5 Ways Online Teaching Benefits Residential Learning

How is distance learning and classroom teaching integrated at your institution?

October 12, 2015

I work on online teaching, but what I really care most about is residential learning.

The reason that I focus on online programs and courses is that, in my experience, online teaching is a catalyst for improving campus-based residential learning.

5 ways that online teaching benefits residential learning:

1.  A Chance to Rethink What Should Happen In the Physical Classroom:

Residential classroom time is precious. Every minute that an educator spends with a student should ideally have a big impact on learning. Moving into online teaching forces us to think about what sorts of learning activities occur best when faculty and students share physical space.

2.  An Opportunity to Introduce Learning Theory and Pedagogical Research:

Before the growth of traditional and open online programs, how much discussion of learning theory and pedagogical research was going on on your campus? Creating and running effective online classes require a careful attention to research-based pedagogical practices. The same theoretical frameworks on student learning and the same teaching techniques around student engagement and active learning work equally well in the online and the physical classroom. Working with an instructional designer to create and teach an online class is marvelous training for all modes of teaching.

3.  Exposure to a Team Approach for Course Design:

Residential teaching is usually a solitary activity. The professor creates, teaches, and evaluates the course.  Online learning often involves a team. Faculty work with instructional designers, librarians, media educators, and assessment experts to develop the course. This team approach is particularly common in open online learning programs. Wouldn’t it be great if those same team resources available for faculty for online courses were also available for residential courses? How would a larger-enrollment introductory course change if it was created as a design challenge to maximize student learning (as opposed to cover a certain amount of content), and was designed in collaboration with a multi-skilled team of educators?

4.  An Easier Transition to Blended Learning:

Purely residential and purely online courses occupy different sides of a single teaching spectrum. In the middle is blended learning. Most postsecondary courses are moving to some form of blended learning, with at least some of the course content and materials made available through the now ubiquitous learning management system (LMS).  Teaching an online course can be instructive about what other activities can be moved online, so that classroom time can be best utilized. How much content can be moved online? Can discussions be moved online? Is it possible to increase classroom productivity by lowering the number of in-classroom hours, opening up space to offer more classes in the scarce classroom space?

5.  Online Courses Help Make Teaching Strategies Visible to Educators and Students:

Residential teaching is largely a private activity.  Sometimes faculty may choose to be observed by colleagues, but observation remains rare. Privacy is good, as classroom need to be safe spaces for experimentation and even discomfort. Online learning can improve learning not because the method makes all teaching available to everyone, but rather because teaching becomes more visible to both the educators and the learners involved in the course. The process of creating an online course pushes the instructor to make clear the learning objectives for the course and the week. Assessments must follow the objectives. Course content should support the learning objectives.  

An online course surfaces all the implicit decisions that we make about how we teach. Everything must be spelled out, and in doing so educators can gain better awareness of where to make improvements. It will be interesting to see how open online teaching further pushes educators to think about their residential teaching strategies.

All of these ways that online teaching benefits residential learning argue for close collaboration between online and residential learning initiatives.

Ideally, the same faculty and non-faculty educators (instructional designers, librarians, media educators, assessment experts) that work on online courses/programs should also work on residential courses.

Online programs that do not have a close connection to the core campus residential teaching activities are forgoing opportunities to improve student learning.

It may be simpler administratively, politically, and culturally to separate online from residential programs. What is gained form separation in agility and autonomy is lost in institution wide strategic impact.

Where have you seen online programs moving the needle on residential learning?

How are online teaching divisions integrated with residential teaching actives at your school?


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Joshua Kim

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