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In all the discussion about learning management systems, open educational resources (OER), massive open online courses (MOOCs), social media, options for assessment, learning analytics, new forms of credentials, and augmented and virtual reality, perhaps the most important issues, concern how technology is changing the way we teach and – more importantly – the way students learn. For want of a better term, we call this “pedagogy.”

What is clear is that major changes in the way we teach post-secondary students are being triggered by online learning and the new technologies that increase flexibility in, and access to, post-secondary education.


Changes in society, student expectations, and technology are motivating university and college faculty and instructors to rethink pedagogy and teaching methods.

New Demands of a Knowledge-Based Society

There are three separate factors at work in the knowledge-based society. The first is the continuing development of new knowledge, making it difficult to compress all students need to know within the limited time span of a post-secondary program or course. This means helping students to manage knowledge – how to find, analyze, evaluate, and apply knowledge as it constantly shifts and grows.

The second factor is the increased emphasis on applying knowledge to meet the demands of 21st century society, using skills such as critical thinking, independent learning, the use of relevant information technology, software, and data within a discipline, and entrepreneurialism. The development of such skills requires active learning in rich and complex environments, with plenty of opportunities to develop, apply, assess and practice such skills.

Thirdly, it means educating students with the skills to manage their own learning throughout life, so they can continue to learn after graduation.

New Student Expectations

Even the most idealistic students expect to find good jobs after several years of study, jobs where they can apply their learning and earn a reasonable income. This is especially true as tuition and other educational costs increase. Students expect to be actively engaged in and see the relevance of their learning to the real world.

Today’s students grew up in a world where technology is a natural part of their environment. Their expectation is that technology is used whenever appropriate to help them learn, develop essential informational and technological literacy skills, and master the fluency necessary in their specific subject domain.

New Technologies

Continuing advances in digital technologies, social media, and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, give the end user, the student, much more control over access to and the creation and sharing of knowledge. This empowers students, and faculty and instructors are finding ways to leverage this enhanced student control to increase their motivation and content relevance.


As faculty and instructors become more familiar with digital technologies for teaching and learning, pedagogical responses and strategies are emerging. The seven developments listed below impacted on how teaching is structured and how and where learning happens.

Blended learning

Until recently, there was a clear dichotomy between classroom-based teaching, often supplemented by technologies, a learning management system, and digital resources, and fully online teaching, in which an entire course is provided online.

Now there is a much closer integration of classroom and online teaching under the generic term of blended or hybrid learning, where classroom time is reduced but not eliminated, with substantial time being used for online learning.

In the ‘flipped’ classroom, the instructor may record a lecture and/or provide access to videos, readings, OER, quizzes, and other resources which students work through prior to coming to class. Classroom time is spent on interaction among students and with the instructor, whether through discussion, problem-solving, case studies, practical exercises, or lab work. Materials are often designed to be used after class for review and assignments.

Successful blended teaching and learning require a focus on what may best be done on campus, such as face-to-face interaction between students and instructors, and what may best be done online, such as providing flexibility and wide access to resources and experts. This requires a re-thinking of teaching and learning practice, as well as classroom layouts, as more interaction takes place, involving the students, instructors, and outside experts who participate in-person or virtually. Teaching models for both classroom and online delivery must be reconsidered and recalibrated in response to new technological capacities.

Collaborative approaches to the construction of knowledge/building communities of practice

From the early days of online learning, there was an emphasis on enabling students to construct knowledge through questioning, discussion, sharing of perspectives and sources, analysis of resources from multiple sources, and instructor feedback. Social media encouraged the development of communities of practice, where students share experiences, discuss theories and challenges, and learn from each other. The professor is no longer responsible for delivering all of the knowledge or even providing all of the sources for learning – but maintains a critical role as guide, facilitator, and assessor of the learning.

Some instructors encourage contributions and reflections from the wider public, to accompany formal courses that are ‘private’ to enrolled students, thus opening up courses to external expertise, and providing students with important contacts and networks outside the institution.

Most instructors have not experienced learning, much less teaching, in such collaborative environments, especially when facilitated through technology. It requires a re-consideration of roles, authority, and how learning is achieved and measured.

Use of multimedia and open educational resources

Digital media, YouTube videos such as TED talks  or the Khan Academy and, increasingly, open educational resources in the form of short lectures, animations, simulations, virtual worlds and many other formats enable instructors and students to access and apply knowledge in a wide variety of ways. There are now many thousands of examples of stand-alone, open educational resources that can be downloaded free for educational use. Examples include MIT’s OpenCourseWare, Apple’s iTunes University, and the UK Open University’s OpenLearn.

Even text books are changing to incorporate video and audio clips, animations and rich graphics, as well as becoming more interactive, allowing both instructors and students to annotate, add or change material including assessment exercises and feedback. e-Texts are developed to take advantage of open source material as a way of reducing student expenditure on books and facilitating updating of content. These electronic texts are, of course, accessible via mobile smartphones, tablets, e-readers and other mobile devices.

