Monday, October 24, 2011

The Role of the Instructor in an Online Learning Environment

The role of the instructor in an online learning environment is that of a learning guide.  No longer is the teacher in the online class the sole keeper of knowledge, holder of answers, and provider of information.  The online classroom opens up opportunities for discoveries and learning that do not, and sometimes cannot, exist in a traditional face to face classroom.

The characteristics of this role as guide rather than manager are as follows:

1. Flexibility- online teachers, in order to be effective, must be flexible.  The learning is no longer black and white; there is room for change, evolution, and individualized instruction.  This means that many times the teacher cannot predict the direction that an assignment, discussion board, or project will take. 

2. Curiosity- online teachers must be curious.  Our students are curious, so if they are learning about new, innovative resources, ideas, and ways of looking at things, then the teacher, as guide, not manager, can learn from them as well.  In traditional face to face teaching, many times, the teacher provides the students with information.  In the online environment, the student oftentimes provides the teacher with information.

3. Initiative- online teachers must take the lead when it comes to modeling appropriate interactions online.  This includes modeling behavior with and for parents as well.  Take initiative when it comes to including the parents/guardians of your students in on the process.  Online learning can be family learning, rather than student only learning.   This can be accomplished through email, posts in discussion boards, tweets on Twitter, content on Blog posts, and comments on Facebook.  Online instructors must lead the way when it comes to supporting the learners in their course, and that oftentimes means supporting family members as well.  Inititative means letting go of fear, changing the way one has traditionally done things, and jumping rather than standing nervously at the top.

In a traditional face to face environment, teachers teach, students learn, and much of the interaction that exists between students is established by the instructor.  In an online learning environment, the roles shift, in many ways.  The teacher guides students through learning, allows for there to be freedom within the set curriculum, and allows for students to be accountable for the "what" part of learning, but take an active role in the "how." The goal of any online teacher should be to help students achieve academic goals, become digital citizens, and understand the power of creating an E-Legacy.  Teaching online does not mean doing what is traditionally done in the classroom using technology.  Instead, the use of technology should transform the way you teach and the way your students learn.