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Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Difference Between Online Learning and Remote Teaching

Terminology is important. Especially in science and teaching science. Nowadays, there is a lot of confusion related to different forms of distributed education - online, remote, virtual. The last one is the worst - demonstrates virtual thinking. Because virtual learning is not learning - learning is either actual or fake.

A recent piece “The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning” provides an attempt to analyze the difference between the two forms of distribute education.
Essentially, at first the authors describe general features of their version of online leaning:
and then state that an emergency remote teaching is “to provide temporary access to instruction and instructional supports in a manner that is quick to set up and is reliably available during an emergency or crisis.

This difference only reflects the circumstances of the teaching-learning process: “online leaning” means the course has been developed during a long period of time with all content and technological elements designed specifically for being delivered via the Internet and then carefully tested before being employed; “emergency remote teaching” means “we create an online course but we do it in a hurry”, using the author’s terminology, it could have been called “emergency online leaning”.

First, I would like to make some notes:

The type of content delivery (modality) is missing the layered classroom format when at the same time some students are present in a classroom, when others connect remotely, or study later.

The time of the direct communication between students and an instructor during the content delivery (instructor role online) is missing the fact that “active instruction online” can have two forms: active content delivery or active tutoring.

The type of the progress control (pacing) is missing a group-paced option when a class is divided in groups (based on a chosen criterion).

The type of student activities (student role online) does not include direct communication with an instructor.

The size of the class (student-instructor ratio) is too formal - when 1000 students take the same online course (developed by one person) calling it “a class” makes not much sense.

The amount of direct communication (online communication synchrony) does not specify if that is student-instructor communication of student-student communication.

The forms of teaching (pedagogy) represent a standard list - all those forms are not specific for online learning, and none of those forms exists in a pure state, in reality it is always a combination.

Source of feedback is less relevant than the goal of feedback and has to serve that goal: goals may be set based on different criteria, for example, based on the time line (from immediate - to adjust a specific feature of a course, to the global - the end of the course).

Role of online assessment is no different from the role of any assessment, so technically is not the part of “online learning” per se.

However, more importantly, the difference between online learning and remote teaching is deeper than just “long-time in preparation” v. “we need it now”.

A “pure” online course is the course where all students can perform all learning activities independently from any other subject involved in the course (an instructor, or a student, or anyone else), meaning that all essential learning activities are the same for every student (they form the course), and every student is in the control of when to participate in those activities. Secondary/complementary activities, like tutoring, group collaboration, depend on the individual traits of a student (e.g. the background). A student taking such a course in ideal circumstance should be able to do it with no communication at all, without talking to anyone. The quality of the course is based on the quality of the developed course content entities (hence, on the expertise of the developers), and on the technologies used to organize student learning process.

A “pure” remote course is essentially a “on-site course without students in a room”, i.e. a course that is as close as possible to an actual on-site course, but in which all students participate remotely. A student taking such a course must participate in the same learning activities as if he/she would be taking this course on a campus. The quality of the course is based on the quality of the developed course content entities, the quality of  the technologies used to organize student learning process, and the quality of the instructions provided by an instructor.

The main activities of an instructor involved in an online course (“purity” is assumed) are focused on the development (a) of content of the course – lecture modules, assignments, assessments, laboratory activities in the form appropriate for independent online consumption; (b) of guidelines for students; (c) of tools for students to follow the guidelines when working on the content. When the course has been developed and tested the main activities of an instructor are tutoring and assessing feedback.

The main activities of an instructor involved in a remote course are (a) content development in the form appropriate for live online consumption; (b) developing/testing/employing tools for live content delivery; (c) delivering the content (a.k.a. teaching); (d) developing/testing/employing tools for live communication with students; (e) developing guidelines for students.

Of course, every actual course represents a specific combination of those two “pure” forms, with one form may be dominating over another one (an online course with elements of a remote course, or v.v.).

There are many publications advising how to teach remotely/online, for example:
The Hottest Job in Higher Education
50+ Tools For Remote and Distance Learning

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