7 ways humans are critical to online learning


During the 2013 summer, researchers examined the “in-person roles” adult instructors played in eight classrooms affecting 200 students total. More about the methodology and study’s design can be found in the report.

Across all four institutions and eight classrooms surveyed, there were distinct “patterns of behavior and interaction that generally cut across the classrooms, as well as the range and types of interactions that were distinct site to site.

Researchers found seven varieties of in-person human support:

1. Humans as techies: Help make the online course accessible and internet-based links functional. Especially critical during the first week, as unforeseen glitches with school firewalls or tech incompatibility often occurs.

2. Humans as organizers of content: Though online courses typically lend themselves to easily-digested short text, image and animations, human teachers still often organized the material in ways that helped student’s conceptualization of the course. Organization came from preparing study guides and other summaries of information.

3. Humans as explainers: Teachers often explain content beyond what’s listed in an online course, and the explanations often occur one-on-one, in small peer groups, or during main discussions. Particularly helpful in this scenario is when teachers help to personalize a student’s understanding of a concept by adding creative examples to better present the information. “Students felt that this type of extension of the course materials was often essential to deepening their understanding of the materials,” notes the report.

4. Humans as expanders: Adults in the room often provide ad hoc opportunities for students to contemplate, extend or share their learning by asking them to write reflective prompts or different assignments, creating labs, or leading small group discussions. Unique to this role, teachers as extenders often encourage students to make connections to the “real world” with a focus on application.

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