Using e-learning, whether it is in a school, training or higher education context, requires new knowledge and skills and adds complexity to the work of instructors. As Bates & Sangrà (2011) point out, “It is very difficult if not impossible for instructors to innovate or teach differently from the historical or mythical model if they have no understanding of possible alternative ways to teach, based on theory and research” (p. 190).
Using e-learning effectively requires both technical and pedagogical skills. Too often faculty readiness for e-learning focuses almost exclusively on the technical skills when, in fact, these are relatively minor when compared to the pedagogical. Ideally, faculty will have enough technical support to allow them to focus on the pedagogical issues. However they will still need to know how to use the various tools that are being deployed to deliver e-learning. Beyond the basic IT skills of using a computer, email and a browser, faculty will probably need to know the basics of using a learning management system as well as blogs and possibly wikis and social media.
However, it is the pedagogical skills that should be the focus of faculty readiness and because of the way research universities are organized and faculty are hired, this will probably require some faculty training. Bates & Sangrà (2011) provide some very concrete and prescriptive recommendations for a systematic approach that goes far beyond the typical training in how to use the tools:
“The use of technology needs to be combined with an understanding of how students learn, how skills and competencies are developed, how knowledge is represented through different media and then processed and how learners use different senses for learning. It means examining different approaches to learning, such as the construction of knowledge compared with a transmissive model of teaching, and how technology best works with either approach” (p. 195).
They recommend a one-year, intensive, mandatory, pre-service training program that covers the following topics:
- The biological basis of learning
- Learning theories
- The design of teaching
- Learning technologies
- Project work related to the design and delivery of an e-learning course
- Electives that might include courses on research in teaching and learning, emerging technology, cultural and international issues and others.
In addition to faculty training, Bates & Sangrà call for training of middle and senior level managers so they are better equipped to make decisions related to educational technology and e-learning.
Read Bates, A.W. & Sangrà, A. (2011). Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, pp. 190-208.
The optional chapter by Wilson (2007) provides a broader perspective on faculty development for e-learning by reviewing the approaches used at a number of different institutions. The strategies include focusing on the characteristic of the innovation, adopting a staged approach to skills acquisition, embedding skills and processes associated with teaching and learning in the e-learning context in formal, accredited courses; fostering peer learning; framing faculty development as project-based learning; and using the online environment to deliver faculty development.
All too often we overlook the issue of learner readiness and assume that today’s students are so tech savvy that they won’t need any help using new learning technologies and navigating e-learning environments. The digital natives discourse has done a lot to perpetuate this idea but the research shows that the notion of the digitally literate learner is largely a myth. While today’s learners may have many technology skills and be proficient users of smart phones and other devices, they are not necessarily equipped with the skills needed to learn in online environments and to use the new technologies for educational purposes. But learner readiness, too, goes much further than just ensuring that students have the technical skills. As Moisey & Hughes (2014) point out, learner readiness encompasses a wide range of cognitive, metacognitive, technical, administrative and programmatic support:
“A constellation of resources and array of services are required to support the online learner in a manner that acknowledges individual differences and addresses them in the design of learner support services. Depending on the nature of the organization – a mega-university, a dedicated distance learning institution, or a dual-mode institution – the manner in which services and supports are provided may vary. But the aim remains the same: to provide an ideal learning environment that promotes the learner’s independence while facilitating the learning process with supports that are flexible, accessible, and readily available when needed” (p. 437).
The following are readiness surveys for instructors and students that will give you an idea of what some of the basic skills are for both groups. Take a look at them and do your own readiness self-assessment:
- Wilson, G. (2007). New Skills and Ways of Working: Faculty Development for E-Learning. In M. Bullen & D.P. Janes (Eds.) Making the Transition to E-Learning: Strategies & Issues (pp. 121-138). Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing.