Needed: Well-trained online instructors

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Higher education doesn’t need any more online courses, according to a recent article in Forbes. The market is already saturated.

Educators refine their online teaching skills at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Distance Teaching & Learning Conference.
Educators refine their online teaching skills at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Distance Teaching & Learning Conference.

What higher ed does need, says author Barbara Kurshan, is more skilled online instructors.

“Online instruction is not the same thing as teaching face-to-face, and many don’t realize it until they find themselves teaching online and in hot water,” Kurshan writes in “Carts Before Horses: Growth in Online Learning for Students, but Who Will Teach Their Instructors?”

The article notes the tremendous growth of online learning, to the point where more than a third of undergraduates were enrolled in at least one such class in 2013. But it argues that most institutions have failed to help instructors teach effectively online.

Les Howles, the director of Distance Education Professional Development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agrees that designing courses and teaching in an online environment requires a new skill set.

“The quality of student learning suffers if online courses are developed around the ground rules of a face-to-face classroom,” Howles says. “We’ve entered a new world of teaching and learning. Quality online instruction requires new approaches in the way students interact with instructors, course content, and fellow students.”

A big gap in the market

Howles says that, in offerings by Distance Education Professional Development, participants gain an understanding of how online courses need to be designed and taught using innovative technology tools and instructional methods.

“Well-prepared online instructors know how to adapt learning theories and teaching practices for this space,” he says. “They know how to manage the complexities of an online learning environment, including online discussions, and how to actively engage learners at a distance.”

The Forbes article concludes that training for online instructors is “a good investment with potential for large returns to instructor and student learning as well as to institutional budgets.”

Unfortunately, Kurshan says, “there continues to be a big gap in the market waiting to be filled by people (and by programs) who are expert in both online pedagogy and in teaching people online pedagogy.”

For more information about Distance Education Professional Development, contact Les Howles, lhowles@dcs.wisc.edu, 608-265-9753.