Nov 26, 2011

Online Learning Interview

Estela Gomes has asked me to answer these six interview questions for a course in her Master Degree in ELearning Pedagogy at the Open University of Portugal.

1. There is some confusion between the terms "online learning" and "online education". What are the differences between these two expressions?

In my view, learning is just one element of education. Online education covers a much broader range of services than online learning. I do for example think that online learning can take place without a teacher or an educational organization. In my discussion of Online Education Terms, I state that online education is characterized by:
  • the separation of teachers and learners which distinguishes it from face-to-face education 
  • the influence of an educational organization which distinguishes it from self-study and private tutoring 
  • the use of a computer network to present or distribute some educational content 
  • the provision of two-way communication via a computer network so that students may benefit from communication with each other, teachers, and staff 
2. In your point of view, what are the main features of an online teacher? What are the elements that promote a good teaching practice? 

On November 13, I was in a panel discussing Stephen Downes’ presentation We don’t need no educator: The role of the teacher in today’s online education. There, he identified about 25 different online teacher roles, and I could add some of my own. Since individual teachers cannot handle all these roles well, the main consequence is that good online teaching practice is characterized by division of labor. Online teachers need decent support services and have to cooperate with colleagues, students and their online networks to provide excellent teaching practice.

3. In the final part of your book “Online Education and Learning Management Systems - Global E-learning in a Scandinavian Perspective”, you discuss the future developments in online education. What are the most important challenges online educators faces today?

European educational institutions are facing a tough economical future. Developing cost-effective and sustainable models for large-scale online education is therefore crucial. Open Educational Resources and social networks provide wonderful opportunities for informal learning. However, the online education community needs to figure out how this informal learning can be utilized in economical sustainable and formal education.

4. With the advent of new technologies, informal learning is taking a leading role. Siemens and Downes are mentors of connectivism as an alternative to conventional teaching. How can an online teacher take advantage of online social networks to improve the quality of education?

Firstly, social networks may improve quality of education because they give students access to larger communities of people who can act as advisors and contributors to their learning process. Secondly, students tend to deliver better quality work when they realize that a lot of people can see and comment on their coursework.

The social networks also introduce a number of challenges for teachers and educational institutions. Teacher workload and evaluation of students are crucial issues for educational institutions that need to think carefully about cost-effectiveness and formal certifications.

5. In your opinion, what are the best teaching strategies for a successful online learning? What are your recommendations for a master's student in the elearning pedagogy? What skills must he develop for his future practice? 

Learning environments become more useful and interesting if teachers and students develop a culture for sharing. This is why I promote transparency in online education. Transparency make cooperation more easy and interesting since information about people and their work is available for others. The challenge is however to find the right balance between privacy and transparency. Teachers and students should develop skills to understand and manage transparency properly.

6. Finally, in your opinion, what will the future hold for online education?

Hmm - I venture to predict that the future of online education is disruptive, cost-effective, cooperative, transparent, mobile, multimedial, translated, omnipresent and bright:
  • The current European economy will have disruptive effects on traditional education, and cost-effective online education initiatives may gain new markets.
  • The current development of social network and web2.0 services urge the development of more cooperative and transparent online education. 
  • The technical development usher a rapid development of mobile and multimedial online education.
  • There is also an interesting development in automatic language translation services which will support the development of more international learning environments.
  • Finally, I'm convinced that the future of online education is omnipresent and bright.


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