What does a teacher do? He or she helps you learn something. Very often, that’s not by using a classic lecture, in which cartoons show the professor opening up the top of your head three times a week and pouring in knowledge…although that style of teaching still exists in many classes.
In contrast, today’s online teachers often pose challenges, assign group studies, ask questions without a definitive answer, and generally try to challenge you and encourage you to find meaning in your learning experience. At least, that’s what they are encouraged to do. Every year, more of them are trying out new teaching techniques and styles of interaction.
Why? Because an online course isn’t like a face-to-face course. In a classroom, the professor can’t spend much time answering questions because the time is devoted to presenting content, usually by lecture. But in an online course, the doors to discussion are open 24/7. As a result, a good online course can have much more discussion than any classroom course ever could because there’s more time available. And the teacher can interact with students at any hour, day or night.
In fact, sometimes a distance education class has more than one “teacher” because students generally are older and have more professional experience. As a result, they contribute a lot more real-world experience to the class discussion. Of course, this depends on how the class is run – which is where the teacher comes in. Many of today’s teachers understand this and encourage a robust discussion in the online class, knowing that students often learn from each other, as well as from them.
We can’t promise you that every class will use new teaching techniques because every teacher has his or her own habits, practices, and beliefs. But we can promise you that learning in an online course will be a different experience than entering a face-to-face classroom.
Back in 1967, Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message (or massage).” As a distance student, this means you will have a different experience in learning through different media. You can still learn and master all the course objectives, but your experience will be different depending on whether you are learning online, by correspondence, in a face-to-face classroom, or through some combination of media. And the way teachers interact with you will be somewhat different in every medium, which is as it should be.
Set aside your mental images of the gray-bearded professor with the tweed jacket and leather elbow patches because teachers come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Today’s teachers are a whole different group – and so are today’s students.
If you enjoyed this post, check out its companion piece, “What is a classroom?”