Week 1: Overview of Online Teaching and Learning – Winter 2021 Harrison


Online education has expanded rapidly over the past decade and has enabled new approaches to teaching and learning, and impacted how, when, and where people teach and learn. As the prevalence of online teaching and learning continues to grow, educators are being faced with the need to adapt to this new environment. Many of today’s educators are finding themselves transitioning from the traditional face-to-face setting to the online environment, which can present a number of unique benefits and challenges (McQuiggan, 2012). Taking on the role of an online instructor can be quite different from the traditional classroom environment, and often requires educators to re-examine their approach to teaching, and to reinvent their current teaching practices (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001). This module will provide an introduction to online teaching and learning, and we will examine key concepts and research findings within the field. We will also discuss the unique benefits and challenges related to online teaching and learning, with an aim to provide an overview of the online teaching and learning landscape.

Learning Outcomes

When you have completed this module, you should be able to:

  • Describe the course expectations and configure a course blog for ongoing participation.
  • Identify key concepts and research findings related to online teaching and learning.
  • Discuss the unique benefits and challenges related to online teaching and learning.
  • Select an online course to audit for the Online Course Audit Assignment that represents your interests.

Learning Activity 1 – Setting up your ePortfolio

Your first activity this week is to set up and try out your ePortfolio site. You can find your ePortfolio site by following the link from the Course Home page at:


Your ePortfolio space on the EDDL 5141 site is like a traditional WordPress site. Once on your ePortfolio page, you will see lots of media and file examples. If you go to the Dashboard (go to your ePortfolio name in the upper middle and select ‘Dashboard’ from the drop-down menu), you will be able to do many of the typical tasks like adding posts or changing your theme.

This WordPress tutorial will help you set up your ePortfolio. You can find it at:


Learning Activity 2 – Introduction

Before we get into the details of this module, it would be helpful to get to know one another and to learn more about each other’s diverse backgrounds and experiences. For this activity, please select a digital tool and create an introduction that describes your current role and experience with online teaching and learning, and identifies one question about online teaching and learning that you are interested in knowing more about. Your introduction can be in a variety of formats such as a video, image, infographic, presentation, etc.

For some ideas of different digital tools that you can use to create your introduction, please check out the following:

You can leave your introduction on the platform where you created it, or embed it on a post in your ePortfolio. Either way, make sure it’s public and share the link on the ‘Week 1 Discussion’ topic.

Topic 1 – Defining Online Teaching and Learning


There is a wide range of terms used to describe online teaching and learning including web-based learning, e-learning, Internet-based learning, online learning, distance learning, distance education, distributed learning, computer-mediated learning, and computer-assisted learning (Ally, 2008). So, before we get too far into the course it is helpful to spend sometime reflecting on what we mean by online teaching and learning. Ally (2008) defines online learning as:

[t]he use of the Internet to access learning materials; to interact with the content, instructor, and other learners; and to obtain support during the learning process, in order to acquire knowledge, to construct personal meaning, and to grow from the learning experience (p. 17).

According to Joksimović et al. (2015):

Online learning is a form of distance education where technology mediates the learning process, teaching is delivered completely using the internet, and students and instructors are not required to be available at the same time and place. It does not include more traditional distance education instruction methods, such as print-based correspondence education, broadcast television or radio, videoconferencing in its traditional form, videocassettes/DVDs and stand-alone educational software programs (p. 100).

Online teaching and learning is generally categorized into either asynchronous or synchronous formats. In asynchronous online learning, students and educators are not online at the same time, and learning activities take place outside of real time (Meloni, 2010). This allows learners to transcend traditional limits of place and time as asynchronous activities occur whenever learners have the time to complete them (Bonk & Zhang, 2006). For example, viewing videos linked to the course site, reading an online article, and posting a message to an online discussion forum are all asynchronous activities. The term synchronous means happening at precisely the same time, and refers to online learning experiences in which the students and educators interact in real-time but not in the same place (ASTD, 2014). There are many forms of synchronous online learning, such as video conferencing, instant messaging, interactive webinars, and web conferencing. Asynchronous online learning is the most common online learning format since it allows for greater flexibility than synchronous learning as learners can participate online when it’s most convenient for them (Vai & Sosulski, 2011).

A third common type of online learning format is blended or hybrid learning which refers to practices that combine (or blend) traditional face-to-face instruction with online learning, and can incorporate both asynchronous and synchronous formats (Joksimović et al., 2015). Garrison and Vaughan (2008) define blended learning as “the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches and technologies” (p. 148). Blended learning creates new opportunities to leverage the affordances of both face-to-face and online learning, and allows for the integration of face-to-face synchronous communication and text-based online asynchronous communication. Blended learning combines traditional and online learning in ways that are not possible through either mode individually, and supports a mix of the best face-to-face and online activities (Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, & Garrison, 2013).

