The Heart of Appreciative Andragogy: An Innovative Online Teaching Strategy

Online or distance learning has experienced continued growth and attracted millions of students as both traditional and online colleges and universities extend their reach by offering virtual courses and degrees. It has made education accessible to students who might not otherwise have access to any other options. Educators have had to adapt to this environment and learn how to communicate effectively through written words. The challenge is being able to help students feel connected to their class and their instructor. Traditional methods of instruction have to be adapted simply because instructors are not present and they are not able to have the benefit of visual cues and physical interactions. Some instructors are effective in developing a virtual presence and others find the online platform too difficult to navigate or they feel too distant from their students.

As an educator with extensive online teaching and faculty development experience, I am fully aware of the challenge that instructors face when they try to bridge the virtual distance. One of the inherent problems is that instructors develop a perception of students based upon what they see or what they read. If the students post an introduction at the start of class that does provide initial background information. But over time instructors see what is posted in the discussion boards and submitted in written assignments and those words represent the students, creating a lens through which they perceive them.

As an example, if an instructor sees continued writing mistakes in a student’s posts or papers they may view this student from a negative perspective. This can lead to a deficit-based approach when interacting with the student. The main focus of their interactions and feedback will be focused on correcting those errors and it tends to overshadow positive accomplishments. A student who experiences what they perceive as continued negative interactions may become disengaged from the class. While the intent of the instructor is to guide and teach the student this approach has a potential to alienate the student and create resistance on their part. Because I have seen firsthand the effects of these issues I decided that a new instructional strategy was necessary.

What I found in my research was an organizational developmental technique known as appreciative inquiry and I was immediately struck by its ability to help managers bring out peak performance in their employees. It is an approach that builds from strengths and seeks to affirm and build upon what the employee does best. There have been limited adaptations of appreciative inquiry for educational purposes so I decided to find a way to implement it as an online instructional strategy. My doctoral studies were focused on adult learning, which is based upon a term called andragogy that distinguishes teaching adults from children. The phrase appreciative andragogy was then born as a means of connecting the two concepts.

To test the potential for appreciative andragogy in online classes a research study was conducted. I enlisted online instructors as participants for the study and they tested this strategy in their online classes. This brought appreciative inquiry from an organizational environment into the online classroom. The results of this study have now been published so that other educators may adapt and utilize it in their online classes. Of course implementing appreciative andragogy is not done without challenges. From an educator’s perspective they have to take the time to interact with students and make an attempt to follow the process. It may also be difficult to show appreciation for a student who is not open to interactive communication or does not demonstrate appreciation themselves.

But what appreciative andragogy does is to help educators see their students from a broader perspective and learn more about their strengths so they can build from them. This is not to say that developmental issues should not be addressed but it can be done from a positive perspective and that will help to create a cooperative spirit as instructors and students collaborate together to improve their performance. The study also found that appreciative andragogy had a positive impact on students’ motivation and engagement in the class. The study concluded that appreciative andragogy had an ability to take the distance out of distance learning. Any educator teaching any subject will find this strategy useful.

5 Leading Online Schools

The internet has revolutionized many parts of our economy. You can shop, meet people online and, now, you can take college courses for credit. Five schools are influencing “distance learning” like no others before them. Let’s take a look at online education providers as offered by these leading schools.

The University of Phoenix was among the first accredited universities to provide college degree programs via the internet. Founded in 1976, the university began to offer internet degree programs in 1989. The program has grown to where 150,000 students are in the process of pursuing degrees on the Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral level at any given time. Programs in Technology, Business, Education, Nursing, and Management are offered and The University of Phoenix has now become the largest private university in the US.

DeVry University offers business and technology degrees on the undergraduate and graduate level. In addition, the school offers graduate level certificate programs. Headquartered in Illinois, the school allows students to work on their degree while online, at a local campus, or both. Indeed, campuses can now be found in 21 states as well as in Alberta, Canada.

