Another dot in the blogosphere?

It’s not the same

Posted on: June 12, 2020

Remote teaching is not the same as online learning or distance learning.

Remote teaching is what many teachers had to resort to doing due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines. Those in the more connected world resorted to video conferencing to try to recreate what worked in classrooms.

Teachers complained that such teaching was inferior to teaching face-to-face. They probably do not realise that online teaching is not the same as online learning.

A J Juliani explained the differences as did Hodges et al at EduCause. Lisa Lane reflected on why comparisons are not legitimate and cited a review of literature by Alison Witherspoon on the efficacy of online learning.

I borrow ideas from Lane and elaborate on why complaints about online or remote teaching are misplaced. Classroom teaching is like being a train driver while online facilitation is like piloting a plane.

Moving a few hundred people on a train and a plane are similar in that both have passengers, fuel, refreshments, rules, and destinations. In educational terms, these could be equivalent to the learners, professional development, resources, standards, and outcomes respectively.

Both typically have set paths (instructional strategies), but a train travels in two dimensions while a plane operates in three dimensions. The latter is more complex. While content and pedagogical boundaries are clearer in a classroom, they can be more open online. Consider how learners have greater access to other resources online (Google, YouTube, WhatApp) than in a more regulated classroom. This makes teaching content more challenging online.

Online learners also need operate asynchronously and not see each other as much (or even at all). Navigating this lack of social presence is like flying a plane blind. An online facilitator has to learn how to create social presence or hyper develop other senses to compensate.

Juliani reflected on how much design effort goes into online learning modules. I can relate. Classroom performance might look like 10% preparation and 90% teaching. Online work is often the other way around — 90% preparation and 10% facilitation.

Teaching online is not the same as online learning. As much as teachers might have learnt from making mistakes during remote teaching, they do not have preparation to be online designers and facilitators. They might transfer some ideas and practices as classroom teachers into online environments, but that is like blindly pushing train engineers into plane cockpits and telling them to fly.

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