Passion and Professional Development… Online

I’m currently taking an online class in facilitating online classes. After having been a student online for many years at the beginning of my doctoral program, I’m looking forward to teaching online in the Fall. In the meantime, as a student who has to make discussion posts, I once again have new fodder for blog posts.

In this assignment we were asked to compare and contrast face-to-face and online teaching, based on reading an online facilitator’s reflection and chapter one of Facilitating Online Learning.

As I read the assigned reading for this week I was reminded of an article I wrote a while back. It was based on my experience as a professional developer, and I called it “Passion and Professional Development: Four Philosophies For Lead Learners.”It was focused primarily on face-to-face learning. In fact, one of the philosophies was called “the face-to-face philosophy.” However, many of the principles carry over into online facilitation. I’ve structured my comparison and contrast of face-to-face and online teaching based on these philosophies.

The Lead Learner Philosophy… Online

At the time I wrote that professional developers (and teachers really) should think of themselves as Lead Learners, rather than trainers or instructors. I believe this philosophy can still be an asset online. It complements the “guide on the side” philosophy advocated by our text book.

The Face-to-Face Philosophy… Online

Though it shouldn’t come as any surprise that some of this philosophy doesn’t apply online. I think other parts do. For instance, I wrote that lead learners should respect the participants in their sessions by tapping into the participants’ experience, passions, and creative energy. In essence I was arguing against wasting anyone’s time with a lecture. This may be doubly important online. As the “What It Means to Teach Online” reflection suggested, even grading becomes “secondary to the connections… being made with and between students.” Also, this need to tap into participants’ passions is the reason behind the protocols and rituals the text book advocates we include at the start of a course. The conversations in our break room are an example of this. In this case, my philosophy might be better called the Personal Connection Philosophy… or something like that. ;)

The “And Life” Philosophy… Online

This extends the philosophy of personal connect further. The idea is connecting with participants’ lives outside of school might help them learn more than staying focused purely on ‘academics.’ The text book presents this as the first principle of effective moderating: “Moderating takes place in both a professional and a social context” (p. 5) This also works for the facilitator; the best facilitation will happen when we are personally connected to the class. As the facilitator in the reflection said, “I realized that I could share myself with my class, through my writing, in a way that would truly help my students get to know me.”

The Kindergarden Philosophy… Online

I’ll just repeat the essence of this one, because it is just as true for adults learning online as it is for Kindergartners learning in a classroom: “Each positive experience a student has in kindergarten is a $1 deposit in their ‘love of learning’ bank, but every negative experience is a $10 withdrawal.”

Other Thoughts

What we loose in body language, nuances, and immediacy, I think we more than make up for in participation and reflection. I now find it much harder to be a student in a face-to-face context (though I still enjoy leading workshops). As a student I miss several key features of online learning:

  • Everyone can participate… as much as they like.
  • No one is interrupted… and conversely the opportunity to jump in is never lost.
  • There is time for reflection – and for composition of answers.

Without these things, I feel much “stupider” face to face. I’d like to help participants take as much advantage of these elements when teaching online as possible. ;)