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Reflection: Online Teaching and Critiques of Andragogy Theory

June 1, 2013

1. Define Online Teaching and Learning

Online teaching can be defined as providing instruction through platforms and tools available through the internet. Dawley (2007) emphasizes certain characteristics that are critical for a successful online course. The course must be relevant and include challenging activities, the teacher must provide feedback, there must be meaningful peer interaction, and the course design must be easy to use, and include quality sources. I would add that material should be relevant to the learner.

I must propose a small change to the definition provided by Ko and Rossen (2010). The authors state that online teaching pertains to courses taught online. I propose changing that to also include individual class sessions. As a librarian, I do not teach entire courses. However, I have a strong presence in physical and online courses, often teaching specific class sessions and responding to individual or group research requests throughout the term. The learning material that I hope to apply from this course will be used in these individual and more succinct situations rather than full-fledged courses.

Dawley (2007) also states that an online course should be self-pacing. While the self-pacing is often limited somewhat by module due dates, I appreciate that factor throughout the MET degree program, and especially in this term. This June in addition to taking two grad classes, I am working full-time and watching three nieces and nephews while another nephew is undergoing medical treatment for a chronic health condition. Fortunately I am able to self pace by starting some coursework before the course actually begins and fitting coursework around my many June activities. I look forward to a slower and saner July when finishing the second half of this course!

I appreciated Ko and Rossen’s (2010) list of situations where online learning may be best, including adult learners for reasons of flexibility, underserved locations such as rural areas, and specialized degrees or credentials. It does lead one to think more deeply about when traditional courses may be more appropriate such as for traditional undergraduate students who may benefit most from deep relationships with instructors and peers as they form identities and create life goals. Traditional schools need to examine their student populations and continually adapt and define the role of traditional, hybrid and online instruction in their programs.

2. What are the Primary Criticisms of Andragogy and Where Do You Stand on the Issues

I enjoyed reading Taylor and Kroth’s (2009) summary of Knowles’ key assumptions of andragogy and the various critiques of it. In my upcoming instruction with online MSN students, I will especially take four of the assumptions into consideration. Adult learners are ready and excited to learn if they understand the relevancy of the materials. They also need to know why they are learning a particular concept, which I will take pains to explain. Finally, it will be important for me to take the adult learning orientation into account. The traditional undergraduate nursing students that I teach now often have postponed application as they are just learning the basics of nursing and evidence-based practice. They don’t understand why effective literature searching will be important to them in the future. As I transition to teaching MSN students in addition to undergraduate students, I can take their experience and immediate application into account and expand their learning more easily.

There have been several criticisms raised about the proposed learning theory of andragogy. The primary critique is whether it is in fact a full-fledged learning theory and can be tested as such. As cited in Taylor and Kroth (2009), “Pratt raises concerns about the lack of empiral studies” (p. 7). Knowles attempts to thwart this critique by backing down on whether this is a learning theory or simply a set of assumptions that can help instructional design. I find myself agreeing that this is not a learning theory, but can instead be helpful guidelines. I found a similar critique of the emergent learning theory of Connectivism (Bell, 2010). I’m comfortable letting the educational theorists take to the battleground of whether these emerging concepts are complete learning theories; I am more interested in the practical applications.

Another critique is that the effectiveness of andragogical principles is difficult to measure. Taylor and Kroth (2009) equate this difficulty with both tests and grades. I disagree with this to some extent. I believe that instruction delivered with andragogical guidelines are difficult or even impossible to assess through tests. In my experience, the courses I’ve taken through this MET program have followed these guidelines and I have not taken a test in any of these courses. It would not be an effective assessment tool. However, I feel that this criticism does not recognize other effective assessment options of the work assigned in online classes for adults such as peer review, projects, and reflections. All of these can be assessed and graded appropriately. Indeed they should be assessed to provide an accountable learning experience.

Bell, F. (2010). Connectivism: Its place in theory-informed research and innovation in technology-enabled learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 98–118.

Dawley, L. (2007). The tools for successful online teaching. Hershey: Information Science Pub.

Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching Online: A Practical Guide (3rd ed.). Routledge.

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