Useful links

Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt's (2006) seminal paper, 'Going the...

Having explored both a foundational model of how people learn and relevant learning theories that drive pedagogy, let's now look more closely at the methods and practices that we can use to create successful online learning courses.

Three perspectives

In discussing the foundations and history of effective pedagogy in online environments, a variety of researchers and writers have identified three major perspectives. These perspectives are centred on the instructional promises of:

  • Presentation
  • Intelligent tutoring
  • Social constructivism.
In the following activity, we define these 'promises' and look at the benefits and limitations of each. In each case, click on a 'promise' on the menu screen of the activity and then click on the tabs on the left-hand side to learn about that instructional promise. Use the 'Back' button to return to the menu.

Let's define these three 'promises' and consider the benefits and limitations of each.

Key terms

Promise of presentation: The idea that online learning can enhance...

Presentation

The promise: The first theme reflects the promises of recreating the dynamics of the classroom – in all its vividness and creativity – via distance education, enhanced by multimedia. From this perspective, online learning, infused with technology, promises enhanced presentational capabilities. If we can only turn abstract concepts into more easily understood visualisations, students will more easily understand them. In brief, if we use multimedia well, all will be revealed. There is some good evidence supporting this promise (Mayer, 2009).

The limitations: The main constraint on presentation is what Larreamendy-Joerns and Leinhardt (2006) call the 'Myth of Immaculate Perception'. The questionable assumption is that knowledge follows inevitably from visual or otherwise sensible evidence. However, this is simply not true for many students, much content, and most contexts. Both static and dynamic representations are meant to support explanations, well-crafted discussions, and opportunities for student inquiry, not replace them. The current heavy emphasis on video lectures in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is one example of possible overreliance on presentation in online education settings.


Intelligent tutoring

The promise: This theme refers to automated environments that support problem solving and provide very precise guidance through highly structured tasks with timely feedback (Polson & Richardson, 1988). Here, the promise of online learning is teaching that fits the student's needs and provides scaffolding and support that allows for efficient and effective progress through content. In this view, student-content interaction is emphasised – more opportunities are given to students to use models and representations that allow them to try out hypotheses and gain knowledge of results. This is the approach taken by the Adaptive Learning movement.

The limitations: Can we really promote 21st century skills like collaborative problem solving with individual performance tutors or is there an essential incompatibility here? Building performance-tutoring systems in a wide variety of disciplines is also (perhaps prohibitively) costly. Further, the objectives-orientated learning common to online tutors may be incompatible with constructivist pedagogy, which maintains that learning is not about the sequential 'acquisition' of knowledge. Constructivists view learning as evolving identity development through participation in communities of practice.


Social constructivism

The promise: The social constructivist view sees the potential of online education in environments that foster the knowledge building and discursive practices typical of disciplinary communities. If successful, social constructivism can provide a wide range of opportunities for intellectual engagement and interaction. From the very onset of learning, the learner engages in questioning, makes connections, draws inferences, and validates knowledge, and as competencies develop, seeks and obtains supporting skills and concepts. Here, the collaborative process that proceeds through interaction between learners, and learners and teachers (not learners and content), provides the conditions for cognitive conflict and the negotiation of meaning.

The limitations: Larreamendy-Joerns and Leinhardt (2006) warn that '... successfully orchestrating an instructional dialogue demands sophisticated skills'. Learner contributions need to be simultaneously interpreted according to: disciplinary value, relevance to teaching goals, and indicators of students' ongoing understanding. That's a lot to accomplish and requires significant planning and monitoring. No doubt that level of interpretation and evaluation is demanding! We will return to this issue in the section on 'Fostering social constructivism: The Community of Inquiry model'.

As we can see, the short history of online learning can be viewed through its potential to encourage and enhance the learning experience in these three areas (or 'promises'): presentation, intelligent tutoring, and social constructivism.

In the following activity, you will be presented with a number of characteristics from each of the three 'promises'. In each case, click the characteristic at the top and then click the column to which you think it belongs. At the end, click 'View feedback' to see our thoughts.
Consider the following characteristics from each of the three 'promises' and in each case contemplate whether it reflects the promise of 'Presentation', 'Intelligent tutoring' or 'Social constructivism'. Continue on to find the strategies arranged under the appropriate headings, along with some feedback at the end.
  • Individualised and automated feedback
  • Learners questioning, making connections, drawing inferences
  • Problem solving and precise automated teaching guidance
  • Turning abstract concepts into more easily understood visualisations
  • Dynamic representation of content
  • Structured guidance through teaching materials
  • Student-student and student-teacher interaction

Now check to see if you are correct:


Presentation

  • Dynamic representation of content
  • Turning abstract concepts into more easily understood visualisations

Intelligent tutoring

  • Structured guidance through teaching materials
  • Problem solving and precise automated teaching guidance
  • Individualised and automated feedback

Social constructivism

  • Student-student and student-teacher interaction
  • Learners questioning, making connections, drawing inferences

Feedback

There are various ways in which online learning can incorporate and in some ways enhance approaches that have been shown effective in face-to-face environments. In face-to-face environments, often the most effective teaching and learning interweaves multiple approaches; perhaps the same is also true of online teaching and learning.

Portfolio activity

How do presentation, intelligent tutoring, and social constructivism fit...

Now that you are more aware of these varying perspectives, take some time to reflect on how you value each and their place in your own online teaching plans. Which do you believe is most compatible with your own materials, teaching style, and conception of learning – presentation, intelligent tutoring, or social constructivism? Which is most important for helping your students achieve their own academic goals? Or is it a combination of the three? The 'Portfolio activity' to the right will help you to reflect further on these questions.

Now that you are more aware of these varying perspectives, take some time to reflect on how you value each and their place in your own online teaching plans. Which do you believe is most compatible with your own materials, teaching style, and conception of learning – presentation, intelligent tutoring, or social constructivism? Which is most important for helping your students achieve their own academic goals? Or is it a combination of the three? The 'Portfolio activity' at the end of this section will help you to reflect further on these questions.


Useful links

Key terms

Promise of presentation: The idea that online learning can enhance presentation by integrating a variety of multimedia to support enhanced presentational capabilities (a key focus of MOOCs).

Promise of intelligent tutoring: The idea that learning can enhance individualisation by using machine tutors that respond to learner input to provide just-in-time content to meet the learner's needs.

Promise of social constructivism: The idea that the potential of online education lies in environments that foster the kinds of learning and language typical of disciplinary communities. Learning is best viewed as a social practice and communities of scientists, historians, writers, etc. represent the best models for understanding learning in this context.

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.

Portfolio

Duration: 30 minutes

How do presentation, intelligent tutoring, and social constructivism fit into your own online teaching plans?

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