Where are we now?

Effective online learning currently sails upon a swirling sea of powerful waves. Accordingly, those who seek to design and deliver online material must understand the nature of these waves if the ship upon which they currently sail is to make the journey successfully. What then are these waves and how do they appear? One of the waves commanding considerable attention is known as the delivery model. It is deceptive for it can appear one moment as ‘blended learning’ and in the very same instant change to ‘fully online’. Another powerful wave is the audience. This is fickle for it can appear both as ‘desperate to learn’ or needing to be ‘seduced’. Yet another is the treacherous twins who have been known to founder many a good ship. Twin A builds on the debate surrounding the absence of strong theoretical foundations governing the application of computer based instruction and is called: Is the research pseudo-science (Reeves, 1993)? Twin B arises from the lack of well-designed media comparison studies to measure learning effectiveness and is known as: how effective is technology driven education (Joy & Garcia, 2000)? Finally, and perhaps more importantly, there are the serial waves which arrive steadily and are known variously as constructivist or discovery based orientation (Doolittle, 1999; Johanssen, 2001; Oliver 2001), the conversational framework (Laurillard, 1998) and/or the design must reflect the reality of learner differences or orientations (Martinez and al, 2000).

Given such a tumultuous sea, I advocate that the ship’s compass heading must be: ‘Good teaching is good teaching, be it in a Face-to-Face (F2F) or online environment’. Further, the ease with which the vessel known as ‘Effective Online Learning’ negotiates the contentious waves will be consonant with the ability of its crew of educators to morph good teaching practices to the online learning environment. And finally, that such morphing must occur within an easily understood framework, supported by recognised dimensions of effective online learning and teaching (Levin et al., 2001).

Rationale for Morphing

Education has consistently built upon what is known, both in its research and practice. What is not reflected however, is the acknowledgement that the transition to the online learning environment by most teachers will depend on the following critical factors:

  1. Teachers must have a solid understanding of the nature and function of the tools available, and
  2. Administrators must recognise and support teachers who build upon their successful classroom practices, be they expository or discovery driven.

Though the latter approach is preferred, it must be acknowledged that there is a place for both pedagogies. The merits of these positions are derived from long standing successful F2F practices which reflect solid empirical evidence related to the nature of learning.

What is worrisome is the current tendency to dismiss the early ventures of teachers into the online platform as inappropriate because such ventures tend to focus more on the content rather than the use of content. This may be true, but it is by building upon what one knows that one is able to venture more easily into the unknown.