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March 2003 Issue

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Learning Technology

By Tracey A. Stuckey-Mickell, College Reading & Learning Program, Northern Illinois University 

Email: tstuckey@niu.edu

Encouraging Healthy E-Learner Behaviors:  Tips for E-Moderators and Learning Professionals

Learners who are new to online courses may have some misguided beliefs that may impede progress in e-learning. It is our responsibility as learning professionals and e-facilitators to assist novice e-learners as they become acclimated to the online learning environment. There are myths and challenges a-plenty about how the online course operates, the advantages/disadvantages of online courses, and “classroom” dynamics. It is important to help students dispel these myths and encourage healthy e-learning behaviors to help them overcome the challenges of this unique learning environment. Below are a few of the most commons myths and challenges that impede healthy and effective e-learning.


Myth 1: Online courses take less time since there is limited f2f contact.

E-learners have the freedom and flexibility to access lessons from any computer with online access at virtually any time they choose, but that does not necessarily translate to less time spent on the course. In fact, many e-learners report a feeling of increased workload due to the depth and involvement of the learning activities. This is not a lecture environment where a student can read then come to class and listen. E-learners find themselves spending long hours reading and writing on-screen, actively contributing to the class.

Myth 2: E-learners must have lots of technical expertise.

Most online course interfaces are designed specifically with the novice user in mind. Very little technical expertise is necessary for e-learners to succeed in an online course environment. The minimum skills usually involve basic computer literacy and Internet experience to participate. Moreover, most institutions have e-learning professionals to handle any technical problems that may arise. Learners need fear that their technical expertise is insufficient.

Myth 3: Online courses allow learners to work at his/her own pace.

This may be true in some courses, but for most, it is quite the opposite. Online courses have the luxury of allowing students to access materials day or night, but there is usually a due date for assignments. Deadlines are quite necessary to provide structure for the facilitator and learners. In the online classroom, many have found it quite easy to fall behind on the work even with due dates. Online course should not be confused with individualized study.

Learning professionals should inform learners about what this experience is like (as much as possible) to dispel these myths and others before the learner is faced with beginning actual online participation. Though one cannot give learners a true online course experience purely by explanation, establishing clear expectations and perhaps sharing feedback from former participants would help. Dealing with learner myths about online learning is only half the battle. There are numerous challenges to effective online learning.


Challenge 1: Information overload.

Managing the sheer volume of available information is important in the online classroom. I have often suffered from “information overload” while working online if information is not organized and relevant. Information overload can cause frustration. Learners may give up. Chatting in overcrowded chat rooms, visiting websites with unorganized information and participating in asynchronous conferences with really large groups are some situations where learners may be lost. Learners may want to read everything, but either run out of time or patience. The e-moderator has a real challenge to organize information and break large classes into smaller, more personal sized groups. This is very important if learners are to maintain some level of comfort with the online learning environment, use the information effectively, and gain from the online course experience.

Challenge 2: Little or no f2f contact.

Learners must build the “culture” of their online environment through communicating. The lack of f2f can create a sense of impersonality therefore restricting some learners from feeling comfortable sharing with others. On the other hand, many learners who would otherwise be quiet in a f2f classroom, have been found to open up in the online classroom. A major area of concern is maintaining respectful online interactions between class members.

Facilitators are challenged to consider the personality aspects or learning styles of individual learners to discover ways to encourage openness. There should also be clear ground rules established at the beginning to encourage courteous and respectful communications.

Challenge 3: Differing language/cultures among e-learners

When facilitating online courses with diverse learners, one must consider the languages and cultures of the learners. The written word will be used frequently and is easily misinterpreted. Facilitators may need to send out a survey at the beginning of class to gather information about the languages and cultures of the learners. The key point here is not to assume that all learners are equally proficient in the language used in the course or that they all come from the same culture. For example, a learner from a country where British English is the dominant language may use or spell certain words differently and not realize that some American English speakers may be left out. It is important to know about your learners and address these types of issues up front.

There are myriad myths about the online learning experience and facilitators face many challenges in the online classroom. The above list is not exhaustive. Diversity, accessibility, and equipment issues are some other areas where many challenges exist. As we increasingly use this medium in education, we will continue to find and conquer challenges, while we continue to work towards creating an effective learning environment for all learners.


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