Unit 3 Lecture: Instructional Strategies for Promoting Meaningful Online Learning

As the instructor, you will be the guiding force in creating a successful learning experience for participants in your course. Instructors assume several different roles over the duration of a course, but the responsibilities we will be focusing on in this unit fall under the purview of facilitator and course manager.

Facilitating discourse is another dimension within teaching presence in which good practice is critical for a good course. Garrison (2017 p. 121 & 124) suggests the following methods for establishing a community of inquiry via facilitating discourse: acknowledge student participation, use a conversational tone, ask stimulating questions and challenge ideas, and moderate without overpowering a discussion. Studies show that students respond to discussion threads because of the exposure to different points of view, having a platform to voice their own perspectives, and the opportunity to thoughtfully respond to challenging questions (Buelow, Barry, Rich, 2018). While instructors should play a role in the discussion board at the beginning of a course, the expectation is that as students gain confidence with the material they will take on more responsibilities with self-directing their learning, so the instructor will not need to provide constructive guidance as often.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture, instructors have other responsibilities in an online learning environment besides facilitating discourse. Instructor-to-learner interactions are very important both inside and outside of the discussion board. Another element of instructional effectiveness is feedback. As mentioned in Unit 2, feedback is critical to creating a productive learning environment. “It is concluded also that feedback plays as important role in student retention in relaying different types of information needed by students to remain involved and connected in the online environment.” (Grant, Thornton, 2007 p. 351). In the study outlined in Graduate Student Perceptions of the Use of Online Course Tools to Support Engagement, King (2014, p. 11) states, “In the present study, students rated most highly ‘instructor feedback on assignments/assessments.’ Other features rated high by students were ‘email to and from the instructor’ and ‘access to grades.’ Students in the online environment may have felt that the feedback provided by the instructor was important to help them improve their performance on future assignments and tests and to help them understand the relevance of the assignment to their learning and career goals.” (King, 2014, p. 11). As you can see, in King’s study graduate students prioritized instructor feedback as the most important driver of engagement in their online course.

While learner discourse is concentrated primarily in the discussion board, instructor opportunities to facilitate are not limited to discussion threads (Hayes, Shea, Vickers, 2010 p. 129). Creating a feeling of accountability and presence can be achieved via e-mail, announcements, and available materials (i.e. videos, mini-lectures, etc). Bolliger & Martin (2018, pp. 218-219) note in the conclusions of their study, “It is important to note that engagement strategies that support interactions with instructors were valued more than strategies that aimed at interactions with learning material and other learners. Instructor presence is very important to online learners. They want to know that someone “on the other end” is paying attention. Online learners want instructors who support, listen to, and communicate with them. As some of the participants mentioned, they appreciate frequent updates from their instructors and want to have an instructor who is not only responsive but supportive.” Your presence is felt and appreciated by students, and they want to feel that you are as invested in their success as they are. Please watch the video below for some helpful tips on making your presence felt.


Questions for thought:

Why is the discussion board so important to the Community of Inquiry framework?


What’s next?

In the next unit, we will cover increasing interactivity via activities and technology. Consider your role as facilitator and course manager in the next unit and consider feedback strategies you will use to keep learners engaged long-term.

Return to Unit 3: Instructional Effectiveness in an Asynchronous Virtual Learning Environment to complete remaining activities.

NOTE: You will find citations for this lecture on the Driving Learner Engagement in an Online Environment References and Resources page.