Designing an effective online learning environment (OLE) requires strong pedagogical grounding.

10 Major Pedagogical Principles Shaping Online Learning

Online learning is mooted as the most desirable form of learning these days. But why are they becoming so popular among learners? Is it the technology that attracts the youth and professionals alike, or is it something beyond it? Something which builds the entire learning environment and directs the pace and delivery of online learning?

Pedagogy is the science and art of teaching or educating others. It is grounded in the cognitive sciences which try to understand the underlying processes and mechanisms leading to learning. Many research studies have been undertaken to know how a learner learns or simply how learning takes place. Online learning, as the name suggests, is a type of learning which occurs online or with the help of the Internet and the World Wide Web (www).

The Internet and World Wide Web are offerings of technological advancements enabling people to interact and communicate with each other, no matter how distant they are. The integration of this technology with the science of learning is giving an incredible experience to learners nowadays. The latest technology-concepts like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) are making learning quite engaging and immersive to give learners a feeling of imaginativeness and joy during the learning process. However, the unbounded joy of online learning isn’t just a product of technology!

10 Most Important Pedagogical Principles Finding Technological Application in Online Learning

Designing an effective online learning environment (OLE) requires strong pedagogical grounding. In simple words, pedagogy is the soul and technology is the vehicle for transacting learning in an online environment. Let’s shed some focus on the pedagogical aspects of some of the features of online learning which is being admired by both the learners and the educators. It will also provide some insights into how the online course designers create a well-structured OLE.

10 Major Pedagogical Principles Shaping Online Learning
Pedagogy is the soul and technology is the vehicle for transacting learning in an online environment.

1. The S—R Approach of Behaviorism

Ever wondered why gamification of learning appeals so much to the learners, or why taking an online test feels much lighter than the one taken manually? Gamification, automation, instant feedback, and response to the learners’ query in an online environment are all embedded in the behaviorist theory of cause and effect.

The proponents of behaviourism posited that learning is a relative change in behavior of learner and that learning can be achieved through conditioning, repetition, and habit formation. B.F. Skinner further added the element of rewards and reinforcements in strengthening the desired behavior of learner.

When the learner acquires learning though games, he/she gets a sense of accomplishment on moving from one level to another. Likewise, online practice tests are automated to give feedback immediately to the learner which acts as a reinforcement.

2. Mental Schema of Cognitivism

Cognitivist perceives learning as a mental process and tries to understand the underlying phenomena behind the complex processes of thinking, memory, problem solving, attention and perception. It talks about building mental schemata or organization of thoughts that form the body of knowledge through assimilation and accommodation of information. Through this arises the utility of experiential learning and relating real life experiences with the new information and then accommodating it into one’s memory.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) just builds those experiences in a livelier manner. Also, the revised Bloom’s taxonomy given by Anderson & Kratwohal in 2001 provides a classification of cognitive abilities from basic to advanced:

Remembering ➡ Understanding ➡ Applying ➡ Analyzing ➡ Evaluating ➡ Creating

This classification has helped teachers and instructional designers to plan and organize content in such a manner that a learner is able to acquire these abilities step by step till he/she eventually acquires the higher order thinking skills. Creativity is the highest form of cognitive ability and this is being adjudged in online programs through activities like video creation, making of blogs, e-portfolios, etc.

10 Major Pedagogical Principles Shaping Online Learning
Face-to-face classroom method of instruction is fast fading out because of its many limitations.

3. Robert Gagne’s 9 Events of Instructional Designing

Instructional designing is the systematic planning, designing, developing, and delivery of an instructional material in a coherent and consistent manner to make the acquisition of learning effective, engaging, and appealing for the learner.

Instructional designing has derived its principles from Robert Gagne’s nine stages in instruction. These are :

Gain Attention ➡ State Goals & Objectives of Learning Stimulation of Previous Knowledge Presentation of Content Providing Guidance Elicit Performance Provide Feedback Assess Performance Enhance Retention and Transfer of Learning to Other Learning Context

Does it sound familiar? Most of the lessons, online or offline, are based on these nine events. Just pick any of the available self-learning materials/modules (SLMs) and check yourself! The concept of self-paced and adaptive learning emerging of late in online learning environments are just off-shoots of Gagne’s taxonomy.

4. Information Processing Model

This model of cognitive learning compares human brain with the functioning of a computer. Just like a computer has input device, processing, and storage unit followed by an output device; the human brain also receives information from the external environment through its sensory organs like eyes and ears. The brain then processes this information whose storage moves from working to short-term and then to long-term memory depending upon more and more use of that information by brain.

The ability to retrieve the information whenever required is similar to output functioning of brain. Though, there is this similarity, human brain has infinite potential abilities and is a curious organ for the researchers and brain scientists who still haven’t succeeded in understanding even 50 percent of it.

The information processing model has certainly guided the designing of learning modules and techniques to remember information by the learner. Use of multimedia to attract all kinds of sense organs, drill and simulated practices, making linkages and associations of known information with the unknown, and proceeding from concrete experiences towards abstract are all coming from the information processing model of learning.

Abstract concepts can be easily taught in an online learning environment with the help of techniques like 3D animations, simulations, augmented reality and virtual reality.  

10 Major Pedagogical Principles Shaping Online Learning
Online learning environments are fast becoming popular because of it’s learner-driven content based on sound pedagogical principles.

