Distance Learning

Most Faculty Tackle Synchronous Online Instruction Ill-Prepared

If the outcome from online courses is uneven, it's little wonder. Most instructors aren't exactly up to speed on what to expect. When it comes to learning how to teach online, most faculty receive their training before they've even entered a virtual classroom for the first time. Half rely on self-learning to figure out what they need to do. And when they receive training, there's more emphasis on learning how to use the technology involved than in how to adapt their pedagogy or content to the new online environment.

Those results were shared in a new report from the Online Learning Consortium, a non-profit professional organization that aims to help educators integrate best practices into their online instruction. The OLC researchers involved in developing "What Can We Learn From Our Colleagues? A Framework for Virtual Classroom Training" solicited online responses from 733 people with "substantial" experience in teaching and "significant" experience in online.

Among the instructors who had taught using a synchronous classroom, two thirds (66 percent) had received training specifically on how to do that. A quarter (27 percent) received a month or more of training; a third (32 percent) received less than a day. A remarkable 55 percent took their training before going into a virtual classroom.

Half of the respondents were primarily self-taught; only 24 percent received formal training; and the remaining 26 percent did their learning through informal conversations with peers who teach synchronously. The training included lots of reading, video tutorials and listening to lectures — in other words, as the report's authors noted, "sage on the stage" activities that are "antithetical to effective virtual classroom pedagogy." Forty-one percent of people said synchronous activities "played little or no role in their virtual classroom training"; only 30 percent found that synchronous activities did play a substantial role.

What didn't exist in training for almost four in five respondents were any of the following:

  • "Shadowing" of an experienced online instructor;
  • Teaching or co-teaching in a classroom being monitored by a trainer or experienced online instructor; or
  • Reviewing recordings of their own performances in a virtual classroom.

The key learning from the survey, the report's authors stated, was shifting the emphasis in training away from activities such as discussion with other instructors or reading relevant material and toward gaining experience as a student in a virtual course and having an experienced trainer monitoring the new virtual course instructor's experiences in the online class. Also helpful, the survey found:

  • Peer coaching from colleagues;
  • Reviewing recordings of the instructor's performance; and
  • Consulting with an instructional designer.

The full report is available on the OLC website with registration.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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