Some Salient Thoughts Related to Online Learning

The idea with online courses originally stems from extending learning to those that otherwise would not have access to it because of distance, connecting instructor and students, but also, and perhaps more so today, for convenience of students, such as scheduling (Shale, 2010, p.90-91).  One question I have been pondering is, do students learn to think as well in the online environment as they do in the face-to-face classroom?

In November 2011, I was fortunate to visit with University of Central Florida (UCF) and meet many of the people who spearhead blended and online learning at this institution. I was very impressed with their forward-thinking from the conception of distance learning and onward, as I learned how their program had developed. Research conducted by UCF gave that many students, even though on-campus already, preferred the online format. This brought UCF to invest heavily in blended courses, combining the best of face-to-face meetings, with the convenience and best of having a portion of the learning occur online over a learning management system. At UCF the online learning has grown exponentially since it’s conception and the support for blended learning has been invested in not only through capital but also through investment in people that create innovative and engaging online learning for students in the 21st century using technology tools. This is not just using LMS platforms, but using the best of animation tools, video, and assessment techniques to keep students engaged and on top of learning. Today UCF is a prime example of how an institution can follow current trends in education, demands from the student population, but also invest in the future of the institution though such investments and provide curriculum aligned with the 21st century.

Shale (2010) provides some interesting thoughts that I agree with; He notes that, “[f]lawed though it often is, the traditional educational transaction is predicated on the philosophy that knowledge is induced through shared experience” (p.102) or social constructivism. He further notes that in reality it is often still more “telling” students what to do (p.102) and that distance learning mainly ends up being the same thing, that is, a distributed “…’telling’ student what to think rather than helping them know how to think” (p.103) through the use of technology.

So, this week I have been thinking about how we can make thinking salient within the online classroom. There is some foundational constructivist learning research in the area of making thinking visible by Harvard professors Ritchhart and Perkins (2008) who together with colleagues in many countries have developed and researched a framework for this purpose. However, they have tested it in the face-to-face classroom, not the online classroom. As I have been reading their work, I have become curious as to how it can be applied online, because I am certain it can. However, I think it may require really dedicated and motivated instructors ready to go the extra mile and place the extra effort into the teaching that this will entail.

I’m ready to learn more about this and try it out.

Ritchard, R., & Perkins, D. (2008). Making thinking visible. Educational Leadership. Vol 65(5), p 57-61.

Shale, D. (2010). Beyond boundaries: The evolution of distance education. In M. F. Cleveland and D. R. Garrison. An introduction to distance education: Understanding teaching and learning in a new era. New York, NY: Routledge.


One response to “Some Salient Thoughts Related to Online Learning

  1. Heida Steina Reed


    I think that Shale is a little off when he says that distance learning mainly ends up being the same thing, that is, a distributed “…’telling’ student what to think rather than helping them know how to think”. I think this depends on the student who he or she is and if he or she is willing to think for themselves.


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