In the Effective Online Learning Environments post I listed the four characteristics (Terry Anderson refers to them as “lenses”) of an effective online learning environment: learner-centered, community centered, knowledge-centered, and assessment-centered. In this post I will deal with the learner-centered lens.
Being learner-centered, Terry Anderson reminds us, is not a context within “which the whims and peculiarities of each individual learner are slavishly catered to” (p. 47). It must be recognized that “the needs of the teacher, the institution, and the larger society that provides support for the student, the institution, and often for a group or class of students, as well as for the particular needs of the individual learns” (p. 47) For this reason, Anderson asserts that “learning-centered” is a better descriptor than “learner-centered.”
Learner-centered does take into account the knowledge (including preconceptions and misconceptions) and cultural attributes learners bring to the course. Activities in these environments “make extensive use of diagnostic tools and activities” to discover these characteristics. Anderson points out that the online course environment can present challenges to faculty in gathering this information “because teachers are less able to interact transparently with students–especially in the critical early stages of the learning community formation” (p. 48).
Anderson argues that it is essential faculty make time at the beginning of the course to work on this process. The use of surveys or questionnaires are a couple of ways to gather this information. He also recommends icebreaker activities or providing an opportunity at the beginning of the course for learners to express any “issues or concerns” to the class and the instructor. The process, however, should not end there. He argues, an “effective online teacher is constantly probing for learner comfort and competence with the intervening technology, and providing safe environments for learners” to increase their skills with technology (p. 48).
[Terry Anderson, “Toward a Theory of Online Learning,” in Terry Anderson and Fathi Elloumi, editors, Theory and Practice of Online Learning (Athabasca, AB T9S 3A3, Canada: Athabasca University, 2004), 35. The original research is found in John D. Bransford, Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cockering, editors, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999).]