To be or not to be: Learner centered?

The increasing number of online courses offered by universities across the globe is setting the pace for the others to adopt (or be left out).

According to a recent publication by Babson Research Group, 70% of universities in the United States indicate that online learning is critical to their long term strategy.

This publication is downloadable in the hyperlink here: Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States.

What online teaching means or looks like probably depends on the context.

An emerging formula with online courses like Coursera can be summed up as the following:

Online teaching =  Video lectures+

                                 Online learning materials +

                                 Online discussion board +

                                 Online quizzes/Assessments +

                                Email announcements/Administration

Although Coursera clearly states that their pedagogical underpinning is mastery  learning, it is sometimes perceived to be learner-centric.

The rationale given is that (1) the videos allow for self-directed or independent or differentiated learning and (2) online discussions allow for critical & reflective thinking and collaborative learning.

But is it really learner-centric?

The lecturer is still the one delivering the information through the videos. What has changed is the mode of delivery. Instead of face-to-face delivery, this has become video-recorded. And the video recording affords itself for pausing, stopping, fast forwarding and reviewing. But other than this flexibility, the delivery is still unidirectional: from teacher to learner.

The counter argument to this is often that the online discussions are learner-centered because it is learner-led.

The extent to which online discussions are learner-centered depends on how online discussions are facilitated. The mere inclusion of online discussions is not going to mean that it is automatically learner-centric. Likewise, simply posting the discussion question with minimal facilitation is not learner-centric. The instructor still needs to play an important role as a facilitator in managing the discussion, providing feedback and summarizing the key points. Having said that, it must be acknowledged that facilitating online discussions can be challenging.

The success of the online discussion is not just dependent on the facilitator (facilitation skills) and the learners (active participation) but also the administration of online discussion. This refers to the questions posed, assessment of the discussion, the requirements of the discussion, and the structure of the discussion. Technical aspects would play a part too.

There are advantages to both learner-centric and teacher-centric  approaches to online teaching (just as there are disadvantages to each of them). So, should we embrace the teacher-centric or learner-centric teaching model for online teaching?

Often we think that the choices in life are dualistic in nature. To be or not to be, Black or White, Left or Right, Yes or No, On or Off, Zero or One, All or None, Heads or Tails, Teacher-centered or Learner-centered. But there could be a third alternative way (or even more ways).

While video lectures may be considered as teacher-centric, they are well suited to deliver information ahead of the lessons. However, we could use engaging, face-to-face or online, learner-centric activities to promote active learning that is meaningful to students. Thus, a possible alternative approach could be learning-centered teaching,  that is, a blend of teacher and student-centric teaching, aligned with the university’s vision and mission, to equip learners for a better future.

In my view, the choice in not one way or the other. But it is to choose either of the two,  depending on how well the method fits with the teaching and learning activities. The bottom line is that we are able to harness the potential of technology in delivering engaging, meaningful, relevant and flexible learning experience to our students. In addition to choosing appropriately, it is important to implement the chosen method effectively.

What do you think?

Contributed by Dr. Nachamma Sockalingam, Lecturer, TLC



About tlcunisim

This is the TLC UniSIM blog: the virtual community space for associates and faculty members to share ideas on teaching and learning. This blog is edited by Dr. Abdel Halim Sykes, Lecturer, Teaching and Learning Centre, SIM University, Singapore.
Image | This entry was posted in Jan 2013 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.