The Impact of Digital Learning Environments on Educators

Prepared By: Sanjay Pottinger and Leigha Nevay

 

Digital learning environments have fundamentally impacted how educators perform their role; whether it is how an educator prepares to teach subject matter or how they teach in a fully online or blended classroom. It is clear that educators have had to adapt to the vast changes as technology has advanced. Below is a list of the impacts on educators within digital learning environments.

  1. Technology expertise: The vast majority of post-secondary institutions have online courses and use a learning management system (LMS) (Canadian Digital Learning Research Association, 2018).  A simple search on Google will retrieve lists of the hundreds of LMS’ available. Furthermore, a learning environment “can also be technologies, resources, platforms, and systems originally created for purposes other than education” (Veletsianos, 2016, p. 243), such as Facebook or YouTube. This has required educators to be much more digitally savvy than ever before to implement content and evaluation in various modalities. With quickly changing software and platforms, educators find it difficult to maintain the technical skills needed to expertly wield the features within an LMS, social media, and/or other technology mediums that can add to the learning experience of students online (Capra, 2011).

2. Instructional design: Educators transitioning from traditional, in class, or face-to-face instruction to teaching in a digital learning environment cannot simple convert in class material to online material. They either acquire the expertise or the assistance to develop well-designed online pedagogy and assessment. Tony Bates (2012), a leader in digital learning, suggests that an educator taking on an online course rethink their approach to ensure it fits an online learner. For example, an educator recording a lecture and putting it online or conducting a class discussion, has the same desired outcome as an in-class experience. As Morris and Stommel so aptly describes this impact:

We need to recognize that online learning uses a different platform, builds community in different ways, demands different pedagogies, has a different economy, functions at different scales, and requires different choices regarding curriculum than does on-ground education. Even where the same goal is desired, very different methods must be used to reach that goal (Morris & Stommel, 2016, para. 14).

3. Technology policy: With the changes in the availability and accessibility of information, educators needed to consider further development of regulations for online and in class. The internet allows students faster and easier access to copy others’ work. Even with the advancements in plagiarism technologies that allow educators to ensure that students are completing the work themselves, academic integrity remains a concern. Educators need to “know the rules of copyright and plagiarism and alternatives such as creative commons licensing; use appropriate referencing for digital materials and support learners to do the same” (Beetham, 2015). Furthermore, in class issues such as not paying attention in class or accessing inappropriate information require further guidelines. “Decisions on technology use and conduct are now common and have added an extra dimension of consideration for educators and administrators alike” (Cuban, 1992).

4. Scheduling: Having computers increased efficiency in the classroom, allowing for students to accomplish more. “Teachers from different departments or grades move towards changing the regular time schedule” (Cuban, 1992). Educators needed to reconsider work load, timetables, and daily schedules to account for the fact that students had so much more information available at their fingertips.

5. Teaching method: Within a digital learning environment, an effective educator will have to reflect on how to focus on the learner when teaching online content. Online learners need to feel that they are part of a classroom with other learners and not just a learner navigating an online space on their own, an issue that does not exist in a traditional face-to-face setting. Online learners interfacing with one another is crucial for the learning process. The instructor has to be intentional about creating meaningful social interaction within the online course or risk students feeling disengaged. Garrison, Anderson & Archer state that, “socio-emotional interaction and support are important and sometimes essential in realizing meaningful and worthwhile educational outcomes” (2000). Instructors must decide how they will transfer or facilitate information, what technological method available they will use to help students collaborate, and how they will interact with the online group (Bates, 2012).

 

References

Bates, T. (2012, May 6). Nine steps to quality online learning: Step 1: Decide how you want to teach online. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2012/05/06/nine-steps-to-quality-online-learning-step-1-decide-how-you-want-to-teach-online/

Beetham, H. (2015, November 10). Framing digital capabilities for staff – deliverables. Retrieved May 31, 2019, from https://digitalcapability.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2015/11/10/framing-digital-capabilities-for-staff-deliverables/

Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (2018). Tracking online and distance education in Canadian universities and colleges: 2018 Canadian national survey of online and distance education Retrieved from https://onlinelearningsurveycanada.ca/download/556/

Capra, T. (2011). Online Education: Promise and Problems. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 2(7), 288-293. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no2/capra_0611.pdf

Cuban, L. (1992, November 11). Computers Meet Classroom; Classroom Wins. Retrieved May 31, 2019, from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/1992/11/11/10cuban.h12.html

Garrison, R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in text based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6

Morris, S. M., & Stommel, J. (2013). Why Online Programs Fail, and 5 Things We Can Do About It.  Retrieved from http://hybridpedagogy.org/why-online-programs-fail-and-5-things-we-can-do-about-it/

Veletsianos, G. (2016). Digital learning environments. In N. Rushby & D. Surry (Eds), Handbook of Learning Technologies (pp. 242-260). UK: John Wiley & Sons.