Westwood College traces its roots to Denver, Colorado where it was founded in 1953 as the Denver Institute of Technology. Fifteen campuses in California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, and Texas comprise the physical campus with the internet opening up the school to students around the world. Westwood offers programs in Aviation, Business, Criminal Justice, Design, Technology, Health Sciences, and Industrial Sciences.

Kaplan University is a wholly owned company of The Washington Post Company, a publisher of one the nation’s leading newspapers, The Washington Post. Kaplan’s offerings include degrees in Arts and Science, Business, Criminal Justice, Education, Technology and Design, Nursing and Health Care, Paralegal Studies, and Financial Planning. The school offers students degrees on the Associates, Bachelors, and Masters levels as well as certificates for certain programs.

Founded in Naples, Florida in 1970 by a couple who wanted to offer a way for working adults to pursue doctoral degrees, Walden University has evolved into a large, online university offering students degrees on the Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral level. Now headquartered in Minneapolis, the university features five distinct schools: School of Education, School of Management, School of Health and Human Services, School of Psychology, and the NTU School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Online education is not for everyone and that is why the first three universities give to their students the option to study on campus, while the last two are strictly internet based. However, all five schools offer to students something that traditional programs do not have: the opportunity to pursue a degree at a pace the student determines and at a place [your computer] that is appealing to many. Unquestionably, online education has arrived as a viable alternative for degree seeking students around the world.

(c)2005; Matthew C Keegan, LLC

Why Online Education Is More Convenient Than Traditional Learning

Anyone who is born after the 1990’s will take the internet for granted. The 24/7 access to all the knowledge of absolutely every type of information is a blessing. Definitely, the invention of the internet and its rapid evolution in our daily lives has also exposed us to malicious virus, spam emails, pop-up ads and a number of different ways to waste our time. But generally, internet has been regarded as one of the most impactful and positive innovations in the current history. The internet has not only reshaped the society, but also reshaped humanity.

It is sad, but our culture has always struggled to reconcile our previous practices with the current technologies. Businesses and corporations are learning the importance of big data and IT departments. Universities are also keeping up their pace with growing demand for research, IT and computer courses. And with the evolution leading towards connected and busy – but inspiring lives on a restricted budget we have urbanized the most competent tools to maximize both money and time. Online education is the newest trend for distance learning and gaining popularity among people who want to get schooled but on their own terms.

Why Is Online Education More Convenient Than Traditional Learning?

Online education is becoming more popular and is gaining an edge over the traditional education. Following are some of the reasons why:

1. Choice Of Schools, Courses And Programs – The benefit enjoyed by the distance learner of shorthand in the 18th century still get to be enjoyed by the online learners. One of the best benefits of online education is your geographic location doesn’t matter at all. Online learners have the advantage to learn which ever course they like from any university.

2. Flexibility – This is another advantage that students get in distance learning, from email assignment to photograph recording. You can mold your class schedule and make it fit in your life. Complete the assignments when you have free time and availability. This is especially good for those people who lead a busy life and honestly speaking, nowadays everyone lead a busy life.

3. Learning Pace – Online learning allows students to learn everything at their pace, they have the advantage to repeat the same material again for proper understanding rather than speeding up. This is a plus point as you can access the material 24 hours a day and take as much time as you need in reviewing it. If you want to cover it all in a week you can do it easily and if you want to take the time you can cover it in a month, all is fine.

4. Lower Stress – We are not saying that online courses are easy or don’t need any hard work. But provided with the flexibility of time, one doesn’t need to get up 7 am in the morning to take classes after staying up all night long completing the barely edited assignment. With the proper timetable setting you can afford to get time to complete what you need to do and when you want to do it.

5. Participation – Students in an online class are required to interact with one another through some forum. But in traditional classroom not all students get a chance to speak, whereas in online forums every single student stands their own ground and puts in their point or opinion. This is beneficial for those individuals who are not that confident or are quieter in traditional classes.

6. Independence – Since you have to make your own schedule and you can decide yourself when to complete your assignments and submit them. You get a complete independence in your study, plus you won’t be having a negative impact on those students who sadly don’t really care to be there.

