This past September the Roosevelt University Training and Development (RU TRDV) department launched a new graduate certificate in online teaching. Since then we have had a lot of requests for information and, frankly, a lot of questions about the future of teaching online. With the rise of technologies like Blackboard (RU TRDV’s online learning platform) many organizations as well as colleges and universities are offering classes online to allow learners more flexibility as they study. Still- many leaders in education and workplace learning are not convinced that online education is as effective as face-to-face options.
With this in mind, RU TRDV professor and Program Director Kathleen Iverson put together the following article about the myths about online teaching and learning. This may address some of the above named concerns… or perhaps not. Let us know what you think.
Myths About Online Teaching and Learning
Both faculty and students have very strong feelings about online learning offering endless material for argument. Faculty believe that online learning will either be the savior or ruin of our educational system, while students have a love-hate relationship with web-based learning that presents ample opportunity for debate. Like the telephone game, information becomes riddled with untruth and inaccuracy. One way to clear the air about online learning is to explore common myths that developed around these discussions.
Here my seven myths about online learning:
1. It’s boring: When we think of online learning we visualize blurry eyed students sitting in front of a computer monitor struggling to stay awake. Yes, online learning can be boring, but it doesn’t have to be. Many teachers of “first generation” online classes simply plugged their lecture notes and tests into a course site and called it online learning, but our “second generation” courses can be just as engaging and interactive as the classroom. We have a virtual cornucopia of technological resources at our fingertips that we can use to easily create exciting, engaging online courses.
2. It’s easy. I’d really like for this myth to be true, but in all honesty, when properly designed and taught, online learning is neither easy for the student or the teacher. In a study that colleagues and I completed, we found that although there were no significant differences in either learning or enjoyment in classroom versus online delivery, we did learn that our online students perceived their course as more challenging (Iverson, Colky, & Cyboran, 2005). I don’t think this is necessarily a deterrent—when students are challenged they are actively engaged in critical thinking, exploring new ideas, and mastering new concepts. The same goes for teachers who are designing and leading online classes—this experience will challenge you to develop new skills as a teacher and course designer and these new skills will not only make you an excellent online teacher but an even stronger classroom teacher.
3. It’s lonely. This is an easy myth to debunk thanks to virtual communication tools and web 2.0. Online teachers and learners have so many new avenues for communication that isolation is becoming more and more difficult to pull off even if we want to. Students and teachers connect through forums, e-mail. live chat, blogs, social networking sites like Facebook and Linked-in, and on and on. No longer are students penalized for “chatting” during class or asking too many questions, but are encouraged to openly discuss their learning experience with fellow students and their teacher.
4. It’s not valued. The day of the online diploma mill is becoming a concern of the past. The majority of “brick and mortar” or campus based universities are offering online courses and degrees that can be completed either in the classroom, online, or both. Many ivy league universities are joining the ranks. Initially, they began by offering online resources (see MITs Open Couseware) but many are now offering online courses and degrees. Harvard University now offers an online course in cyber law where students meet in Second Life, eCornell offers an array of executive development courseware that is fully online, and perhaps the most comprehensive ivy league offerings at this writing can be found at Columbia University where an array of web-based degrees and certificates are available.
5. Students cheat. In the classroom it’s easy to see whether students are cheating during exams, but how do we know if this is happening in online classrooms? If teachers still prefer to give traditional tests, they may offer proctored exams, but the simplest way that I’ve found to eliminate cheating is to embrace it. I encourage students to “cheat” by working collaboratively on projects, sharing resources, and even reviewing each other’s work. Rather than having students memorize facts and information and spew it back on objective tests, instead I have them do something with this information. They’ll use facts and figures to solve problems, create projects, and participate in debates and discussions. In the very near future, we may find that rote memorization will be a skill of past as we have knowledge at our fingertips that can be delivered anywhere, anytime and that the desired skill is not the ability to recite knowledge but to evaluate it and utilize it through critical thinking and application.
6. Technology is difficult. This was certainly true in the earliest days of web-based course development and delivery but in recent years, not only has technology become simpler, but we have become more adept at using it. When I first began teaching online, many of my students had no idea how to use e-mail or a search engine and today most come to my classes with extensive experience in virtual communication including e-mail, instant messaging, web searching, blogging, and even video creation thanks to YouTube. We also know that the role of technology in is not to make online learning more complicated, but to enhance your teaching without adding unnecessary stress to either you or your learners.
7. It will make faculty obsolete. One early concern from academia was that online learning would eventually make college teachers redundant. Many had visions of talking head “celebrity” faculty teaching everyone across the country and around the world. As we’ve gained understanding of course design and delivery it has become evident that skilled instruction is more important than ever in online learning. Online education is not delivered up vending machine style, but requires a great of skill to design and deliver. Strong instructor presence is a prerequisite for quality online teaching and learning and if anything, online learning has expanded the need for instructional designers and teachers to meet the growing demand for higher education nationally and globally.
Are there other commonly held myths about online teaching and learning? Please share your thoughts here or, if you would prefer, send in your ideas and they will be posted in upcoming blog articles! Email Mark Durgee (email@example.com)!