Discussing Different Learning Environments

ImageBeing an admission’s counselor at Post University, which is an institution that offers all three of the classroom types (Face to Face, Hybrid and Online), I am quite acquainted with the differences and similarities that each classroom settings provides for students. To avoid my ramblings and tangents, I’ll turn to Crawford and Smith (p. 136) for a more concise approach to the definitions of these classroom settings, “The traditional face-to-face learning environment ensures that instructors and learners engage in multiple forms of support and communications occur over a fixed period of time. A “best of both worlds” learning environment model is the web-enhanced, or hybrid, learning environment, in which the predominantly face-to-face model connects the learners in a cooperative, interactive environment that offers online interactive activities. The third learning environment is the implementation of a web-based learning environment also known as distance education or online learning. Engaged entirely online, learners in web-based learning environments lack the traditional support structure inherent within a face-to-face environment.”

As the above definitions anointed, the three learning styles have unique characteristics that certainly appeal differently to different types of students. The traditional, or face to face, learning environment is the most prominent learning environment and I’m sure it’s the one we all have spent the most “classroom” time in. This learning environment still reigns supreme for the high school level and below. This allows instantaneous feedback for young students that may need direct help and need the extrinsic motivation of the rigid classroom to be successful. The online classroom setting is one that we are all partaking in now. It is designed around the idea of flexibility. I’m sure I speak for most of my fellow classmates when I say that attending a physical campus at this point in our lives would be A) nearly impossible due to work or life schedules and B) would extend the length of the completion of the degree program due to campus class scheduling. Having an online degree plan is the only viable option for us. The final classroom environment mentioned is the hybrid course which is a combination of face-to-face and online. The course work, discussions and assignments are completed online whereas the class still meets once a week to go over any nuances or problems that may be encountered during that week’s readings. The hybrid courses, as of now at Post, that are most popular are the more difficult subject matters such as Math and Science and Upper level courses.

With each different classroom environment there are different scopes and techniques to better equip our students to be successful. The website we were asked to study, Merlot Pedagogy, does an excellent job of highlighting different teaching strategies as well as giving helpful excerpts explaining their importance. In terms of finding a strategy that embraces each of the learning environments, let’s start with the face-to-face classroom. In a face-to-face classroom, my ideology has always been ingrained in the idea of active learning. Making students integrally involved rather than idly lecturing upon deaf ears has long by my approach to teaching. Merlot Pedagogy (n.d) supports this by saying, “Research shows that active learning improves students’ understanding and retention of information and can be very effective in developing higher order skills such as problem solving and critical thinking.” Especially in the modern, concrete classroom, students are more apt to zone out or lose concentration when simply bombarded with a lecture and asked to take notes.

With the focus of the pertinent teaching strategies shifting to the hybrid classroom model, I believe the most fitting teaching strategy is the usage of discussion. The hybrid model asks students to read assignments and then come to class to iron out anything that didn’t make sense. Being able to have an open discussion about the topics just learned, allows for a more complete understanding of the subject matter. “Engaging students in discussion deepens their learning and motivation by propelling them to develop their own views  and hear their own voices” (Merlot Pedagogy). Being able to study course work at your leisure online and then allowing students a platform to bring their ideas to the forefront and delve deeper will allow the student to be more well-rounded in the subject matter.

In terms of the online learning environment, I feel as if the most fitting teaching strategy, and it’s the one imposed by every online professor I have had, is the learner-centered teaching strategy. This strategy focuses on allowing the student to be the focus of the learning environment. Merlot Pedagogy goes on to say that it “means the student is at the center of learning. The student assumes the responsibility for learning while the instructor is responsible for facilitating the learning. Thus, the power of the classroom shifts to the student.” I would go on to argue that in order for the learner-centered teaching strategy to be successful, the learner must be intrinsically motivated. Learning in this environment is based on how much effort a student is willing to put in. If a student lacks self-motivation, grades will suffer due to a lack of structure. If a student has an eagerness to learn, being successful in the flexibility of online learning will be a breeze.

There are certainly pros and cons to each learning environment and every student’s preferences are going to be different based on comfort level but as professors we must adjust our teaching to our classroom environment. The same teaching style that works in a concrete classroom will differ greatly from what works in an online setting. “Instructors must be able to design and directly impact the success of learners within their respective learning environments. Traditional instructors strength may not easily shift into a different learning environment. Instructors must become cognizant of different learning components that are integral to the success of the learner” (Crawford and Smith, p 144).

Integrating this into my project:

As a reminder, my final project idea is to create a website that allows teachers to come together and learn from each other in a more distinct social media-esque platform. In terms of the impact this learning has on my project, it touches home in two areas. The first dynamic relating to these learning environments is that the website could loosely be affixed to an online classroom. It certainly doesn’t have a single professor or grading or assignments, but, in essence, it is an online forum for learning. The other dynamic that integrates this is the content in which I will include on the website. There will be designated areas for each of the three learning environments at hand. Seeing as their needs to be distinctively different approaches to each classroom setting, it is fitting to have different tips and techniques to be accommodate the potential teachers that may visit the site.

Question to think about:

In a uninhibited, schedule-free, unbiased opinion which learning environment would you say promotes the highest level of retention and learning?

Additional Resource:

http://www.ted.com/talks/daphne_koller_what_we_re_learning_from_online_education 

References:

Crawford, C. M., Smith, R. A., & Smith, M. S. (2008). Course student satisfaction results: Differentiation between face-to-face, hybrid, and online learning environments  . [Article]. CEDER Yearbook, 135-149.

Merlot Pedagody. (n.d) Teaching Strategies. Retreived from: pedagogy.merlot.org/TeachingStrategies.html

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