Skip to content
Home » Digital Thinking Blog » Online Teaching and Learning

Online Teaching and Learning

    Last Updated on May 22, 2023

    The most important aspect of any learning is the Learning Outcome

    I last wrote about Online Education just before the Corona Virus hit the News – back in November 2019. Oh, what halcyon days they were. I remember fondly taking the train into the city, grabbing a Starbucks to go, setting up my class as maskless students entered the room, and touched literally hundreds of different surfaces without once washing my hands.

    The days of physical classrooms and offices may soon become the stuff of fiction. Cambridge University is moving all its classes online until 2021, Facebook will allow employees to work from home until October 2020, and Twitter is allowing employees to work from home forever.

    Change and Corona

    Like any great change, the current digital transformation we are experiencing has been uneven. Some social and economic groups have been living a digital lifestyle since the 1990’s with home computers, remote work, and cellphones. Some, like our public education system in many respects, are just now jumping at the guy ropes dangling before them as the balloon lifts away.

    In many respects, access to digital change is often determined not by our willingness to change, but by the ability set by our resources. The technological Haves and the Have-not in any generation have always been divided along lines of their education, resources, abilities, jobs, and access to digital tools. The recent months of Home Schooling showed us we are also divided between those households whose children have access to a laptop and high-speed internet, and those who do not.

    The Stay at home months have also been defined by those who could work at home and school at home, and those who could not. Education and Childcare, considered a basic right for school aged children and their parents, is becoming more than ever a very visible commodity. The digital divide in which we find ourselves is showing signs of widening rather than narrowing.

    Cataclysmic events have often been the precursor to social and technological change. Steam Power and Western Expansion, Weapons of Mass Destruction and World War 1, Social Welfare and The Great Depression, Democracy and World War 2, Space Exploration and Computers and the Cold War, and now Digital Transformation could be given the final push thanks to the Corona Virus.

    The responses to the Covid-19 pandemic are simply the amplification of the dynamic that drives other social and ecological crises: the prioritisation of one type of value over others.

    Simon Mair The Guardian

    Online Teaching as a parent

    As a parent I raised my oldest child twenty years ago, on the cusp of digital learning – a modem, Disney learning programs on CD, games built in Flash and played in a Netscape browser on a desktop computer. My youngest child is now 11, and has never known anything but WIFI, handheld devices, and on demand television. I showed him my Brick telephone and he swore I was just trying to pass a walkie-talkie off as a phone.

    For some of my friends, Home Schooling was always a reality. For many of us, digital teaching aids at home were a way of supplementing what we considered below average public schooling. This is not to criticise our teachers most of whom are amazing. It is simply an answer to the way this generation of children learn and live. Digital Natives are simply born multi-taskers.

    Our latest generation do things faster and better than we did at their age – and they don’t even think about it. You only need to watch your children handle a tablet or try to play the latest computer game with them. It’s scary. And, it appears for them to be intuitive.

    Our education system – based on books, blackboards, classrooms, and subject blocks is mostly woefully outdated. It hasn’t changed from when I was in school – and that was in the early 1970s. We’ve come a long way since then Baby …

    As a parent I find myself, even as a digital professional, often overwhelmed. Mostly I can hold my own, but I wonder how it is for parents who don’t build websites or teach digital marketing for a living – or who don’t have a laptop for each child.

    I am lucky enough to have many laptops, WIFI, and handhelds available at home. I am lucky enough to be able to work from home – even though it means juggling what I need to do for work and what I need to do as a parent which is all now happening within the same four walls.

    I can see how frustrating it is for kids to be cut off from their social development and education. Parents and the home are not a good replacement for friends, schoolgrounds, and school buses. The home is a refuge and a place to relax – it not the best workplace or school.

    Nearly one in five students between kindergarten and 12th grade do not have computers or speedy Web connections, according to data compiled by the Pew Research Center in 2018, the latest available.

    Monica Anderson, Pew’s associate director of research on the Internet and technology.

    Online Teaching as a Teacher

    As a teacher I want to spend as little time as possible in explaining a teaching tool or system. I once sat through the first 40 minutes of a class while the instructor worked to get everyone onboard google hangouts … while we were IN google hangouts …

    The most important aspect of any learning is the Learning Outcome. The longer we spend explaining a system, or finding a page in a book, or sharpening a pencil, the less time we have to get to the point. Often the point is lost in the shuffle. Online Learning also raises the question of digital competence – not only in our children but in our teachers and in ourselves as parents. How computer-savvy are we as teachers or parents and, how computer literate are our children?