Using multimedia for education is not new, but, with the Internet, the selection and integration of appropriate sources – by both instructors and students – raises questions of quality, timely and appropriate usage, multiple points of view, and packaging of a wide range of resources within the framework of course-specific learning objectives and assessment practices. Balancing the use of multimedia and open educational resources with instructor-delivered content raises issues of course ownership and measurable learning outcomes.

OER can be provided as core course content, or specifically targeted to helping students who struggle to keep up or have not fully mastered key concepts or techniques. OER also appeal to an increasingly large group of students, inside and outside post-secondary education, who are interested in a topic, but don’t want to enroll in a formal program or course.

Increased student control, choice, and independence

Students can now access content, free of charge, from multiple sources via the Internet. They can choose alternative interpretations, areas of interest, and even sources of accreditation. Students have tools, such as smartphones and video cameras, to collect digital examples and data can be edited and used in student work. Thus, strictly managing a set curriculum in terms of limited content chosen by the instructor becomes less meaningful. The emphasis shifts to deciding what is important or relevant within a subject domain.This approach challenges the instructor to move away from selecting and transmitting information in large blocks or chunks, such as a one-hour lecture, to guiding students to find, analyze, evaluate, and apply information relevant to a particular subject domain. This ‘relevance’ becomes more negotiated between instructor and student. Indeed, the term ‘instructor’ becomes misleading in this context, as the role moves more to that of facilitator with less control over where and how learning takes place, and often entering into negotiation over exactly what the content is.

Students within any single ‘class’ are likely to have multiple needs. Within the framework of the learning objectives, more flexible approaches to content choice, delivery, assessment, and other factors are emerging. Equally important is educating students to take responsibility for their own learning and approach this as a skill to be taught and learned.

Anywhere, anytime, any size learning

The development of ‘any size’ learning is seen in the creation of smaller modules, such as those offered through the Learn on Demand‘ program at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, that can be built or aggregated into certificates, diplomas or even full degrees, and which can also be used as stand-alone, free, open resources. These smaller modules fit the needs of many full-time students who are working part-time, as well as those needing greater flexibility or additional help with their learning.Mobile learning, with smartphones, tablets and other devices, is the basis of the anywhere, anytime learning provided through online learning. Offering content, quizzes, multimedia resources, and connections among students using mobile devices requires a new look at course design, content packaging, and a consideration of limitations of data packages. How to best integrate mobile devices into course delivery and assessment is a field of continuing exploration.

There is growing demand from students for short, ‘just in time’ learning modules that fit an immediate learning need. The creation and aggregation of these modules for credit requires reconsideration of course structure and the crediting of learning that is not equivalent to a full course completion. In the evolving world of open access to learning, students who successfully complete such modules may be awarded ‘badges‘ or microcredits, with the possibility of credit transferred at a later time into a more formal program.

New forms of assessment

Digital learning can leave a permanent ‘trace’ in the form of student contributions to online discussion and e-portfolios of work through the collection, storing and assessment of a student’s multimedia online activities. Peer assessment involves students in the review of each other’s work, providing useful feedback that may be used in revision of documents and a better understanding of issues.The accessibility of such demonstrations of learning offers many advantages both to students and instructors, compared with traditional forms of assessment. New challenges also arise concerning what type of learning to assess, student support in using technology for sophisticated demonstrations of learning, and issues of security for exams. Not all students are as fluent and secure in their use of technology for learning and assessment as their continuous texting may indicate.

Learning analytics facilitate tracking of learning demonstrated through student digital activities easier and more scalable. Such analytical feedback to students can be continuous throughout a course, resulting in early diagnostics that enable students to focus on areas of weakness before a final assessment. Instructors can also use analytics to assess the quality and usefulness of course resources and track student participation, providing opportunities for intervention if necessary. Work in artificial intelligence looks at guiding students through programs of learning with resources and at a pace that matches their needs, interests and capacities. New accreditation methodologies foster greater clarity and ease for transferability and recognition of credits and learning.

Self-directed and non-formal online learning

While a minority of students may be fully capable of managing their own learning and have a long history of self-directed and non-formal learning in adult education, recent developments such as OER and MOOCs provide many more potential students with support and encouragement for self-directed or non-formal learning. The availability of free open educational resources, combined with social networking, enables large numbers of students to access knowledge without the necessity for meeting institutional prior admission requirements, following a set course, or having an instructor. Computerized marking and peer discussion and assessment provide students with support and feedback on their learning.

Opportunities for self-directed and non-formal online learning are likely to play an increasingly important role in learning.


Clearly indicated in these developments are some common factors or trends:

  1. A move to opening up learning, making it more accessible and flexible. The classroom with information delivered through a lecture is no longer the unique centre of learning.
  2. An increased sharing of power between the instructor and the student. This is manifest as a changing instructional role, towards more support and negotiation over content and methods, and a focus on developing and supporting student autonomy. On the student side, this can mean an emphasis on students supporting each other through new social media, peer assessment, discussion groups, even online study groups but with guidance, support and feedback from learning and content experts.
  3. An increased use of technology, not only to deliver teaching, but also to support and assist students and to provide new forms of student assessment.

It is important to emphasize these are emerging pedagogical trends. More experience, evaluation, and research are needed to identify those that will have lasting value and a permanent effect on the system.

A New Pedagogy is Emerging…