pedagogyHow learners engage in their different environments online and off-line today is very different to how this was 10 years ago. With the rise of social networking, open source content, sharing and online collaboration, using online technology has given the individual wider access to sources of knowledge and information and as a consequence a greater choice in the types of knowledge and information that they engage with. For good online learning to take place, students need to understand that traditional face-to-face learning is not the only means by which quality learning can occur.

Some important points for students to consider, in terms of taking more ownership and control of their learning in the context of these information rich, online environments, include:

  • learning is a common occurrence yet we rarely stop to think about what is involved;
  • there are many different contexts in which learning can occur – formal, informal, individually or in groups;
  • university learning encourages students to be more independent and responsible for their own learning and aims to equip students with lifelong learning skills;
  • many technologies today can provide an environment for learning but this does not guarantee that learning will occur;
  • there are features of the online environment that will enhance learning BUT others that can inhibit it.


For students to be more effective online learners they should be encouraged to develop the following attributes:

  • understanding what is involved in being an online learner;
  • digital literacy;
  • ability to self-regulate learning.


Understanding what is involved in being an online learner

Students will be interested in online learning for many reasons. For example, students often cite increased flexibility, choice and opportunities as a motivation for enrolling in online courses. However, with these advantages come increased responsibilities. One of the most important aspects for students in being a successful online learner is developing an initial understanding about what will be involved and required of them as a student.

You can assist students in developing a better understanding by providing them with a comprehensive course outline including:

  • types and weightings of assessment;
  • well-defined workload and how many hours each week will be required;
  • your specific expectations of students;
  • how the learning may be different from previous face-to-face experiences such as the need for more independence, increased responsibilities and regular dependence on technologies;
  • any pre-requisites, especially those related to the use of technology. Providing students with detailed information will enable them to make an informed decision about whether or not a fully online course is the best option for their particular situation. It will also assist students to develop a thorough study plan.


Digital literacy

The use of online environments for entertainment and social networking purposes has become common place, but there is a common misconception that users of these spaces will automatically know how to effectively learn in such environments. Today’s students need to be digitally literate. Digital literacy requires more then just technical knowledge and skills. “[D]igital literacy includes a large variety of complex cognitive, motor, sociological, and emotional skills, which users need in order to function effectively in digital environments” (Eshet-Alkali & Amichai-Hamburger, 2004: 421). Digital literacy skills include:

  • interpreting information from graphical user displays and interfaces;
  • developing understandings of knowledge from nonlinear navigation and hypertext environments;
  • judging the quality and validity of websites and information they present;
  • understanding the rules and conventions of the web.


More information about the Online Learner:

Student experience – Jisc (website)
JISC has been investigating students’ changing expectations, and developing tools and resources to transform the learning experience to meet students’ needs.

Video: Painting, Power and Pedagogy: Reframing the Classroom from Michelle Pacansky-Brock
Duration 55:37

This video is a recording of a keynote presentation at EduSoCal10, on May 19, 2010 at Loyola Marymount University, USA. Michelle Pacansky-Brock describes her personal journey as a teacher using online instruction. She explores the art historical role of innovation and risk-taking in western society, highlighting the potential of creativity in teaching to unhinge higher education from its lecture-based traditions. The presentation showcases a specific case study in teaching innovation from my community college History of Women in Art class that examines the learning effects of an instructional model that embraces active learning in the classroom, rather than passive delivery of lecture. Student feedback and survey results are included.

If you would like to have a conversation about how to effectively utilise digital technology in your approaches to learning, teaching and assessment; contact you Faculty Digital Learning and Teaching Consultant.

Yoram, E.-A. (2004). Digital Literacy: A Conceptual Framework for Survival Skills in the Digital Era. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia 13(1): 93-106.