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Understanding online pedagogy

Clare Nelson discusses how effective online pedagogical practice can increase learner engagement and retention.

Providers of education and training are increasingly moving to a blended or online learning model to improve and personalise the learning journey.

This shift is supported by the growing sophistication of learning management systems to track and capture learning analytics that provide information about online student participation and engagement. When used well, educators can analyse the data they collect about their students to improve the design and delivery of their courses and make learning more impactful and relevant.

However, while considerable thought and effort are expended in sourcing attractive and engaging learning resources, sometimes little or no thought is given to the pedagogical shift needed to teach effectively in a blended or online environment. Training for online teachers can be limited to a guided tour of the learning management system’s functionality.

In response to these trends, ACER has developed a short course in online facilitation to provide educators with the skills, knowledge and strategies to deliver high quality online learning. The course draws on best practice research into the theory and practice of online pedagogy, how to facilitate online discussion and collaboration, and how to support student learning in the online environment.

High attrition rates for students undertaking courses wholly online provided the catalyst for research into the causes and how they might be mitigated. Findings show that employing certain online pedagogies can increase student engagement and completion rates.

Professor Gilly Salmon’s five-stage model of e-moderation, for example, is one of the better known approaches, and is based on social constructivism, as are Conrad and Donaldson’s ‘four phases of engagement’, and Hoostein’s ‘four pairs of shoes’ model.

As the prevalence of online learning has expanded, so have virtual professional learning communities focussed on effective online pedagogical practice. Educators post and share their interpretations of sound pedagogical practice, teaching ideas, and creative ways of using the functionality of the learning management system to enhance student learning. 

One innovative shared resource, the Moodle for Motivating Learners, maps the four online behaviour patterns identified by research into the practices of online gamers against activities available in learning management systems. Educators can then customise and personalise their programs according to the student demographic. 

The pedagogical shift required for online teaching inevitably extends to assessment. Online educators have the opportunity to introduce innovative assessment tasks where students are given a range of options to demonstrate their learning, and can do so at a time and place of their choosing.

Online quizzes, auto-marked and with immediate feedback, can be created as formative assessment tasks, and discussion forums and wikis capture synchronous and asynchronous group work. Students can create a digital portfolio of authentic assessment tasks completed in the workplace, or other location, then collate and upload their portfolio to the learning management system for review and grading.

In summary, online educators can use technologies and online pedagogies to enhance their students’ learning journey and make assessment practices more authentic and flexible. Adaptive teaching and learning strategies for the online environment are powerful tools for the educator and student. ■

Find out more:
Want to improve the quality and impact of your online pedagogy? ACER’s accredited Course in Online Facilitation draws on best practice research in online teaching and learning from Australia’s leading independent education research organisation. Delivered online over a 10-week period, the course will equip participants with the skills and knowledge required to implement a range of inclusive pedagogies for engaging and supporting online learners.

RD

About the author

Clare Nelson is the Course Coordinator of Professional Learning at ACER Institute. She creates eLearning resources for professional learning courses.

More [rd] articles by Clare Nelson

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