7 ways humans are critical to online learning

5. Humans as feedback: Frequent feedback on learning, as well as giving formative assessments were critical to student success, found researchers. Not only was this important for students’ re-writing of short assignments, but for mathematics as well, where continual checking for understanding was essential to good student performance. Teachers also worked to create, score and review additional student materials (new problems, quizzes, or assignments) to ascertain gaps in knowledge.

6. Humans as regulators: Most instructors urge students to go at the designated pace of the course, not going further than one lesson ahead each day. Whether or not this kind of regulation is a positive or negative for online learners remains to be seen, said the report.

7. Humans as supporters: As many other new studies have shown, online learning is most successful with the effective implementation of community and peer support. “Whether students were digesting curriculum on a shared computer screen, collaborating on an assignment, or discussing a concept that they collectively needed to understand more deeply, students leaned regularly on their peers as essential human support,” explained researchers.

Overall, the report concludes by saying the most critical of human roles in online learning was the “human as innovator of content and pedagogy, shifting teaching in response to students’ ongoing needs.”

“We saw the importance of human creative innovation in taking learning deeper through in-the-moment discussion, explanation, extension, and application, and through ongoing verification of student comprehension,” said researchers. “We also note that face-to-face humans encourage students to go deeper in their learning experience than what the computer accepted.”

What online course providers must remember, however, is that not just any human will do—the instructor must be “highly skilled at supplementing the course with human-based learning experiences, such as making connections to ideas not programmed into the text, explaining material in ways not programmed into the explanation, or discussing  and debating concepts.”

For much more in-depth coverage of these human roles in online learning, read the full report.