-centred online environments, considering the students' responsibility for their own learning and the use of synchronous and asynchronous tools. They also offer some top tips for making online courses as learner-centred as possible. As you watch, consider whether you could adapt any of their ideas for use in your own online courses.

In the following interviews, online practitioners talk about learner-centred online environments, considering the students' responsibility for their own learning and the use of synchronous and asynchronous tools. They also offer some top tips for making online courses as learner-centred as possible. Consider whether you could adapt any of their ideas for use in your own online courses.

synchronous

Synchronous learning takes place in real time; virtual meetings or other scheduled online events are examples of synchronous learning.

asynchronous

Asynchronous learning can take place at any time. In other words, you and your students can access and participate in your online courses whenever you wish.

Click 'Play' to start the video.

Useful links

Knowledge Forum (the commercial, updated version of CSILE is also...

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Knowledge-centred online environments

Online courses allow for the design and refinement of a greater variety of materials and activities than traditional lecture and text-based environments. They can support well-structured, knowledge-centred materials and activities, including interactive media such as games and simulations (e.g. Epper, Derryberry, & Jackson, 2012). Similarly, learners can visit and revisit course content from a variety of perspectives and in contexts and times of their own choosing (Spiro & Jheng, 1990). Moreover, the internet itself offers unprecedented access to information, experts, and authentic contexts (McClintock, 1999) which can be used to support knowledge creation.

Information and knowledge

However, as Shank (1998) reminds us, information is not knowledge. Do we limit learners' access to information, acknowledging that some of what they find may be inaccurate, incomplete, or not applicable to the concepts being taught (Miller & Bartlett, 2012)? If so, how is it ever possible to know what information, what kinds of presentations, and what sorts of activities in what combinations and sequences best support knowledge construction for particular learners? Even if we could know such things, we could not enforce them in the non-linear, multi-task online universe.

The negotiation of meaning online

In addition, the power of the social construction of knowledge derives from the negotiation of meaning. Meaning is best negotiated amongst collaborators in real time, yet most online collaboration is still asynchronous. However, new technology tools make synchronous communication relatively simple and provide a variety of supports for knowledge construction. These and other technology tools can compensate for the constraints on knowledge construction imposed by online environments.

negotiation of meaning

From a constructivist perspective, meaning does not reside solely inside (or outside) the individual, but is derived through a continuous set of negotiations between the individual and others. This negotiation is mediated by language, culture, and technologies that enable and constrain different understandings of the world.

constraints

The characteristics of a technology, medium, or environment that inhibits, limits, and/or even excludes particular kinds of actions and experiences.

In the following video, practitioners consider how to create successful knowledge-centred online learning environments.

In the following interviews, practitioners consider how to create successful knowledge-centred online learning environments.

Click 'Play' to start the video.
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Portfolio activity

Create a list of learner-centred and knowledge-centred activities to use...

Learner-centred and knowledge-centred activities both enable learners to organise the information they are studying and to create the forms of the 'knowledge' they are acquiring. The teacher may choose the topics and provide the materials and even participate with the learners in their investigations, but they do not present the learners with 'knowledge' to be acquired. Think about why constructivists believe that approaches that are both learner-centred and knowledge-centred result in deeper understanding, and consider how you can adapt your own online courses to be both learner-centred and knowledge-centred.


Key terms

Individualised (adaptive) teaching: Teaching materials (usually computer-based) that are designed to uniquely adapt to the individual learner's knowledge, skills and interests (currently these are referred to as adaptive programmes).

Asynchronous: Learning that can take place at any time. In other words, you and your students can access and participate in your online courses whenever you wish. (Asynchronous discussion: Discussion in which participants are separated in time (and sometimes space); asynchronous discussion is typically text-based and threaded.)

Synchronous: Learning that takes place in real time, such as virtual meetings or other scheduled online events.

Cognitive presence: Knowledge-creation is the outcome of a cycle of practical inquiry that engages students in learning. It includes drawing students into an interesting problem or challenge, supporting interaction towards solving the problem collaboratively, and bringing this process to a resolution.

Practical tip

It is important to recognise that the development of a good asynchronous online discussion can be challenging. Because most of the course interactions are occurring via text (as opposed to audio), the potential for misunderstandings of the intent of the discussion is high. Consider developing your question or assignment to be used in the online discussion and asking for a review by a sample of your student population. Even asking two or three students to review your post and respond can provide valuable feedback into the wording and clarity of the post.

Useful links

Portfolio

Duration: 20 minutes

Create a list of learner-centred and knowledge-centred activities to use in your online course.

Use the attached document to record your ideas, or complete the relevant page of your Teaching Online portfolio.