The big old debate between online versus face-to-face learning makes less sense with each passing day.
Multiple studies have already concluded “no significant difference” between online and traditional, classroom-based approaches to learning. (All the research linked to is listed on the ‘R&R’ at the end of this article.) Scientists have essentially settled it: Online learning can be as effective as face-to-face or traditional learning methods.
Which means one thing. The focus now should move towards identifying the learning strategies that are the most effective, given the sprawling set of available tools.
Few of them, however, are no longer optional. There is no better example of it than Learning Management Systems (LMS).
In a growing number of institutions, and practically all Higher Ed, learning is facilitated directly by an instructor over an LMS. When instructors are involved in the learning process, they they play a more critical to the learning success. It would seem reasonable to associate this active role with face-to-face interactions, but if you think about it, there is no reason to believe that just because a teacher is in front of their students they will be more attentive —let alone to each and every one of them— than a teacher through a computer, especially if they have access to a dashboard that provides access to the student’s “vitals.”
The latest trend in student success research: ‘Immediacy’
Academic researchers have correlated instructor engagement with “immediacy,” or the set of behaviors that reduce the psychological reaction between a lesson and its application. As it turns out, learning immediacy is a prosperous line of study for student success, as defined by either student satisfaction, higher average grade in the course, or both.
Recent work has been done on the characteristics and shapes of learning immediacy, both from the teachers and the students’ perspectives. The most common form is verbal immediacy. The following are some examples of ideal parts of the conversation where immediacy could play a role.
A conversation is an opportunity for everyone to socialize, exchange information and ask and answer questions in more assertive ways. This happens naturally, but what recent research reveals is that purposeful, directed communication practices can enhance the overall student-tutor relationship.
In a related vein, a distance learning experience in Saudi Arabia suggests that by acknowledging the components and outcomes of verbal immediacy to ensure they remain in practice on the online space, many of the qualitative elements thought to be unique to the face-to-face experience can either remain present, or not be missed.
Interactions and use of personal pronouns
Verbal immediacy can also be seen as a testing ground for soft skills. In this experiment, deliberate and consistent use of names and active voice can show effects on educational attainment and long-run outcomes.
If there is a field deserving of more respect and attention among educational technologists, is ethnography. Fortunately, the research on immediacy increasingly looks as a way to welcome rigorous, qualitative approaches. Case in point, this virtual ethnography exercise at a Mexican university. It highlights the value of personal storytelling as input for user experience design.
Attending student requests
An unexpected prowess of qualitative research into immediacy is the unique way in which it can highlight biases of more quantitative approaches to educational research. Among other things, there seems to be a fundamental misconception on the ability of qualitative immediacy research to inform the effectiveness of teaching practices. Fortunately, comprehensive works such as this one are a testament in its favor.
Direct student addressing
It also does not mean that interventions need a lot of preparation or custom development. Malaysian researchers focusing on “asynchronous computer-mediated communication” found a powerful ally in one of the most elementary and pervasive computational technologies: Email. Given its unrelenting popularity, it surprising that this kind of research on the efficacy of email communication is not more widespread.
Repeated student contact
Another lesson that is commonly lost among quantitative-only research is the lack of cultural context, or “maximizing” assumptions, i.e. believing that more of something good is always better. (Perhaps due to the excessive emphasis on linear regressions.) As a result, we are surprised when we see research showing that more frequent contact is not always better, and that the rate varies according to the student background.
Enhancing immediacy with state-of-the-art learning technology
Once again, it would seem verbal immediacy would favor direct face-to-face interactions. You only have to look a little deeper to realize how a thoughtfully crafted interface can provide teachers powerful tools not just to enhance its immediacy, but to measure its effectiveness and even possibly make decisions about the most effective practices worth pursuing and investing in.
Visual cues in the online environment such as color, graphics, and the instructor’s picture enhance the perceived immediacy and signal expressiveness, accessibility, engagement, and politeness.
An essential element, perhaps not the same as but closely related to immediacy is the concept of presence. It is widely accepted that instructors teaching online must be felt as “seen” by students, to perceive them as present in the learning environment. In order to establish their presence online, technologies can assist instructors so they can develop consistent patterns of interaction, provide feedback, and moderate online classroom forums.
Optimize immediacy and presence: It’s all about data
The activities that instructors engage with in the learning management system are data points within the data tables. Determining where, when, what, and how long an instructor has spent in the LMS, the course, or the activity can be detailed with numerous reports and analytics that allow for identification of an overall picture of “instructor engagement.”
IntelliBoard reporting and analytics, available for Blackboard Learn, Instructure Canvas, Brightspace D2L, and Moodle-based LMSs, is a market leader in this sense. It provides comprehensive reporting on instructor behavior needed to identify and improve instructor engagement and perception of teacher immediacy. Ultimately, correlates to learning success. Having the information needed to make educational decisions based on data improves the learning experience for all.
Resources & References
- Alharbi, Samar F. “Immediacy Practices in Online Learning Environments.” (2018).
- Anumudu, Chinedu Eugenia, M. Al-Muz-zammil Mohd. Yasin, Ahmad Ghazali Akmar and Muhammad Pauzi Abd Latif. “A Review on the Efficacy of Immediacy Factors towards Achieving Communication Satisfaction via Email among Academic Staff.” Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 9 (2018): 233 – 241.
- Fahara, Manuel Flores and Armida Lozano Castro. “Teaching Strategies to Promote Immediacy in Online Graduate Courses.” (2015).
- Ghamdi, Abdullah Al, Ahmad Nabil Samarji and Anthony P. Watt. “Essential Considerations in Distance Education in KSA: Teacher Immediacy in a Virtual Teaching and Learning Environment.” (2016).
- McMurtry, Kim. “Effective teaching practices in online higher education.” (2016).
- Walkem, Kerrie. “Instructional immediacy in elearning.” Collegian 21 3 (2014): 179-84.
- Wendt, Jillian L. and Jennifer Courduff. “The relationship between teacher immediacy, perceptions of learning, and computer-mediated graduate course outcomes among primarily Asian international students enrolled in an U.S. university.” International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education 15 (2018): 1-15.
IntelliBoard is a sponsor of LMSPulse. For more information about how IntelliBoard can help your institution, please contact Dr. Tonya Riney, [email protected]