7. Monetary Savings – College costs are increasing day by day and the price of online courses is just a fraction of that amount. Students now understanding that high prices, don’t mean quality education and an affordable online course can also offer great benefits. Plus online courses don’t bring on additional costs like hostel accommodation and transportation.

8. Transfer Of Credits – For college students who need to take summer classes but live far away or have summer jobs, taking online courses is the best solution for them. They can take online classes from a credible college and then transfer the credits to their primary college. This is helpful as students will be able to get college credits while they can enjoy their vacation or fulfill their responsibilities.

9. Career Advancement – Additionally taking online courses means you can easily complete entire degrees, do your part-time job or even take care of kids and family. This academic work will also explain any gaps in the resume. Also, additional courses in your resume will show potential employers that you are an ambitious person and want to stay updated with new information and your ready to take new challenges.

10. Avoid Commuting – During severe weather conditions colleges or universities may cancel classes. If they don’t cancel the class, then you run the risk of getting hurt if driving in bad weather. In online courses, students don’t get to miss their classes no matter how severe the weather is. With access to discussion boards, chat sessions, reading material and watching lectures, students can access their online course at any time. Many students also find online learning better as compared to traditional learning because it cuts down fuel costs.

In the nutshell, more and more colleges and universities are offering online courses either with their traditional curriculum or exclusive courses. And the assistance of online learning keeps on increasing in terms of quality and number. So the question is, whether online education is good enough for you? A study was released in 2010 by the US Department of Education concluding that students who gain education through online learning perform better on an average, as compared to the students who learn the same course from traditional classes. So you got all the facts in front of you and it’s your decision to select the best option for yourself.

6 Critical Best Practices for Online Teaching: Be Prepared

We live in an unprecedented time with higher education being disrupted, as traditional classes are being moved online, at least for the time being. Whether or not this will continue for any length of time remains to be seen. This has occurred at an interesting time for the field of distance learning as many of the for-profit schools have closed, and the growth of new online schools has slowed. The number of online schools growing is limited, and competition comes from traditional schools offering online classes.

With a move of traditional classes to an online platform, there is a challenge for many educators to adapt to a virtual environment. Those educators who teach in this environment already, such as myself, are already accustomed to creating a virtual presence. However, while online teaching can be rewarding for those who can adapt to it, there are many demands for instruction in this environment, and it can be quite challenging at times. Whether you are new to online teaching or have extensive experience, you will find one of the most important measurements is the end-of-course student evaluation. You will also be evaluated by completion of the required facilitator duties, which typically includes participation in class discussions and feedback for learning activities.

To help you prepare for the requirements of online teaching, there are critical best practices you can implement to ensure you are effectively and substantively engaged in your class. These are the product of my work as an online educator, along with my work in faculty development, having been reviewed by the strictest of standards and applying these standards to faculty I’ve reviewed. You can use these best practices as a checklist for the development of your own online teaching practice, regardless of how long you’ve taught online classes.

Online Instructor Essentials

How you manage your time and the weekly schedule you create will ultimately determine how successful you are as an online educator. The two tasks which are going to take the most amount of time are class discussions and feedback. If you do not allow enough time for these tasks, and you fall behind, you are going to feel rushed when trying to complete what is required of you. The ultimate result is either going to be minimal participation, minimal feedback, or both. A feeling of being rushed may also show up in your disposition as well, if you become agitated when there is not enough time to complete the required tasks or deadlines are nearing. Your students will sense this, even in an online environment, as there are subtle cues which show up in the word choices used in online posts and messages.

Something else to consider is the contract you agree to when you become a faculty member and accept a class commitment. You need to take the time to review the faculty expectations, especially if you are new to the school, to make certain you know all details about performance requirements. Should you have any questions, it is best to contact your Department Chair or supervisor. The most critical timeline requirements involve responding to learner questions, regardless of how posted or sent. You will likely receive audits and/or performance reviews, and when you do, use these tools as a means of self-development to help you to continue to learn and grow.

