Why is online teaching important?

Why is online teaching important?

The Internet has significantly changed how we communicate with one another as well as how we access, share and facilitate information. The issue is no longer one of how to use technology to teach, but one where teachers acknowledge the way the world is already developing, and understand the significance of online literacy and the role that collaboration and online engagement plays in student learning and their future workplace environment.

Software and technology changes very rapidly, and it can be difficult to keep up with these developments. It is important therefore to focus on understanding effective pedagogical strategies for online teaching rather than the technology itself.

Key benefits of teaching online

  • Increased flexibility of time: 
    • Learning and teaching can occur at times that are more convenient and productive for both students and teachers. Students can work at their own pace within a given framework and the online learning and teaching engagement process can be broken into smaller more frequent portions of time, with an opportunity for reflection in between. 
  • Increased flexibility of location
    • Learning and teaching can take place in any location (home, office, while commuting, coffee shop) and can include students and teachers from diverse geographical locations 
  • Context
    •  Online education gives learning a new relevance to contemporary society and professional and industry practice 
  • Information sharing
    • Online education provides opportunities to access and share information more easily and readily. Teachers and students are able to join online communities of practice based on their area of interest rather than their geographic location.
  •  Online resources
    • Online education provides access to a greater depth and breadth of resources and information 
  • Diverse and enriching experience
    • Online education can enhance the student learning experience by providing opportunities for cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural and/or cross-campus collaborations. This learning experience can occur at a local, national or international level, and can be enriched by increased interaction and engagement, peer feedback, and group work skills
  • Access, equity & disability
    • Online delivery provides a mechanism for equal opportunity amongst students and teachers living with a disability, or who have accessibility difficulties that restrict their ability to attend a face-to-face class 
  • Digital information literacy 
    • Online learning develops digital literacy skills that are increasingly required in contemporary society and workplace environments 
  • Administration 
    • Online education can streamline some administrative aspects of teaching. 

Key restrictions, limitations or considerations

  • Access to technology 
    • In some instances students and teachers may be limited in their regular access to reliable or appropriate technology. Several people may be sharing a computer or mobile device within one household, or may rely on using computers on campus or in a public place (eg public library, Internet cafe, etc). Students or teachers may also only have limited access to required software  
  • Access to the Internet 
    • Not all students and teachers have regular or reliable access to the Internet. In many cases Internet access may be limited to dial-up speed, or there may be a capped monthly usage on their Internet which can restrict their ability to access or engage with information 
  • Ability to use technology
    • Some technologies and tools require training. In some instances, technical training may not be readily available to students or teachers.
  • Isolation
    •  Teachers without peer support for their online initiatives, it can be a lonely and isolating experience 
  • Information overload
    • In many instances, the amount of information, ‘how to’ guides, help and resources provided online can have a tendency to become overwhelming and confusing if not properly managed. It can be difficult for students and teachers to discern which are relevant or important. 

What is quality online learning?

Does your online course reach the same level or better with an equivalent face-to-face course? There are two quantitative critical performance indicators:
  1. Completion rates are at least as good if not better for the online course.
  2. Grades and measures of learning are at least as good if not better for the online course.
On a qualitative level, learning in your online course will lead to new, different and more relevant outcomes. 

You need to re-think the way you teach when you go online – not just moving your face-to-face teaching over to an online version, but re-designing the teaching to fit the requirements of online learners.Teaching well online has many of the same requirements as teaching well face-to-face: for instance, clear learning outcomes, assessments that test for the desired learning outcomes and differentiate between different levels of achievement, etc. However, there are also different requirements, because the context in which learners (and you as an instructor) are working will be different.
  • Flexibility
    • Online learning allows us to deliver content or information in ways that lead to better learning than through a one hour lecture course.
  • Different needs of online students. 
    • There is a good deal of research to show that online students need to feel that the instructor is ‘present’ online, i.e. interacting with students in discussion forums, directing them to recent relevant articles or events, and responding promptly to questions (see, Richardson and Swan, 2003). 

How do you want to teach online?

This question really asks you to consider your basic teaching philosophy. What is my role as an instructor?
  • Objectivist view.
    • Knowledge is finite and defined. I am an expert in the subject matter who knows more than the students, and thus my job is to ensure that I transfer as effectively as possible that information or knowledge to the student?
  •  Learning as individual development.
    • Focus is on developing learners skills and the ability to question, analyse and apply information or knowledge. Do I see myself more as a guide or facilitator of learning for students?
  • Combine both approaches.
You can design online courses to teach in any of these ways, but moving your class online gives you an opportunity to rethink your teaching, perhaps to be able to tackle some of the limitations of classroom teaching, and to renew your approach to teaching.

If you are thinking about going online, take the opportunity before you start teaching to think about how you’d really like to be teaching, and whether this can be accommodated in an online environment. It’s not a decision you have to make immediately though. The important point is to be open to doing things differently.


If you merely put your lecture notes up on the web, or record your 50 minute lectures for downloading, then you are almost certain to have lower student completion rates and poorer grades than for your face-to-face class.

Earn Your Badge

Learning to Teach Online by Simon McIntyre, Dr Negin Mirriahi
Tony Bates  Decide how you want to teach online.