Online Education and the Future of Pedagogy

In the evolving educational landscape, a key factor in the success of online education will be how agile educators and faculty are in adapting to the necessary changes. In order to succeed two aspects come to mind. The first deals with the teacher’s ability to set and nurture a new context for the learner to succeed: the emergence of adapted or new pedagogy. The other concerns a relevant application of the emerging technical landscape: the ability to leverage technology in a way that it augments teaching capacity. In both cases, innovation in online education is required if the traditional format of teaching has to survive this digital disruption.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the field of education significantly. Online education has replaced in-person education in many countries and hybrid models of education seem to be the way forward for the future.  In this context, faculty and educators need to understand the components that make an online or hybrid class successful and learn to leverage the emerging technological landscape accordingly. Due to a lack of adequate preparation and given the rapid transition to online teaching, many faculty struggle to ensure a high quality of education in the new format. To this end, Portulans Institute in collaboration with the Global Business School Network (GBSN) conducted an Online Teachers’ Training seminar. Through a set of 10 unique sessions led by Jens Meyer, Professor at INSEAD, the aim of this seminar was to empower faculty and educators with relevant knowledge and tools to enhance their online teaching effectiveness.

The 10 online seminars were spread over a period of 10 weeks, starting January 2021, and had the participation of faculty and educators from 25 countries. These sessions were categorized under 4 clusters that focused on: emerging context and learning drivers, connecting with your audience, designing the pedagogical components, and assuring the best outcome. Each cluster explored two or more topics related to online teaching effectiveness and was facilitated by a field expert.

The first cluster focused on the emerging context and learning drivers. Most faculty experience significant challenges in balancing content delivery and student participation. Technical pitfalls and logistical challenges (limited internet bandwidth, no video/only audio) add to the already heavy burden and are common across the globe. The seminar discussions highlighted that many teachers now find a need to reevaluate their role in the classroom with respect to their teaching goals: what role will I have to play? Is “PowerPoint and lecture” sufficient? How can I bring my personality – introvert or extrovert – to play a meaningful role in context? Who’s my audience? What do the various types of learners – theorists, activists, reflectors and pragmatists – require? Use of pedagogy and instructional technology tools beyond “PowerPoint and lecture” are required if learning has to be customized to the online environment.

Building on the above common ground, experts shared perquisites to online teaching under the second cluster: connecting with your audience. The use of storyboards and storytelling is a productive and meaningful way of leading interactions in online classes. An active participant in the seminar, a faculty member of music and management in India, provided a valuable insight on storytelling – “… focus storytelling on 3S: Stopping, Striking and Sticking to connect better with students”. This point on connecting with students was further supported by a session on building socio-emotional connection in class, by topic expert Nana Von Bernuth, Professor and Business Coach at INSEAD. Most courses focus on cognitive presence in class whereas the pandemic induced social isolation has highlighted the need for an emotional connection in learning. See Figure 1. The lack of physical, social and emotional connection in online teaching can be offset by designing course content for the different types of learners.

The third cluster – designing the pedagogical components – helped to further develop the socio-emotional connections by identifying connected areas such as icebreakers, debriefs, managing debates and conversations in class. Icebreakers and debriefs help students to participate more actively by increasing the elements of social interaction. Unlike debriefs, icebreakers can be interspersed in the class but are optional depending on the extent of interaction between faculty and students. Debriefing at the beginning or end of online classes has become increasingly pertinent since attention and participation sways more drastically than during in-person class. The other challenge with student participation lies in moderating debates and discussions – understanding the tone of online communication is difficult especially in absence of physical cues.

Figure 1: Building socio-emotional connection in an online class.

The over-dependence on video and audio tools in absence of physical cues leads to the fourth and final cluster – assuring the best outcome – where experts shared how faculty can harness aspects of their personality (extrovert or introvert) to lead an online class. See Figure 2. This session by expert Dr. Timea Havar-Simonovich, Administrative Director at the International Institute for Strategic Leadership, highlighted how the skills required to conduct an effective online class are very close to those required while performing music on stage.

According to Dr. Simonovich, “The teacher is not only performing as a musical conductor but is also a music composer”. In an online class, faculty can exercise complete control over content delivery- by using audio/video/reading/writing tools; pace of teaching- moving faster or slower depending on real-time assessment of quantity/quality of information students are imbibing; the level of student participation- conducting discussions with smaller groups in breakout rooms. All this is improbable in the in-person format where the final goal is to ‘complete the course curriculum’.

Figure 2: Influence of an introverted/extroverted personality on quality of interaction.

The most important takeaway from this seminar has been that adjustment to the digital environment and the quality of online teaching has to evolve in tandem. To be successful in the online/hybrid format, faculty need to redesign course content in a way that goes beyond problem and inquiry-based learning to include cooperative learning and reciprocal teaching/learning. Technological tools can support customization of content to the online environment, but it is erroneous to assume that technology itself is the panacea for effective online education.

Beyond customized and real-time feedback, greater innovation in content delivery and in imparting higher-order thinking skills is needed. Without such constructive measures, the formal system of education risks being supplanted by economical, high-quality alternatives such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are being widely accepted in a post-COVID world.

Finally, like in this Online Teachers’ Training seminar with faculty participants and experts, digital education can benefit from pedagogical collaboration that focuses on troubleshooting issues students and faculty face as they now prepare to study/learn online today and in the future.

The illustrations have been designed by Véronique Olivier-Martin, Graphic Illustrator, https://veromillustration.com/.

For more information regarding the Online Teachers’ Training series, please consult https://gbsn.org/events/ or send an email to info@gbsn.org.