Define online teaching and learning

Online education presents a new spectrum of possibilities for creating an individualized, highly effective environment that enhances and personalizes the learning experience. Online education utilizes internet technology to create an environment that may promote interaction and collaboration to help achieve learning outcomes. Just as individuals may work individually or as part of a cooperative group in the traditional classroom, students may also work individually in a self-paced tutorial-style environment or as a member of a class which interacts with an instructor and peers.

Approaches to online teaching and learning

When creating an online course, there are two basic approaches to the delivery of distance education-synchronous and asynchronous. Within these approaches, there are many delivery and communication tools available to the instructor and student. Synchronous online learning systems are highly structured learning environments and they are done in “real time”. It is especially useful for group-based classes. Some of the tools available are: White Board or NetMeeting, chat rooms or instant messaging, videoconferencing and teleconferencing. Asynchronous online learning approaches are more flexible than synchronous approaches; they are available 24/7. An advantage of this type of learning system is student choice of location and time. The two-way communication process is also slowed down allowing learners to reflect on and interact with new information before responding to it. Tools available are: email, listservs, threaded discussion, weblogs, e-text, e-zines, video streaming, audio clips, Internet links, and forums. Some tools support both asynchronous and synchronous online learning. Web-4M is a hybrid tool suite that integrates both approaches. The synchronous tools include Chat, White Board and an Interactive Slide Show. The asynchronous tools include: Email, News Groups and a Browseable Document Library. Another tool utilized in online education is the virtual fieldtrip. Students who have never imagined visiting Antarctica, wandering through the White House, exploring a rainforest, or even viewing long extinct dinosaurs are able to do all these through the “magic” of virtual field trips. They are able to take the student mentally out of the classroom and into a new and different learning environment, but one which is safe and free of physical hazards.

Qualities of a successful online environment

Computerized learning environments (CLEs), also known as online learning environments or virtual learning environments among other terms, consist of many different characteristics. What distinguishes these learning environments from traditional learning environments is they place more emphasis over learning than teaching and can be characterized as more learner-centered than the traditional teacher-centered classrooms. Abdelraheem lists the characteristics of Web-based learning environments as follows:

  • Relevant and well-designed challenging activities.
  • Adequate and timely feedback from instructors.
  • Adequate and timely student-to-student interaction.
  • Active engagement in construction of knowledge with an easy to use and powerful navigation system.
  • Deep learning encouraged through question design and links to thought-provoking sources.
  • Student learning could be self-paced to suit individual student needs.
  • Student autonomy encouraged since students are in charge of their own learning.
  • Students can study various points of view through other online resources.

Effective CLEs involve feedback, interaction, and content, and promote self-learning as well as an understanding of learning styles. They foster the “open curriculum”, in which students learn from a variety of sources and are not limited to the scope and structure of the course. This is achieved through the use of various tools such as electronic meeting systems and presentation tools, online conferencing/chat, whiteboard conferencing/Softboard, videoconferencing, email/listservs, hypermedia/multimedia, Word Processing tools, among others. The environment must maintain interactivity among students for these tools to be successful. As far as time, interaction can be asynchronous or synchronous. ISD, instructional systems design must determine which of these tools and what type of timing are going to be most effective for that particular course in order to promote maximum learning.