A Path to Successful Online and Blended Learning

This past year my main focus has been on launching a blended learning initiative, working to share resources with a select group of instructors and build their knowledge base. Woven in has been work on clarifying regulations, both at the local and state level. What can we do when it comes to blended and online learning? For our diverse student population and system requirements, questions come up about financial aid, seat time,

road sign of learning

Learning Road Sign

accessibility, etc.

As this project slowly progresses and periodically changes course, from time to time I seek feedback from the instructors on what they need and how I can help them move forward. Recently, I scheduled face-to-face meetings with each instructor to gather that exact information and more.

While some of what was shared as “what they need” is not under my purview, like “I have no Wi-Fi available in my classroom or work area,” “I am having a hard time getting in the swing of things this year,” “I am concerned that the wrong students are enrolled in my class”; some feedback did fall where I can help!

One area that came up speaks to the big picture of online and blended learning. What works online? What are other teachers doing in an online or blended classroom? What do I need to know to be successful as an online instructor?

A recent article by Mary Burns on the eLearning Industry site, “Top 5 Online Learning Skills That a Successful Online Instructor Has,” does an excellent job of addressing these questions. She says online instructors need specific skills in addition to those for face-to-face instructors. Knowledge of content is a must in online, blended or face-to-face and is usually the strongest skill for instructors. That’s a given. The article also addresses the need for skills in online and blended pedagogy as well as content. While communication is important in all aspects of instruction, conveying a presence or personality, the ability to communicate in a variety of ways and knowing when and how to respond in an online environment are essential when teaching and learning takes place online. Finally, classroom management is a skill not often thought about in an online context, but should be, according to the author. Without verbal and facial queues, instructors, as managers of student learning, need to be purposeful, providing just-in-time support, motivation, monitoring progress, using whatever means are available. Remember,student success is the goal.

The top 5 online learning skills from the article are:

  1. Content knowledge
  2. Blend pedagogy, technology and content
  3. Establish an online presence
  4. Effective communication skills
  5. Ability to manage learners in an online class

An advantage of managing online learners includes the amount of data on student participation and the availability of numerous tools to connect with students. Once an instructor feels grounded in their online skills, integration or expansion of tools can enhance the curriculum and student participation.

The following three articles offer a list of tools to investigate.

  1. Top 10 Tips to Use Collaboration Tools in eLearning
  2. The Top 5 Blended and Flipped Classroom Tools
  3. Top 100 Tools for Learning 2014: Best of Breed

While it seems contradictory to say as online instructors we need to first focus on ourselves, the only way we can best serve students is to fine tune our instructional skills. None of the tools (bells and whistles) will impact student engagement and participation if we do not first have a base in online pedagogy and instruction. Let’s face it, teaching and learning online has different challenges than face-to-face. The stronger our foundation, the clearer our path and the better our chance of building student success!

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