Initial Thoughts On Addressing Online Learners and The Effectiveness of Online Education


Where are you on the Grow’s Staged Self-Directed Learning Model described in Stavredes (2011)? What is the implication of this model for you as an online teacher?

Of the all of the readings and materials this week, the most fascinating, perhaps because they are almost immediately applicable in any teaching context, were two models presented by Stavredes (2011) that describe learner stages and social styles. While no model will ever be 100% accurate in its predictive power, they do approximate (or successively approximate) how a particular scenario should work, and are better and far more valuable than having no model at all (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). Grow’s Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) Model is no exception.

Upon examining the chart and reading through more detailed descriptions of what it means to belong to a certain stage, I immediately saw myself falling under Stage 3 and 4, depending the specifics of a particular course. Most recently I took a course in introductory Web Design for educators, and given my personal and professional experience, I would most definitely fall into Stage 4. My own self-assessment notwithstanding, I am fairly confident that many of my close peers and colleagues would also describe me this way.

As a Stage 4 learner I should have skills and knowledge in the subject, and this was entirely accurate for Web Design. In this course on Adult Online Instruction, I would be safe labeling myself as a Stage 3 learner due to prior experience completing a  masters degree online, but also one that happened to cover distance education since it was in Instructional Design. As a stage 4 learner I should also possess skills in time management and project management (Stavredes, 2011), some which are the result of 8 years of teaching and managing classes and students semester to semester, as well as professional experience actually managing projects such as LMS roll outs and iPad 1:1 pilot programs. Other influences are just normal obsessive-compulsive tendencies to always be organised and self-directing. Understanding my own stage as a learner has strong and vitally important implications for me not only as an online teacher, but an educator in general.

Having worked in K-12 education for 5 years, a word frequently thrown around, yet difficult to see in practice, is differentiation. Tomlinson (1999) succinctly describes differentiation as the practice of responding to variations in learner need, which often can be viewed in the lens of content, product, process, and learning environment. Much like responsive web design the concept is simple, implementing it successfully, however, is often the challenge. The SSDL stands out as a useful tool for differentiation with learners, whether on or offline. It provides a qualitative description of learners with prescriptive strategies for helping them to learn and ultimately be successful in class.

The first implication is that I need to view the course from multiple learning stages, and not just my own. This if often a reality I have to remind myself of as an educator, and as a student. Expecting all students to approach a course in a uniform manner or a manner congruent with my own would be (and is) problematic, to say the least. I may be a highly motivated and self-directed learner, but not all students are, and nor do they need to be.

The second implication from the SSDL is the prescriptive strategies for working with learners from their respective stage. While they may not always work flawlessly in practice, they strike me as an excellent guide (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). As Stavredes (2011) notes, “it demonstrates the need to adapt your teaching style to match learners’ degree of self-directedness” because it is “a critical factor in learners’ ability to persist” (p. 17). And more than just provide the impetus for doing so, it provides strategies for doing so. As Januszewski and Molenda (2008) eloquently described, teachers and students are “collaborators in a common enterprise” and both must make an effort to adequately fulfil their roles (p. 20) The SSDL Model is an easily applicable method for any teacher to work towards that end.


Are learning outcomes in online courses/programs comparable to face-to-face courses/programs? Why or why not?

Learning outcomes, standards and benchmarks, goals and objectives, key performance indicators (KPI), etc., are terms that come from different fields yet fundamentally describe the same idea. There is a vast amount of detail and nuance that come along with them depending on whether they are cognitive, psychomotor, or affective in nature (Morrison, Ross, Kalman, and Kemp, 2011). But in the larger picture, there has long been debate over whether distance education or online courses are effective when compared to traditional face-to-face classes (Allen & Seaman, 2013; Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012; Seibold, 2007).

My personal opinion is that the assumption behind this debate is slightly flawed in that face-to-face courses, by default, are considered effective. This seems like an improper control in place that skews the perspective on the issue of quality and effectiveness. Every student has taken courses at brick and mortar institutions that would be considered ineffective, a waste of time, or useless.

Nevertheless, in light of the research that has been conducted on distance and/or online education is that, all things being equal (e.g. resources, instructors, program content, goals, etc.), online/distance courses are, for all intents and purposes, equally effective (Allen & Seamen, 2013; Simonson et al., 2012). While a minority voice pejoratively views online courses, this perspective is simply not supported by the research that exists over the last 10 years (Allen & Seaman, 2013), or more broadly over the last 70 years (Simonson et al., 2012), and distance education has been conducted since the 1800’s!

As Allen and Seaman (2013) are careful to note, “chief academic officers are reporting their personal perceptions about the relative quality of online and face-to-face instruction” (p. 25). I find it ironic that the debate centres around the format of the course (challenges of the format aside for the moment), rather than the instructional design of it. The core educational goal is what matters. I cannot fathom any one arguing over whether water should come in a glass bottle, plastic one, a bladder, or that somehow one is superior to the other. Each form meets a specific need (or constraint), the most important issue is the water being potable! That being said, resistance to change and misunderstanding is also nothing new (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn, 2008).

Nor may it be a new phenomenon, but with the explosion of telecommunications technologies, specifically the Internet and web-based software such as CMS’s, online education has simply become a more ubiquitously known fact (Simonson et al., 2012). But with the larger dissemination and availability of online courses has come misinformation and misunderstanding by the public at large. Seibold (2007) also notes that while differences in outcomes may be negligible (i.e. they are equivalent in effectiveness), the perceptions of the final outcome, the degree, is still skewed. This perspective is also coloured by a western socio-cultural context as in my country of residence, South Korea, there is no negative bias towards open/cyber universities, making the argument a moot point of discussion locally.

In summary, though, to try and provide a reasonably informed answer and/or opinion to whether or not online courses/programs are as effective as their brick and mortar counterparts, the simple answer is “yes” (as long as the components are equal). The more complicated answer, however, is “it depends”, but then again, so is the effectiveness of any course or program.


Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in

the United States.

Januszewski, A., Molenda, M., (2008). Educational technology: A definition with commentary (2nd ed.). United States: Lawrence

Erlbaum Associates.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework

for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.

Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2011). Designing effective

instruction (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Seibold, Kathy Norene. 2007. “Employers’ perception of online education.” Dissertation,

Oklahoma City: Oklahoma State University. Retrieved from


Schermerhorn, J. R., Hunt, J. G., & Osborn, R. N. (2008). Organizational behavior (10th ed.).

Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a

distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Stavredes, T. (2011). Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success.

San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stewart, C., Bachman, C., & Johnson, R. (2010). Students’ characteristics and motivation orientations for online and traditional degree programs. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6, 367–379.

Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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