    In the first module of my program Smart Seniors, I focus on using technology to solve everyday problems. I think it’s important to develop “everyday competencies”. Making lists, shopping, organising a trip, remembering to call a friend – things we do every day and for which our phone for example is perfectly suited.

    The goal of the program is not to teach people how to use a tablet or a phone or a laptop – the goal is to introduce them to tools with which they can solve a problem they are having. Regardless of age group, the learning outcome must take precedence over the learning process itself.

    “Think about what your learners need to do with that information after the course is finished and design around that.”

    Matthew Guyan

    Online Learning as a Method

    Online Learning, or e-learning, like online … anything really, can be very distracting. How easily are you able to concentrate on something online? How stable is the internet connection? Are you distracted by the urge to click somewhere? Open another tab? Adjust your headphones? Remove the cat from your keyboard? Imagine how it must be for children who have a lower attention span – at least when it comes to schoolwork. Their attention span seems to be fully functional when it comes to a 3-hour run on Fortnite or Minecraft.

    Prior to the Corona crisis I had been using many different platforms – as employee, teacher, and student. I was involved in creating some of the first MOOCs for our university back in … 2011, and I have completed many courses on Udemy, coursera, Udacity, WebEx, LinkedIn and co.

    I have been a zoom user – both as an employee and still as a teacher – since 2018, and I still prefer the platform for its virtual blackboard and co. I have used other systems, but what I like most about zoom is how easy it has been for my students to use.

    Cisco, google, facetime, What’s App, skype, and countless in-house platforms … I still prefer zoom – and I’m not being paid to write that. :o) It all comes down to getting to the learning quickly and without distraction.

    As long as we are at home, where we ideally should be relaxing and feeling safe, our education should consist of simple tools that are easily understood by both teacher and student.

    “Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.”

    Arthur W. Chickering and Stephen C. Ehrmann

    Online Ed Learnings

    I am including here a selection of thoughts I received from friends and colleagues. Please drop me a line if you have experiences you would like to share, but missed the Shoutout.

    First, a recent and timely episode from my friends at @WPwatercooler – a weekly podcast not just for WordPress folk. GREAT guests and weekly themes for anyone using or working with online tools. Hosted by the incomparable duo of @jasontucker and @YouTooCanBeGuru

    Smart Marketing Show – Marketing Your Online Course Amid Course Overwhelm

    One thing we discussed on the “Smart Marketing Show” @WPwatercooler is to a set expectations for yourself before working through the course as a learner. Are you doing this just to get the certificate? Is your company requiring you to do this? Will this knowledge advance me further?

    If this will in fact advance you further, is it something that you enjoy? If so, you are probably going to want to do more of them. Which for me is exactly what happened, I had a requirement at work but found that I enjoyed it, so I did more, just for me.

    You also find that when you enjoy it you’re not just accumulating the knowledge for the test at the end but rather you see yourself implementing things using this new found knowledge.


    I’ve learnt loads through online training during lockdown – I also think that virtual sessions are very focused, so you get more done more quickly. But interaction with other students is important and this is what is missing from virtual classes.


    Online learning is ideal for self-motivated people who can easily sit at a computer and focus for an hour or so.

    When I was in college, the professors were animated and the vibe of being in the class, writing ten pages of notes, and the group dynamic was engaging and memorable.

    I view online learning as a supplement. It is not ideal. I recently tried going through the Moz SEO basics and I found it to be so boring. Especially when compared to their Whiteboard Fridays. The short answer is that online learning works for a small segment of the population. That won’t change.


    For me, teaching grad students one on one works much better than when we were in the office. Sharing a screen is better than projecting things on a screen in a meeting room. Slides are on someone else’s laptop the same as you make them on your laptop, rather than having surprises with lack of contrast and things being too little.

    The only time when it is piss poor is when the internet is quite slow, and my student’s shared screen had a few minutes delay, so she needed to hold her phone towards her screen and share her screen on WhatsApp instead. Otherwise, if you know your programs (F5, F8, shortcuts) you can easily walk a student through doing their own data analysis or structure determination, which is what I do.

    Andrea Scacioc, University of Oxford

    Further Reading and Resources