5. Social Constructivism & Zone of Proximal Development

While cognitive constructivism predicate that learning is constructed by an individual on the basis of his/her experiences; social constructivism propounds that learning is a social phenomenon that is acquired through interaction and collaboration. The latter has an edge over the former and is also more aligned with the present times of social networking and online collaboration. The principle also talks about ‘situated cognition’ which emphasizes that knowledge is situated in the context and culture within which it is learned. It emphasizes that the practice of reflection is important for learning to take place.

Lev Vygotsky in his concept of zone of proximal development (ZPD) explains this zone as that stage of development. In ZPD, a learner can gradually do certain tasks after a period of interaction with a knowledgeable other who guides and helps in making sense out of the task. The learner can independently solve problems once this zone of proximal development is attained.

There are many takeaways here relevant to online learning. These include use of threaded discussion forums, chatbots, use of social networking forums like facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. along with online collaborative tools like wikis, dropbox, google docs, slideshare, flickr and other such open source or cloud-based software.

In tune with situated cognition and reflective practices, the commonly available application which can be utilized in an OLE are blogs, podcasts, you tube channels, and e-portfolios. ZPD throws light on mentorship and how learning of children and novice learners can be guided in an OLE.

6. Community of Inquiry

This model developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer supports design of online and blended courses which can integrate together the three kinds of presences this model talks about. These are cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence.

When all these presences are integrated, the learning that takes place is more meaningful and deep. In this model, a group or community of individuals, comprising both students and teachers, interact and engage among themselves in a constructive inquiry to get holistic understanding of things.The OLE can be so designed that learners and instructors can actively share ideas, information, and opinions. This kind of environment helps in developing higher order skills like critical thinking and reflection. Learning management systems (LMS) can best incorporate such a community of inquiry.

7. Equivalency Interaction Theory

This theory lays emphasis on the component of interaction. Terry Anderson in this theory described three kind of interactions which can occur in an OLE. These are learner-content, learner-instructor, and learner-learner interaction. Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction is at a high level even if the other two is offered at minimal level, or eliminated completely. High levels of more than one of these three interactions is likely to provide a more satisfying educational experience.

While designing an OLE, the course designers must take into consideration the element of interactivity and try to incorporate it as much as possible.

8. Connectivism

George Siemens, one of the early pioneers of MOOCs, propounded the theory of connectivism in 2004 and described it as a learning theory of the digital age in one of his articles. According to this model, learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environment of shifting core elements which are not entirely under the control of the individual.

The model acknowledges major shifts in the way knowledge flows, grows, and changes because of vast data communication networks. It integrates principles explored by chaos, network, complexity and self-organization theories and lays emphasizes on ability to foster and maintain knowledge flow through social networks and to see connections between ideas and concept.

Accurate and up-to-date knowledge is the intent of all connectivist learning activities as it sees knowledge through the lens of shifting reality. Decision making in terms of choosing what to learn according to its relevancy is crucial along with the skills to navigate across digital networks and ability of lifelong learning.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are the product of this theory, especially the cMOOCs. Designing of an OLE must take into consideration network that allows individuals to explore and making meaning out of those experiences. It also hints towards personalized and customized learning environment.

9.Online Collaborative Learning

Developed by Linda Harasim in 2012, it is an online instructor led collaborative model for assisting learners in problem solving through discourse. It lays three phases of knowledge construction:

  • Idea generation through brainstorming phase where divergent thoughts are gathered.
  • Idea organizing phase where ideas are compared, analyzed and categorized through discussions.
  • Intellectual convergence is the phase where intellectual synthesis and consensus occurs.

It focusses on the facilities of internet to provide learning environment that foster collaboration and knowledge building by following the above three phases.

10. Malcolm Knowles Andragogy

Malcolm Shepherd Knowles is known for making adult learning distinct from how children learn. He popularized the term ‘andragogy’ to particularly understand the science of adult learning. According to the adult-learning theory, adults are self-directed, high in motivation, possess a rich reservoir of experiences, and their learning is oriented towards their immediate need in context to their life situation.

Hence, while designing online courses or instructions for adult learners, things which are kept in mind:

  • The diverse background and experiences of the learners (planning activities accordingly so that they may relate with the information better)
  • Adults are self-directed (more and more of such activities may be provided which give them opportunity to explore and collaborate)
  • The planning of learning module in consultation with the learners
  • Adults are intrinsically motivated to learn (a little guidance when help is required or errors are committed may further help in boosting their motivation)

The adult learning theory is particularly important in higher education and professional training courses.

10 Major Pedagogical Principles Shaping Online Learning
A summary of pedagogical principles along with their corresponding technological applications in online learning environment.

After we have briefly cruised through those complex-sounding pedagogical theories and their implications for designing an impactful OLE, it would do good to know what all have to say together! They convey one fact that each learner is different and although the purpose of each theory is to cater to the individualized needs of every learner, a single theory is not sufficient to meet the needs of all learners.

Therefore, the latest technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), along with other technologies in making, are being diverted towards the need of adaptive and individualized learning. Rapid developments in education fueled by technology is taking place and the future might completely transform the way education is imparted.

Rikisha Bhaumik

    Rikisha Bhaumik is Honorary Associate Editor at Courseware World and has over 5 years of active association with the field of e-learning along with 10 years of active and continued association with school education. She is adept at experimenting with innovative tools and technologies in school education and her direct involvement with learners and pedagogy has given her an augmented insight into the scope of e-learning in school education. Her writing repertoire mainly consists of detailed and research-based articles on various e-learning concepts and trends.

    Rikisha Bhaumik has 18 posts and counting. See all posts by Rikisha Bhaumik

    Rikisha Bhaumik

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