Online Teaching In My Nutshell








         Online students are particularly at risk for dropping out.  Karen Frankola

 (2009)  lists the most common reasons:

  • students don’t have enough time
  • lack of motivation
  • problems with technology
  • individual learning preferences
  • lack of student support
  • poorly designed course
  • substandard/inexperienced instructors  


         Tom Muhlmann (2009)  explains how instructional design is critical to students’ success in an online course: “an instructional designer takes information and presents it to the learners so that they can see its relationship and develop context.”  How can you encourage the student to commit to his or her learning?  To ensure that learning occurs, our focus must be on meaning and not on information.  We must intentionally design the course in a way that students can see the relationship between the pieces of information.  Images, text and multimedia are not for decoration or entertainment but need to have a purpose and contribute to the learning.  The better our instructional design, the more likely the learner will be engaged and succeed.  


Retrieved from : Kuhlmann (2009)


Clear Objectives

         One of the secrets of effective online teaching is to create clear learning objectives that guide and inform every decision during the planning stage of the course, like a GPS that guides us on the road to our destination. (Horton 2012). 

         The objectives must aim beyond knowledge: they must add to the students’ abilities.  The teaching/learning paradigm is shifing from what students know to what they can do.


Community of Inquiry

          Akyol and Garrison (2011) talk of the Community of Inquiry as the framework where cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence are the “dynamic, interdependent elements” that explain effective online learning. 

         Garrison & Cleveland-Innes (2005) say that through the use of various Web 2.0 Tools, “participants are able to maintain engagement in a community of learners when and where they choose.  A community of inquiry (CoI) is created where interaction and reflection are sustained; where ideas can be explored and critiqued; and where the process of critical inquiry can be scaffolded and modeled.  A CoI must include various combinations of interaction among content, teachers, and students (student/content, teacher/students, students/students).”  In module 2’s roundtable forum, Ali (2/20/2012) provided a great site: “100 Helpful Web Tools for Every Kind of Learner“. 

Social Presence

         Judith Boettcher (revised 2012)  describes social presence as the easiest of the three presences to achieve.  “For a community of learners to develop, you also want to encourage your learners to become real to each other, and so designing into your courses ways for them to share more of who they are builds connections and social presence among your learners.” 

Cognitive presence

         I agree with Boettcher that the concept of cognitive presence is comprised of two key elements :

  1. individual learners’ constructing meaning;
  2. sustained communication among a community of learners.

         This requires planning activities that encourage questioning, probing and reflecting.  In this way, learners will construct personal meaning through the process of inquiry.  The discussion forum  is one strategy that accommodates this learning process.  We must steer away from lecturing and telling in which the learner is mentally passive. 

Teacher presence

          According to Shea, Fredericksen, Pickett and Pelz (2012), teacher presence is “the design facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the realization of personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes”.

         As an online instructor, I establish teacher presence by :  (Anderson, et al. 2001)

  1. planning and preparing course design and organization,
  2. setting up dialogue facilitation, and
  3. providing direct instruction.


Student Centered

         I believe students need to learn concepts and develop skills that are relevant to living and working.  Students need to be able to analyze and solve the types of problems they will face day to day.  For meaningful long term learning to occur, the student must be active in his or her learning process. 


Principles of Student-Centered Activities
  • teacher is a guide and facilitator
  • teacher probes and prompts
  • teacher responds and adapts learning activities to students needs
  • students are actively involved in their own learning; they explore and choose what is appropriate for problem-solving and task completion; they share and collaborate with others
  • students are encouraged to use self-assessment measures
  • students are motivated and put effort towards deeper learning


         Tom Muhlmann (2009) tells this story:  “When I was a young video producer, I had to submit my projects for a peer review every Friday.  I wasn’t allowed to explain the intent of the project.  Instead, I had to play the video and then listen to what people got out of it.  One of the goals of this exercise was to see if those watching the videos got the message I intended.  In most cases they didn’t.  Usually, the reason was that my videos were designed for me and not my audience.”


Absorb – Do – Connect

          William Horton (2012) explains that activities are necessary to provoke mental experiences in order for learning to occur.  He states three types of learning activities:   


1)           Absorb = learners get content to digest; requires reading, listening, watching.

 2)           Do = learners apply the new information in practice exercises in new contexts, like playing a game or answering questions

3)           Connect = learners assimilate new information to their existing mental scheme; personal meaning is created for retrieval at a later date.


Cognitive Load

           Through my own experience as a student, it’s obvious to me that the cognitive load must be kept manageable. Now as the teacher, I must stretch the learner without overextending him or her to the breaking point that provokes discouragement and dropping out. Giving too much material to process at once produces cognitive overload and reduces the depth and breadth of understanding.  Picture yourself pouring  water into a glass: once the glass has reached its limit, the excess water is lost in the overflow. 



(picture retrieved from:


Learning Theories  

         There are many theories to explain how learning occurs.  My position is that meaningful learning will result by combining elements from different theories to benefit as many participants as possible, teachers and students alike, and to solve various learning situations as they arise. I need to remain flexible and adapt instructional design to my students’ needs.  I feel this approach to be the best suited and most inclusive since no one theory or strategy can address them all.

           For an introduction to several learning theories, see my EDUC300 Module 2 blog  “What Do I Know About Online Teaching?” or consult “Index of Learning Theories and Models”   for a more comprehensive list. 


Assessment centered

         My view of an assessment centered course refers to the gathering of as much information as possible from as many different sources and formats as possible in order to get a more complete picture of the students’ learning in order to create a more precise and complete picture about his or her achievement and where any gaps lay.

         Assessment is providing opportunities for the learner to prove his or her learning meaningful tasks that integrates many facets of the learning. The following are the two types of assessment.

1.  Formative assessment

         This is a form of instruction: it is guiding the students along in their learning and understanding in order to achieve the course’s objectives.  Garrison & Ehringhaus (2007) call it practicing.  They also say that this “descriptive feedback is the most significant instructional strategy to move students forward in their learning”.  Students get specific details about what is good in their work and what needs improvement.  Several strategies can be incorporated in a course’s instructional design:

  • self-assessment
  • peer-assessment 
  • teacher feedback (especially in the beginning)
  • group e-mails for necessary clarifications 
  • questions and answers exchanged in DF interactions provides information on learners’ understanding
  • rubrics to provide the framework with clear criteria for learners to be aware of what elements are included in quality work


I believe formative evaluations are more effective if made public to all participants. Learners can learn from each other’s work and improve their own more quickly.

2.    Summative assessment

          Summative assessment gives a snapshot of what a person knows or does not know at a specific point in time.  A test at the end of a chapter, a midterm, a final exam, project or portfolio are examples; these marks make up the student’s report card. 



         That’s my nutshell for online teaching.  Though my learner’s journey in EDUC300 is at its end, the doors to online teaching are opening wider and my wings are spread for takeoff.  Care to join me? 


NOTE:  For more on course designing, visit “Best Practices In Designing Online Courses”.  There you’ll find a useful array of concise information and examples to get you started. 


Self-assessment:   A  (I believe all rubric elements have been met adequately.)


Works Cited

Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D.R., Archer, W. (2001). JALN 5(2), p. 1-17. Retrieved from, on July 26, 2012.

Akyol, Z., Garrison, D.R. (2011). Assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry. Internet and Higher Education, 14, 183-190. 

Boettcher, J. (revised 2012). A Garden of Three Presences. Retrieved from, on July 25, 2012.

Frankola, K. (n.d.). Why Online Learners Drop Out.  Retrieved from, on July 26, 2012.

 Garrison, C., & Ehringhaus, M. (2007). Formative and summative assessments in the classroom. Retrieved from, on July 23, 2012.

Muhlmann, T. (2009). Retrieved from, on July 25, 2012. 

Shea, P., Fredericksen, E., Pickett, A., Pelz, W., (2003).  A Preliminary Investigation of “teaching presence” in the SUNY learning network. Retrieved from, on July 25, 2012.

One thought on “Online Teaching In My Nutshell

  1. I will be quoting you in my blog this week. I hope you found this metacognitive tool added to your learning. I also hope you will continuing blogging.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *