Current Myths and Future Trends in Online Teaching and Learning
Curtis J. Bonk, Indiana University
a year ago, I completed a report, “Online Teaching in an Online World” (Bonk,
2001) that attempted to summarize the state of e-learning in higher education
(see PublicationShare.com for a free copy). This report captured the
needs, experiences, preferences, and activities of 222 college instructors who
were early adopters of the Web. It also recorded key support structures
that they required as well as the constraints and obstacles they commonly
faced. At the end of the report, several implications were offered related
to online learning pedagogy, tool development, instructional design, and
Some of these early adopters alluded to both the problems they
faced online (poor quality materials and courseware, lack of administrative
support, constant student demands, etc.) as well as the joys they experienced
(e.g., ease of access and use, unique cross cultural mentoring, inter-university
collaboration and pooling of resources, etc.). It is unfortunate, however,
when the successes or difficulties of online instruction are overgeneralized and
become myths or barriers to online instruction. It is vital for those
teaching online as well as those considering it, to sift through the various
myths and dispel or at least qualify them. In response, I point to some of
the myths of online learning that the data from our survey report allows us to
respond to. After discussing some of these myths, I will point to
technologies on the horizon that, while enhancing online learning, will likely
expand the prevailing myths.
Ten Myths of Online Learning in Higher
As indicated above, there are a myriad of myths related to
teaching online in higher education. Rumors are rampant about the time
requirements and constraints, the lowered quality of student learning, the ease
of taking an online course, and the lack of interactivity and engagement.
As detailed below, the findings of our survey report will help lay a few of
these myths to rest while perhaps simultaneously planting the seeds for new ones
to sprout up.
1. Web instruction is an either-or decision.
There are numerous forms of Web instruction and integration (Bonk, Cummings,
Hara, Fischler, & Lee, 2000). In fact, in our survey, forty percent of
the respondents had experience teaching partially online or blended courses, 18
percent had taught fully online courses, and 19 percent had done both. The
remaining quarter of respondents had posted syllabi or course resources to
places such as MERLOT or the World Lecture Hall, but had not yet taught on the
Web. From this vantagepoint, it is clear that the Web is often not the
sole source of learning. In fact, a blended approach to learning--some
live, some online--is often the most prominent and beneficial (Barbian, 2002;
2. Pedagogical tools exist to teach online.
Our respondents pointed to a huge need for tools for critical and creative
thinking on the Web as well as performance tools, lab tools, and simulation and
demonstration tools. At present, most institutions of higher education are
simply struggling with what course management tool to purchase. While
there was a nearly even split between Blackboard and WebCT use in our survey,
many survey respondents indicated that their organizations acquired two or more
courseware platforms and let faculty decide which one(s) to teach
Despite these options, none of the online courseware available
today offers what we need to teach and learn online. There are no
comprehensive courseware platforms that offer useful tools or options for online
debates, role play, comparison and contrast, or brainstorming (other than chat
tools). And there are no timeline tools, no taxonomy templates, and no
concept mapping tools either. How can college instructors teach without
such critical teaching support? Well, we have three choices: (1) we can
protest online learning as many college faculty members have done rather
unsuccessfully in the past; (2) we can partner with the e-learning corporations
and new ventures to develop better tools; or (3) we can wrap sound pedagogical
activities around these inferior tools. As indicated in many of my writings
(Bonk & Dennen, 1999, in press; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997), I opt for the
latter option as have many others (Oliver, Omari, & Herrington, 1998;
3. College instructors will flock to sophisticated
technologies. As many other studies show (Peffers & Bloom, 1999),
instructors tend to use technology that is simple to navigate and use.
Instead of using rich multimedia and interactive simulations, most rely file
uploading and downloading tools, discussion forums, synchronous chats, and tools
to post syllabi and lecture notes. The lack of audio and video content is
not too surprising given the limited broadband access in the United
States. At the same time, the role of online chats or the posting of one’s
syllabus should not be downplayed. Posting a syllabus may be a low level
of Web integration, but it also is a means to market and share one’s ideas and
teaching techniques (Bonk et al., 2000).
4. College instructors simply
need a little more training to teach effectively on the Web. Our
survey of early Web adopters indicated that college instructors need many forms
of training and support. The key support they requested was release time,
followed by instructional development grants and stipends, technical support
staff, time to learn about the Web, instructional design support, and training
on how to use the Web in teaching. Other high need areas included
increased access to the Web and other technology and time for course
5. College instructors will not place their work on
display for others to critique. While I often hear this complaint when
I travel the globe training instructors how to teach online, there is definitely
a growing trend to share resources online. It really does not matter if I
am in New Zealand, Australia, Korea, Canada, or Denmark, I hear people say that
college instructors in their particular country do not like to share what we do
with others. In each setting, there is a concern about opening up one’s
teaching practices to the Web. In stark contrast, over half of our
respondents considered course sharing as important to their personal and
professional growth. In return, some hoped to get pedagogical ideas,
answers to teaching problems, and expert advice from online instructor
6. If we ignore this long enough, online learning will go
away. While teaching online was approximately a one-fourth of their
current teaching load, our respondents anticipated that this will increase to
about half of their load within five years and over half by the year 2010.
Importantly, a parallel survey we conducted in the corporate training world
(Bonk, 2002) showed the same trends, though the numbers were even more striking
as corporate trainers and instructors perceived that over two-thirds of their
instruction would be online in ten years.
7. College instructors are
loyal. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of our survey occurred when
we inquired about freelance instruction. Only 16 percent had been
freelance instructors or hired guns on the Web in the past, but nearly 75
percent of those we surveyed anticipated teaching freelance or as online adjunct
instructors in the next five years. Perhaps these findings are skewed
somewhat by a more experienced survey sample, many of whom anticipate retiring
from their institution in the next few years but still want to maintain a foot
in teaching. Or perhaps it is due to a perceived need to experiment with
one’s teaching. Or perhaps they simply need to make more money.
Interestingly, these findings were replicated in our follow-up survey of
corporate trainers and instructors.
8. The institution will own the
online course. Only 16 percent of the respondents to the higher
education survey felt that their institution owned their online courses.
In addition, 63 percent of respondents indicated that their institution did not
have clear ownership policies or guidelines. Another 20 percent were
unsure about ownership policies at their institution. Certainly, for
online learning to grow, this is an issue that requires significant
institutional attention. In contrast, our corporate survey respondents
felt strongly that the corporation owned the online courses and course
9. College instructors can teach the same way that they
teach face-to-face. In many open ended comments, our respondents
noted that their instructional role was changing. Several indicated that
they needed to shift to more of a facilitator or moderator role online. In
fact, research from my colleague, Vanessa Dennen (2001), indicates that less
effective online instructors lack flexibility, do not provide qualitative and
quantitative guidelines related to student contributions, maintain didactic
approaches of traditional instruction, and do not allow students to share
perspectives. She found that more successful instructors fostered student
collaboration, interactivity, and engagement online. Additionally, the
effective instructor is more of a peer and co-learner than typically found in
10. Shhh…if you don’t say anything, college
instructors will just do this for free. Actually, most instructors want some
type of compensation for teaching online. Many of those we surveyed felt
that additional salary, royalty, stipends, release time, or other forms of
recognition might be highly appropriate.
Ten More Myths
11. Online learning is mainly about putting classroom
instruction on the Web.
12. Online learning is cheaper (or
more expensive) than traditional instruction.
learning is better (or worse) than traditional instruction.
Profit is the key motive. Learning is the key motive. Access
is the key motive.
15. Our organization or institution is
unique and needs to create its own online learning tools.
Young instructors are the main ones teaching online.
Time needed for online learning is equal to traditional
18. Higher learner dropout and attrition is a
fact of the online learning world.
19. Online learning will
not impact me.
20. The Web is just like any other
Future Technology Trends and Myths
Given the recent
emergence of online teaching and learning, the range of myths and rumors
concerning online learning is somewhat astonishing. For the most part,
such myths are limited to the technologies that are currently available for
online learning. But what happens when any one of dozens of possible new
technologies are further developed or merged with existing ones? For
instance, what happens to these myths as wearable and wireless technologies
continue to shift learning from set physical locations to a series of physical
and digital alternatives? Entire cultures (e.g., working, living, and
learning) will change as we are immersed in new forms of online learning
experiences. Of course, myths will arise about the time needed to learn to
use wireless technologies, the costs of wearable technologies, student access to
such technologies, and the degree of training needed to effectively integrate
them in teaching.
As history points out, the location of distance
learning will only be limited by the boundaries of human travel and associated
communication networks. While distance learning at the end of the
twentieth century included explorations at the poles, in the oceans, and out to
space stations, in the coming decades, interplanetary chats with explorers and
astronauts as well as remote views from distant satellites or spaceships will
enhance and intrigue learners. But what happens when humans begin to
settle on Mars, the Moon, or other planetary systems? With interplanetary
chats, online mentoring is bound to take on new meaning! Myths will
certainly arise regarding the capabilities of these systems, the forms of
mentoring offered, and the application of such mentoring to real world jobs back
here on Earth.
Whether we colonize other planets or not, in the near
future, licenses will be available for global online mentors. In addition,
global instructor interactivity ratings will be posted for those offering their
services online. As instruction becomes globalized, myths will arise about
the skills needed of an effective global teacher or mentor (e.g., cultural
sensitivity, fluency in multiple languages, task flexibility, instructional
innovativeness, and ability to build relationships and individualize
motivational techniques, etc.). And you can count on renewed myths about
the death of the traditional college instructor and university.
wearable technologies, there will be an explosion of opportunities to offer live
insights into cultural, historical, educational, and work-related events.
At the same time, developments in simulations and virtual world technology will
shift the focus of distance education from lecturing and memorization to
performance examinations in true-to-life situations (Aldrich, 2000, 2002).
Younger generations, in fact, will enter the online arena expecting
interactivity, visual effects, and rapid access to information. They will
likely be ecstatic to find their electronic books embedded with interactive
simulations and scenarios to be played on demand. As these events unfold,
myths will emerge about the quality of student learning as well as the transfer
or generalization of skills learned during simulated or virtual
These are just some of the technologies that are emerging to
alter or enhance online learning. There are dozens more. For
instance, what happens to the rumor mill when reusable learning objects are
standardized and exchanged across campuses? What happens when peer-to-peer
technologies for data sharing and work group collaboration are a more prevalent
than cross-campus music exchanges on Napster, iMesh, or Kazaa? And what
myths will be circulated when intelligent agents start guiding students through
their online experiences? Will those who utilize them be considered
smarter or dumber than their peers? Will agents be prohibited during
online examinations as pocket calculators were decades before? Still other
improvements in existing technologies are now forecasted to impact the online
learning scene. For instance, speech and handwriting recognition will soon
offer new opportunities for entry into and success within online learning
environments (Humer, 2002; Webb, 2001).
Online learning technologies
currently are in their infancy. Yet, instructors and learners are already faced
with a myriad of myths to consider and respond to. As this manuscript
attempts to point out, most often these myths do not match reality. But
when courseware is enhanced by electronic books, online mentoring programs,
wireless access, online communities, or other new technologies and approaches,
there will be an explosion of new myths as well as old ones to revisit.
Times such as these will be simultaneously exciting and challenging for college
instructors as well as for us myth
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Bio: Curtis J. Bonk, Ph.D., CPA
(http://php.indiana.edu/~cjbonk/) is associate professor of Educational
Psychology as well as Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University
(IU). He is a core member of the Center for Research on Learning and
Technology at IU where he co-directs a rural teacher technology integration
program called TICKIT (http://www.indiana.edu/~tickit/). Dr. Bonk is also
a Senior Research Fellow with the Army Research Institute. He received the
Burton Gorman teaching award in 1999, the Wilbert Hites Mentoring Award in 2000,
the “CyberStar” award from the Indiana Information Technology Association in
2002, and is in demand as a conference keynote speaker. He is President
and Founder of CourseShare.com and can be contacted at
Dr. Bonk's Company CourseShare
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