Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Classifying online learning...?

The first topic of the Virtual School MOOC is about classifying K-12 online learning. A range of resources were cited to introduce the various definitions that have been used to describe different types of online learning. One of my thoughts after watching the videos and readings in this section was that we cannot easily classify and provide exact definitions for online learning, because there is so much variety – and it should be to my view – in the ways that schools and educational systems innovate and use online learning approaches. To me, it’s all about blending different approaches depending on different needs and objectives. That is why I think that blended learning is an overarching term that includes a wide range of approaches that can be used in combinations. And there are many possible combinations!

Some examples from New Zealand...

In New Zealand, the Virtual Learning Network enables clusters of schools to offer distance courses to their students, in addition to the face-to-face courses that their schools offer. Teachers of these courses are called eTeachers. These courses usually involve one hour of video conference between the eTeacher and the students (who are spread across different areas in New Zealand) and three hours of independent study from the students at home or at their home schools. Schools with students enrolled in courses through the VLN usually have an onsite facilitator (often called eDean) to provide additional support during their one hour of video conference with the eTeacher or the time that they study independently. This type of online learning could be under the self-blend model (Staker & Horn, 2012). In addition, teachers in New Zealand schools are implementing a range of online tools and environments in their face-to-face classes, such as Moodle, ePortfolios, Wikis and other Web 2.0 tools. This could be classified under the rotation model (Staker & Horn, 2012).

Coming back to the idea of using the term blended learning as an overarching term, in my research on blended teaching and learning in New Zealand schools I used the terms blended distance and blended web-enhanced teaching and learning to describe the above two types of online learning:
  • “Blended distance teaching and learning, referring to the combination of online distance teaching and learning (often through video conference with an eTeacher) with self-study at the school or at home (often with the use of an online learning environment for scaffold) that also involves asynchronous communication with the eTeacher” and
  • “Blended web-enhanced teaching and learning, referring to the use of online content as a way to enhance face-to-face teaching and learning” (Zaka, 2012,
Classification is a useful way to help us to understand the different types of online learning. When we speak the same language it is easier to communicate with one another and of course to improve our approaches. However, I think that having many and different definitions and classifications for online learning is amazing! Peoples’ needs are different, contexts are different, cultures are different and so are the ways that we can innovate.

I’m really looking forward to the next topics of this MOOC – the quest to Ithaca has just become a bit more exciting for me ;-)

Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K–12 blended learning. Mountain View, CA: Innosight Institute.
Zaka, P. A. (2012). Blended teaching and learning in a New Zealand rural secondary school: Using an ecological framework. Unpublished master's thesis, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.


  1. I agree totally, Pinelopi. One of the most difficult aspects of having an online learning discussion is that individuals have different preconceived notions about what online learning is, and those understandings influence the conversation. This is an exciting time - I believe the definitions and descriptions will continue to get tighter, and it will make global
    communication easier. Thank you for sharing about online learning in New Zealand! I look forward to reading more from you through our MOOC!

  2. Pinelopi, One of the great benefits of this MOOC is learning from educators in many different settings. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the ways some models appear in New Zealand. It sounds like these might be choices made by individual educators or schools. I am wondering how much choice the student might have for an any pace use of the online options? Are your educators trained or creating their own courses and options for students?

    I am looking forward to learning more from you!


    1. Thank you for your nice comments Anne and Becki.

      Schools that are interested in offering distance learning options to their students need to have at least one eTeacher. That eTeacher will be teaching one of his classes by distance to students from different schools within New Zealand. At the same time, students from that eTeacher’s school can enrol in distance courses offered by other eTeachers from other schools. Most students who take distance courses are in schools that cannot offer these courses face-to-face (see Pratt & Trewern, 2011) due to staff shortages or low student numbers to form a class, especially in rural areas.

      Teachers of distance courses are often trained by professional development offered within their school cluster. A very nice example is CantaNet, one of the first eLearning clusters in New Zealand that is doing a very good job in encouraging blended learning and supporting eTeachers and teachers (see for a few nice resources and videos with more info – including student interviews).

      I am interested in learning more about your experiences with online learning and have a better understanding of the richness of online learning implementation in other contexts. This is going to be a very interesting MOOC!


      Pratt, K., & Trewern, A. (2011). Students’ experiences of flexible learning options: What can they tell us about what they need for success? Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, leading, technology, 23(2).

  3. Pinelopi,
    Yes, there are so many different terms when it comes to online education. I think that part of the reason there are so many terms is because there are so many different ways that schools are approaching online education. I feel that is not one right way to do it. I feel that students will try out the different types on online learning and pick the one that is right for them .

  4. Thank you for your feedback Emily
    I agree with you and by having a range of options it can be more meaningful for the students. I think that teachers implementing blended learning in their face to face classes have more flexibility, as they have direct access to student feedback and they can adapt their approaches based on their students' needs. I wonder if this is less easy in cases where there are specific policies and guidelines for blended learning...