Making a Transition: From Traditional to Online Teaching

For those who teach in a traditional classroom and now must teach online, there will be a learning curve which will happen quickly. The first adaptation is becoming used to the technology platform or LMS, and discovering the technological tools which can enhance the learning experience. The most significant challenge for traditional educators, who are not used to teaching online, is interacting with learners who are not visibly present. The lack of visual cues can be overcome at times if a webinar is integrated into the class program. However, for most of the class, it is functioning without a live class and visual or verbal cues. Now the words posted become the primary form of communication and this makes it much more challenging to assess the intent or meaning of what is being stated, especially if a learner has challenges with academic writing.

What an online educator must eventually learn, often through time and practice, is he or she is the one who must keep the class engaged, not the course materials. If a learner is not actively participating or is not present in class, it is the instructor who must work to re-engage the learner, and do so within a timely manner, as a disengaged learner may soon become dropped from the course. This means learners are looking for, and often expecting, their instructors to be highly engaged and present in the course, and responsive to their needs. An instructor cannot log onto their class once or twice a week and hope this is sufficient. There must be ongoing and active involvement to sustain an online class, and work on the developmental of the needs of all learners.

6 Critical Best Practices for Online Teaching: Be Prepared

What follows are best practices you can implement now, regardless of the length of time you’ve taught online. If you have implemented some or all of them already, you can use it as a checklist to remind yourself of what’s important for your work as an educator.

Best Practice #1. Become the Support Your Learners Need

When learners enroll in a class, they are likely aware of their deficits already. When you begin the process of feedback and note those deficiencies, it may only serve to further confirm they are not capable of succeeding in their academic studies. This is why you must take a supportive approach to your feedback and the instructional approach used as you interact with your learners. Consider as well the fact you and your learners are separated by distance, or as I call it, the distance factor. Your learners are going to read what you post and share before you ever have an opportunity to explain it, which means everything you write needs to have a supportive tone to it. How you write, along with what you write, can and will determine the future of the learner, and the effort he or she will continue to make in your class. Find whatever way you can to be the support your learners need by taking time to read what they post and write, and acknowledge them as learners.

Best Practice #2. Develop a Mindset Which Encourages Positivity

You have likely read about nurturing a growth mindset in learners, and this can occur even in your adult learners, provided the conditions in an online class are conducive to do so. This is not just a result of a beautiful LMS or technological tools, it occurs when an instructor has a disposition and mindset which encourages positivity. This means you have become focused on your learners and you implement strategies to encourage and uplift them. In my post, Discover 5 Essential Learner-Centered Strategies For Online Instructors, I discussed my use of videos for feedback. I also use short videos to encourage learners as well, along with small posters I create to uplift them.

There will be times when you feel challenged, especially when a learner sends an email and vents their frustration in an unpleasant manner. The most effective strategy to take when you have a negative reaction is to write in a Word document, then step away for a few minutes to regain your balance. When you return, you will likely be able to focus once again and better assist the learner. When you create an environment which feels positive, from the perspective of the learner, you have managed to accomplish another important goal: You have helped humanize the learning experience. This also helps to take the distance factor out of distance learning.

Best Practice #3. Be a Leader in Academic Writing

Many educators are not hired because they are professional writers. Regardless of the academic writing skill level you possess, consider this to be an ongoing area of development. I use a Word document to develop my discussion posts, to help ensure I’ve managed the mechanics. What you want to remember is that your learners are watching what you post in discussions and write as you provide feedback. If there are numerous academic writing errors, this may send a mixed message if your feedback points out academic writing errors the learner has made. If your school offers resources within an online writing center, this may be of benefit for you and any learner who needs further development. If these resources are not immediately available for you, there are many online resources you can find. You want to lead the way with academic writing and show your learners you take it just as seriously as you enforce it when feedback is provided to them.

