What is the role of discourse, collaboration and technology for distributed learning in online courses?

I remember when students began exercising the option of taking an online distance course rather than taking a traditional course at Seward High School.  Teachers were reluctant to give up the control of the curriculum, and students struggled with the idea that they were in charge of their own learning.  Over time, online delivery became a widely accepted option but the ramifications included time management on the part of the student choosing an ODC and the perceived lack of rigor from the online course.  For example, I have had good students that withdraw from my writing class if they thought they would not be able to earn an “A.”  They would switch to online delivery and inevitably earn the grade they desired there.  From this perspective, I have agreed that skepticism has been a legitimate response. “More than six years of data from the national Sloan survey of online learning have shown that faculty acceptance of online education has consistently been seen as a critical barrier to its wide-spread adoption” (Harasim, 2012).  We have had valedictorians who chose the online route rather than the traditional delivery due to the fact that they felt early on in the semester that their grade point was in jeopardy.

At the same time, I can recall many of those same students who struggled in their first year of college as opposed to those that stayed the course in their regular face to face classes.  This, by no means is scientific, and generalizes the varied education practices.  This point is made only as a means to explore the concept of examining ODC as a truly equal and valid opportunity.

I appreciate that “rather than being passive recipients of mass consumer culture, the Net Gen spends time searching, reading, scrutinizing, authenticating, collaborating and organizing …” (Harasim, 2012).  This is where conventional educators struggle with the online opportunity.  Those of us that have found ourselves in the middle of the Knowledge Age simply do not completely understand the transformation that is taking place right before our very eyes.  We do not understand the brain function of 21st century learners, and the implications of social media and the communication methodology of this generation.  “The Knowledge Age mindset seeks the better or best way to solve a problem, rather than merely following instructions or replicating a textbook answer. This may well require redesign or the new design of a solution. Knowledge is viewed as dynamic and evolving, not static and finite”(Harasim, 2012).  Therefore, what is the role of the teacher and at what point does memorization of facts and key concepts take a backseat to the exploration of new discovery?

Collaborative learning is a natural inclination to the 21st century learner, but all too often, the regular classroom teacher does not entirely understand what true collaboration looks like and then the question of implementation becomes monumental.  “Online collaboration is not a second-best substitute for face-to-face work: It’s a complement with its own perks and benefits” (Samuel, 2015). Discourse is a natural occurrence in most learning situations and is not anew concept.  Learning from one another is a response to  question asker.  A question asker pursues answers when he is interested and motivated to find answers and solve problems.  Of course current research points out that change must naturally occur in order for online discourse to be successful.  “These studies commonly claim that electronic discourses, generating new social dynamics, require new instructional organization and strategies in order to promote students’ active learning” (Junghyun & Levin).  This works as it should in most learning situations, but begs the next question about the content and the subject matter.  What do we do when the learner is not interested in the curriculum?  What happens when the pursuit of individual truth becomes paramount to assigned curriculum? Do we as a culture no longer ask that we assume a common body of knowledge, literature and understanding?


An, J., & Levin, J. A. (nd). Online Discourse Patterns: Building an Instructional Framework for Designing Educational Discourses on Networks (Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) [Abstract]. Educational Psychology.

Harasim, L. (2012). Learning Theory and Online Technologies. [VitalSource Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781136937750/

Samuel, A. (2015, April 1). Collaborating Online Is Sometimes Better than Face-to-Face. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved September 20, 2016, from https://hbr.org/2015/04/collaborating-online-is-sometimes-better-than-face-to-face.



2 thoughts on “What is the role of discourse, collaboration and technology for distributed learning in online courses?

  1. Dan,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog this week. I especially liked the questions you posed at the end. I have thought a lot about your question about when the learner is not interested in the curriculum. That happens so often in face-to-face classes and I will admit, it has happened sometimes in my distance classes. I especially struggled with it when I was doing correspondence courses where I mailed in my work as I finished it. It is extremely difficult when there is no interaction at all with the instructor. Even with the planning of our Blackboard session this week, I thought to myself about how to make everyone engaged. I wish I had an answer to your questions. They are definitely important to think about and discuss!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dan,
    It is a very interesting angle and example that your student would withdraw from your class to take an online class for an easy A, but I think students might do that too even if the easier class was a face-to-face class. I probably would do the same for a better GPA. I was thinking, since the technology always develops faster than the reforms of education, and the young generation is always a firm advocate of the new tech and new products, the technology gap might always be there between the teacher and the students.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s