Week 6        Learning Theory in a DL Context         Michael Nauth EDDL 5111


  1. 1.    What were the most interesting or important considerations for thinking about learning theory in distributed or online teaching environments?


I think that one of the most important considerations when considering Learning Theory in the DL environment is the asynchronous learning network.  When credit is given for a DL course, it is no longer without temporal limitations.  Learners are not allowed to operate at a pace that is convenient to them and appropriate to the learning process (Pringle, 2002, p.2).  There are weekly lessons, assignments, and blogs and commenting on blogs.  If ‘life’ gets in the way, the learner is then running behind the bus trying to catch up.  Missed or late assignments or comments translate into lower grades, and unfortunately in the Post-Secondary world, it’s the grades that count.  Taking a non-credit MOOC, the learner has the opportunity to read and reread, to reflect, to experiment, and to formulate ideas and solutions.


The other consideration that I feel is very important is the learners’ comfort level with the technology.  It is very important that students (esp. the younger adults) be clearly informed about the digital aspects of their program so that they will be willing participants.  This year, in one of our construction courses at the college, the students were ‘surprised’ that their textbook was an e-text and they (71%) clamored for a refund so that they could apply it to the cost of a paper text.  They were not comfortable with reading a 900-page text on the screen and correlating topics that were discussed in different chapters in varying depths.  Almost all of them have laptops, but very few were taking notes or following along with the calculations on them.  They were note-taking on paper, which I suppose makes sense, since their tests and exams are on paper.  Only about one half of the class would want to take their courses online.

A good salesperson must know his or her product, must know the customer, and must provide support for the customer.  The DL facilitator needs to meet face-to-face with potential students to establish a baseline for their technology capacities and capabilities and to develop a rapport with them as individuals.  Then the learning content and methodology can be tailored to suit the group as a whole and to suit individuals at either end of the spectrum.

  1. 2.    Do you think certain learning theories are more relevant or appropriate for considering learning at a distance as compared to a face to face (f2f) environment?


As social creatures who have grown accustomed to relating to the world around us through our senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch, there will be a difference in the way that certain Learning Theories are appropriate in f2f as opposed to DL. Social Development Theory argues that social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end products of socialization and social behaviour and for the most part that will mean f2f interaction.  If we espouse Brain-Based Learning, then the digital technology will definitely be more relevant.

  1. 3.    Are there different challenges in applying learning theory to teaching practice in a distributed learning context?


Definitely there are different challenges in the DL context.  The first challenge is to get the teacher up to speed and comfortable in the digital world.  What we learned at Teachers’ College is no longer sufficient. The help of an instructional designer is recommended.  There is also the challenge of technical support and trouble-shooting for platforms such as Blackboard.  A high teacher presence to ensure ‘modelling’ and encouragement (coaching) for the learners, and that means an appropriate allocation of time for DL courses.  If the teacher is stressed for time, the DL course will degenerate into a correspondence course.  It is also difficult to ‘see’ which of the learners is struggling with the course so intervention (scaffolding) might come too late.  On the other hands, articulation, exploration, and collaboration are easier to engage in the DL context.



Pringle, R. M. (2002). Developing a community of learners: Potentials and possibilities in web mediated discourse. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 2(2).  Retrieved from:http://www.citejournal.org/vol2/iss2/currentpractice/article2.cfm



1 Comment on Week 6 Learning Theory in DL context

  1. paquino says:

    I found your discussion of considerations in DL learning interesting – it sounds as though you are experiencing some of the same frustrations that I am with the weekly assignments, blogging, and commenting. Perhaps its partly my fault for taking 2 courses, but I had not expected the weekly work load plus other assignments – it has not been typical of other post-secondary courses I have taken, including my Master’s (although that was f2f). I have had to decide I will forgo some marks if I don’t have time to get to everyone’s blogs to comment. The other consideration I think for this type of DL is participation – is everyone submitting assignments on time, as this also affects the ability to comment?

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