Best Practice #4. Become a Master of Your Course Materials

What I’ve learned over time about course preparation is the need to learn my course materials. When a course is pre-developed for you, it may seem all is needed is to join the discussions and participate, and then provide feedback based upon the written rubric. However, this is far from what is required for course preparation. Every instructor must review the course materials thoroughly and completely, just as a starting point, in order to be able to participate in class discussions in a meaningful manner and provide substantive feedback. More importantly, ongoing development means reading and finding resources related to the course topics, as the use of supplemental sources will help provide context for your discussion posts and the feedback you develop. When you become the master of your course materials, you are creating additional learning opportunities for your learners.

Best Practice #5. Be Determined to Become a Lifelong Learner

As you are interacting with your learners, and you remember why you love to teach, you are encouraging them to develop a love of learning. If you want to become even more effective in this approach, you can continue to cultivate your own determination to become a lifelong learner. While you may not be a learner now, you can find professional development opportunities of your own. Many academic institutions encourage or require educators to publish, and this presents a very good opportunity to conduct research into areas you are interested in studying. There are many affiliations you can also join and likely find webinars to attend. What I’ve done as a Modern Educator is to write online articles and blog posts, as a means of continuing my research and writing, even if I’m not publishing in an official academic capacity. It still allows me to share my knowledge and expertise, while connecting with other educators, sharing ideas, information, and strategies.

Best Practice #6. Establish a Standard of Excellence

Over time you will evaluate and refine your online instructional practice. It will be the result of what has been successful, the strategies which have not served you well, lessons you have learned (some the right way and others by mistake), and most important of all, feedback you have received from learners in many different forms. Typically the feedback I learn most from occurs within the classroom, as I try new strategies and receive replies in response. There is a high standard I have established for myself. At the beginning of my work as an educator I was very hard on myself when I made mistakes. But now with time and practice under my belt, I know both successes and mistakes have served me well. It is not possible to become a perfect online educator without having taught for some time and even then, you still must be open to learning and development as learner needs evolve. I can state with certainty the needs of learners today are different than they were 15 years ago when I first got my start. But having a standard of excellence gives me a sense of accountability to myself and makes certain I am working to the best of my abilities.

I well understand there are many inherent challenges associated with online teaching, and most are related to time and a lack of direct contact with learners. Yet I’ve found it can be a very rewarding experience because I am able to get to know my learners better than I ever could in a traditional classroom. This may sound unusual to someone who has never taught online, who sees learners face-to-face, but my perspective comes from being able to interact with each and everyone of them in a discussion, getting to know them through weekly learning activities, and engaging with them through direct communication. While I am separated from my learners, I have found tools to bridge this gap and replace the distance with a virtual presence. Now with these six critical strategies, I can further assure learners I am there to support them and their progress in a nurturing, positive, and supportive manner. If you can take this approach yourself, perhaps you and your learners will find online learning to be a viable and enjoyable form of education.

Online Education Courses Learn to Do Anything

Online education courses are a great way to learn many things. With the sheer number of people today who have regular access to the Internet, the opportunities to learn these things are far greater than they were just a decade or two ago. Without online education, the only way to learn a new skill or take a class would be to physically attend that class or find someone who could teach you privately. Because of the technology of online education, there are literally thousands of things you can learn and many of them can be studied right from the privacy of your own home.

In many cases, the fact that you are learning from home can be a real benefit. Consider the privacy you have in your home. If you are learning something new, there’s no need for others to even know you are studying this particular subject. You may be embarrassed to let others know that you don’t already have this knowledge, or it might simply be in your best interest that others don’t know. For example, you may be seeking to gain a training certificate that will put you in line for a promotion. It might be politically incorrect in your current employment to be making this move. Your current supervisor might resent the fact that you want to move up. While secrecy is never a good thing, being discreet about your plans might be a wise move. You may even be looking for employment elsewhere and taking online education courses may be a stepping stone to that move. Again, letting your current employer know about your educational goals could be cause for tension in your current work environment.

It could also be that you just want to learn something new. You’ll find literally hundreds of online education courses available. Whether you’re wanting to learn to sew or you want to work on a degree, you can likely find an online education program that’s just right for you.