Learning Activity 3 – Your Vision of Online Teaching and Learning

In general, when you hear the word “online teaching and learning,” what comes to mind? Based on your own background and experience, how would you define online teaching and learning? With the move for to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how was your understanding or experience of online learning shifted? We may want to consider the difference between what has been termed “Emergency Remote learning” vs. more traditional online and blended formats. Please share an image of what you would describe as online teaching and learning, and provide your own definition based on your personal vision of online teaching and learning in a short post on your ePortfolio with the tag “EDDL5141”.

Topic 2 – The History and State of Online Learning


When preparing to teach in the online environment, it can be helpful to have an awareness of current and historical research trends that can influence online teaching and learning.

Please read:

In their review, Joksimović et al. (2015) identified four major themes that emerged in the research related to online learning:

  1. Comparison of online learning with the traditional classroom — Research has demonstrated that online learning is (at least) as effective as face-to-face learning.
  2. Comparison of various instructional practices within two or more online courses — Research has tended to indicate that asynchronous, purposefully structured discussions, with clear guidelines and timely, summative, and individualized feedback from the instructor or peer students are the best instructional strategies to support learning in an online environment.
  3. Perspectives of students and instructors regarding learning and teaching in online settings — Research has revealed that students tend to value well-designed, frequently updated courses that incorporate extrinsic motivating factors. It is useful to incorporate tasks/examples that are immediately relevant for their practice, contain a reasonable level of control and flexibility, offer support to collaborate with their peers, and include a high level of instructor involvement in providing summative and timely feedback.
  4. Adoption of online learning in institutions of higher and adult education — Research has shown that individual attitudes towards technology and digital literacy are the main factors influencing online learning adoption.

Based on the review of research, Joksimović et al. (2015) propose a conceptual model (p. 120) of the most significant factors that frame educational experiences in online learning settings, which includes the learners, instructor, instructional strategies, institutional adoption, course design, media and content.

Learning Activity 4 – The History and State of Online Learning

Please review Joksimović et al.’s (2015) conceptual diagram of the most significant factors that frame educational experience in online learning settings below. Select one of the factors from the diagram that you had not considered prior to reading this article, and explain how you feel it might impact the online teaching and learning experience.

A conceptual diagram of the most significant factors that frame educational experience in online learning settings by Joksimović et al. (2015). The history and state of online learning (pp. 95-131). In G. Siemens, D. Gasevic, & S. Dawson. (Eds.), Preparing for the Digital University: A Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Online, and Blended Learning . Retrieved from http://linkresearchlab.org/PreparingDigitalUniversity.pdf. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Topic 3 – Benefits and Challenges of Online Teaching and Learning


For those preparing to teach in the online environment, the prospect can be both exciting and daunting as there are several benefits that the online setting offers, as well as new challenges that have to be considered. Educators often need to rethink their course design and use different strategies for teaching, engagement, and assessment in the online environment. Unlike the traditional face-to-face classroom where educators are at the centre of the instruction, the online environment can be more learner-centred, allowing educators to share control of the learning process with students (Coppola, Hiltz, & Rotter, 2002). Educators making the transition to teaching online are often challenged to shift their approach from one of disseminating information to one of facilitating a learning environment where students co-construct knowledge (Vaughan, 2010).

Please read:

Vai and Sosulski (2011) claim that it can be an adjustment when teaching online for the first time given the absence of physical teaching space, the need to plan and create the class content before the course starts, the requirement to communicate online rather than in person, the delay of feedback, and the increased time commitment. Some additional challenges that they identify are understanding how time works when teaching online, the emphasis on written communication, and the need to adopt a facilitator or moderator role. They also suggest that the digital skills of online learners can vary from “digital pros” to “pre-digital” learners, and that learner’s levels of engagement, collaboration, interactivity, and access has changed over the years. Although you do not have to be a technical wizard to teach online, the authors recommend that online educators have basic computer literacy and understanding of Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and the Internet in order to be successful.

Please read:

Norman (2016) argues that teaching online can positively affect face-to-face teaching practices, and can make us better teachers overall. She highlights a number of benefits of teaching online that includes:

  • expanded teaching practices given the affordances of technology
  • movement towards content curation instead of content creation
  • more active learning
  • the ability for students to easily create course content
  • expanded assessment opportunities
  • increased student motivation
  • greater social and emotional connections with students
  • the ability to support multi-sensory learning

Please watch the following videos:

Some of the key benefits of online teaching and learning the educators identified in the videos include a positive impact on face-to-face teaching, the opportunity to re-think the design of courses, a greater focus on learning outcomes, the ability to explore and facilitate in a new environment, more ways to see student learning, and the opportunity to get to know students in a different way online. Some common challenges discussed by the educators include a lack of online experience as a student and comfort with digital tools, ensuring students are meaningfully engaged, the need for intense up-front preparation of course content, the difference in student interaction and inability to address non-verbal cues, a greater time commitment, and the difficulty of establishing a sense of place.

