Good Online Learning tips?

Just picked up a post that was offering 10 tips for online learning from a LinkedIn community:

http://blog.litmos.com/2009/02/top-10-best-practices-for-teaching.html?showComment=1237451820000#c8735343041550698770

It got me thinking about this recurrent issue with just what's special about online learning as opposed to learning face-to-face, and the point I'm always referring back to it seems, that most people just use virtual space to replicate what happens in real space.

Here are Dr. Boettcher's Top 10 Best Practices for Online Learning:
  1. "Be Present at the Course Site" - communicate with the students, use noticeboards and messaging options
  2. Create a supportive online course community
  3. Share a set of very clear expectations for your students and for yourself as to (1) how you will communicate and (2) how much time students should be working on the course each week.
  4. Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences
  5. Use both synchronous and asynchronous activities
  6. Early in the term ask for informal feedback on "How is the course going?" and "Do you have any suggestions?"
  7. Prepare Discussion Posts that Invite Questions, Discussions, Reflections and Responses
  8. Focus on content resources and applications and links to current events and examples that are easily accessed from learner's computers
  9. Combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning
  10. Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course
However a careful analysis of these tips shows that they have much more to do with good teaching practice than online learning, indeed I would argue that they are only about good teaching practice and offer nothing at all that is useful with regards to online learning. They may include some reference to online and distance, but I contend could easily be rewritten as the below simply by dropping a few distinct references to online activity and computers:
  1. Communicate with the students, use noticeboards and messaging options
  2. Create a supportive course community
  3. Share a set of very clear expectations for your students and for yourself as to (1) how you will communicate and (2) how much time students should be working on the course each week.
  4. Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences
  5. Use both synchronous and asynchronous activities
  6. Early in the term ask for informal feedback on "How is the course going?" and "Do you have any suggestions?"
  7. Prepare Discussions that Invite Questions, Discussions, Reflections and Responses
  8. Focus on content resources and applications and links to current events and examples that are easily accessed
  9. Combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning
  10. Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course
If these ten points are all about good teaching practice and not about good online learning practice then why are they so popular and resonate so well with those who are involved in online learning? One cynical answer would be that there are many people invovled in online learning who are not trained teachers (I should know, I'm one of them) so they just confuse the two, but I think there's actually something much more subtle going on. I think these 10 points are simply highlighting how far most VLEs have some, and the fact that they can (just about) convey enough of the teacher and the student within the virtual space to allow good teaching practice to penetrate the interface. What they show is a level of technological development, they are not about how the virtual space can be used to enhance learning, they are simply about how you should use existing teaching skills within a VLE.

So what's my point? Well as ever I think the bottom line is that we have an amazingly powerful new space to work within, but we have no idea how to use this space, so merely replicate the real world within it, and in this case real teaching skills. I having nothing against this per se, extending the teaching space like this can be argued as an enhancement all by itself, but I just think we can do so much more. We just need to reconceptualise what it means to be in these space.

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