This post was originally written for Nik Peachey’s Learning Technology Blog and it has been reproduced here with his kind permission.
I’ve started this article with quite a bold statement, but it’s a conclusion that I have been coming too over the course of quite a few years now. I should really put this into context though, as most of the teacher training I do deals with pedagogical training for the use of technology and is most often delivered during intensive face to face sessions, usually with groups of teachers working in a computer lab. Though, having said that, I do still believe that many of the reasons I have listed below do also apply to other kinds of more ‘mainstream’ teacher development too, especially intensive courses.
So, here are my 15 reasons why I think developing your teaching online can be more effective.
Learn while you teach - This gives you the opportunity to try things out with your own classes working in your own environment with your own students. Often when we take a face to face intensive course we leave our familiar teaching environment and come back with lots of new ideas only to find that in our everyday reality many of them don’t work or create unforeseen problems that we don’t know how to deal with. Studying while we teach can give us the time to try out new ideas in our own work place, discover the obstacles and try to adapt them to our own context.
Non competitive - Face to face courses can often become quite competitive and tend to favour people who are more confident and extrovert and who like to shine. This can often lead to the quieter more reflective types being overshadowed and not having the opportunity to contribute what may well be valuable comment or ask the questions for which they need answers. The text based and asynchronous nature of online training makes it much easier for everyone to have their say and can lead to a much richer and more collaborative learning experience.
Work at your own computer - This sounds like a very strange advantage, but training with technology on your own computer can be a huge advantage. Contrary to popular belief, computers do tend to be unique. The way one computer is set up and how it responds and the kinds of problems you encounter can be very different from one computer to another. Nothing is ore frustrating than going on a course with a computer that is set up to make things easy for you and then returning to your own computer and finding that there are a whole different set of problems that you don’t know how to solve. Training to use technology with your students needs to include training to trouble shoot the problems that you may have with your computer and learning how to overcome these and set your own computer up to run effectively in your own working environment.
Experiential learning - The best way to learn about technology and online learning is to experience it for yourself. Being part of an online course gives you first hand experience of being an online learner and helps you to understand some of the challenges and obstacles your students will face when they use technology to study online.
Develop digital literacies - Even if you aren’t doing an online course which is technology specific, you should still be able to pick up a few new techniques and develop some of your digital literacies by studying online. Again, a good online course will have some element of digital literacy and study skills development built in. This should go some way towards helping you understand how your students are learning in the real world and the kinds of study skills they need to develop.
Digital networking literacies - This really falls within digital literacies, but it is worth highlighting as I feel that developing your digital networking skills has real significance for your continuing development. If you can learn how to build supportive relationships with the other trainees on your course so that you can retain these contacts as a network after you finish the course then you can put these networking skills to good use within the various open online communities and networks that exist within various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Having an online learning network and knowing how best to work within that network can help to ensure that you can guide your own continuing development after the course you are training on has finished.
Build international contacts - Online training often provides a much more international learning environment than the classroom and so this can help to broaden the learning experience as there is a much wider range of experience to share. Finding out about how things are done in different countries and very different contexts to your own can be very refreshing and enlightening and can really enhance the learning experience and the network building potential of the course.
Differentiated learning - As a trainer when you encounter a group of teachers face to face, it takes time and effort to see them as individuals with individual needs and interests. As an online trainer this experience is reversed, you are constantly dealing and communicating with each member of the group as an individual and this enables you to more rapidly assess their needs as individuals and adapt the learning to suit them.
One to one time - Following on from the previous point, almost all tutor – student time in online courses is one to one rather than whole group, so again it is easier to ensure that as a trainee you get the attention you need from your tutor.
Personality types - For shyer less confident students online leaning can work to their advantage because contributing in text can be much less threatening than doing it orally. You also have more time to consider your contributions to the group and can edit and re-edit them to be sure that you express yourself clearly.
Longer period of study - Learning something well really takes time. Online training can often take place over a much longer period of time than most face to face courses can. This keeps you supported and engaged in the learning process for a greater period and so allows more time for development.
Your learning journey - Because the interactions within an online course are digital, they are recorded and captured so you have the opportunity to go back and retrace and review your entire learning journey. This greatly increases the chances of a deeper learning experience and greater retention of what you have learned.
Time for reflection - Online training allows more time for reflection and good online learning structures in this reflection, so that you not only reflect on your learning process but have time to discuss and share your reflections and share in the reflections of other teachers
Flexibility - You can study at times that are convenient for you and for time periods that suit your learning concentration span. A lot of classroom training time often turns into dead time, because the length of lessons are dictated by administrative convenience rather than pedagogical advantage and trainers and trainees are often left pushing their way through materials long after their optimum concentration period has been exceeded. When you study online you can have a break whenever and however often you feel like. This gives you time to ponder what you have learned or move on to new materials at your own pace and use your time more efficiently.
Lower cost - The costs, not only of courses but also of travel, accommodation and time off work are often vastly reduced when you take an online course rather than a face to face course.
So those are my 15 reasons. Feel free to add any of your own in the comments section.
From the end of September 2012 I will also be running my own teacher development courses – ICT for ELT, so if you want to put my theories to the test, you can enrol on one of my courses. You can find more information here: Facebook ICT for ELT
Nik Peachey is an international expert on ICT/learning technologies, DELTA approved teacher trainer and writer. In 2012 he was the winner of an ELTons Award in 2012 for Excellence in Course Innovation in designing a Blended course programme. Nik is also the author of the OneStopEnglish series on Tools for Teachers and of Web 2.0 tools for Teachers