Learning Activity 5 – Benefits and Challenges Activity (Optional Post)

Please identify three major benefits and three major challenges that you think you might experience with online teaching and learning. There is a lot to get started this week, so you could optionally share the benefits and challenges as a post on your ePortfolio with the tag “EDDL5141”.

Topic 4 – Online Course Audit


As a course requirement, you will sign-up for an online course (MOOC or other freely available online course) that you will audit as part of the Online Course Audit Assignment and as part of the ongoing course activities. This will not result in any financial obligation, and does not obligate you to participate in the course. Most MOOCs or freely available online courses have an audit option, which lets you view the course materials free of charge although you won’t be able to submit assignments for feedback or a grade, and you won’t receive a course completion certificate. You will have access to course videos, lectures, readings, etc., and can participate as much, or as little, as you like. The goal here is not to learn the subject matter of the online course (though you can certainly do that) or complete the course, but to get a sense of how the online course is designed and facilitated. Auditing the online course will provide you with the opportunity to see examples of online teaching and learning in action.

Assessment #1

Online Course Audit Sign-Up

Please select an online course from one of the sites listed below (or you are welcome to propose an alternate online course for approval), and enroll in it as a student. The course selected should be free, should start within the next week, or be currently running, should be at least four weeks in length, and should not be self-paced (i.e. it should be facilitated by an instructor).

Take some time to scan through the course modules, and the syllabus or course outline, and see what participants are required to do. Please share a description of the course that you have chosen to audit, an explanation of why you chose it, and what you hope to learn from auditing the course on your ePortfolio and tag your post with “EDDL5141”. Note (from January 11th) – you do not need to have this activity completed until Week 3.

The online environment has become an important component of our educational system, and it continues to evolve and expand. There are many terms and definitions associated with “online teaching and learning,” although a common feature is a focus on interaction that is mediated through technology. Today’s educators are increasingly expected to teach within the online environment and are required to revise their teaching approaches and practices to adapt to this new setting. As part of this evolving role, it is important for educators to be aware of current and historical research trends influencing the online environment. Transitioning from the traditional classroom environment to the online setting can strengthen and extend teaching and learning practices, and also present new challenges for educators. In the next module, we will further explore the role of the instructor in the online environment and examine the competencies that are needed to be a successful online educator.

Online Course Audit Assignment (30%)


Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In T. Anderson (Ed.). The theory and practice of online learning (pp. 15-44). Athabasca, AB: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from “http://www.aupress.ca/books/120146/ebook/01_Anderson_2008-Theory_and_Practice_of_Online_Learning.pdf”

Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5 (2), 1-17.

ASTD. (2014). Facilitating Synchronous Learning . Retrieved from “https://www.td.org/Education/Programs/Designing-Synchronous-Learning-Certificate”

Bonk, C. J., & Zhang, K. (2006). Introducing the R2D2 model: Online learning for the diverse learners of this world. Distance education, 27 (2), 249-264.

Carleton University. (2017). Benefits and Challenges of Online Teaching [Video File]. Retrieved from “https://mediaspace.carleton.ca/media/Benefits+and+Challenges+of+Online+Teaching/0_oej4e6hk”

Coppola, N., Hiltz, S., & Rotter, N. (2002). Becoming a virtual professor: Pedagogical roles and asynchronous learning networks. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18 (4), 169-189.

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines . John Wiley & Sons.

Joksimovic, Srecko & Kovanovic, Vitomir & Gasevic, Dragan & Dawson, Shane & Siemens, George. (2015). The history and state of online learning. 93-132. Preparing for the Digital University: A Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Online, and Blended Learning . Retrieved from “http://linkresearchlab.org/PreparingDigitalUniversity.pdf”

McQuiggan, C. A. (2012). Faculty development for online teaching as a catalyst for change. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16 (2), 27-61.

Norman, M. (2016). Teaching Online Can Make Us Better Teachers . Retrieved from “https://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=2908383”

Meloni, J. (2011). Technologies for teaching: Strategies and pitfalls. The education digest, 76 (8), 23. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Vai, M., & Sosulski, K. (2011). Orientation to online teaching and learning (pp. 17-27). In Essentials of online course design: A standards-based guide . Retrieved from “https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/tandfbis/rt-files/docs/FreeBooks+Opened+Up/Theory_and_Practice_of_Online_FB_final.pdf”

Vaughan, N. D. (2010). A blended community of inquiry approach: Linking student engagement and course redesign. The Internet and Higher Education, 13 (1), 60-65. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2009.10.007

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry . Athabasca University Press.


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