Important pedagogical concerns teachers need to address for effective online learning

G. Balasubramanian is currently the editor-in-chief of ‘The Progressive School’ magazine. He joined the Central Board of Secondary Education as a Joint Secretary and has worked in several capacities in Academics, Examination, Confidential and Administration branches of CBSE. He has also held the additional charge of the Chief Vigilance Officer of the Board. He has been instrumental to the introduction of several innovations in curriculum of CBSE which include frontline curriculum, Communicative Approach to Language Teaching, Information Technology, Alternatives to Homework, etc.


Online learning is an emerging social necessity. Given the various health concerns world over, the learners cannot get engaged in socialised learning systems for a couple of more months. That is also avoidable. Hence the learning paradigm shifts towards online teaching where the teacher becomes an enabler from a distant place; thus, a direct personalised interaction between the teacher-learner is getting marginalised. One consequent fallout will be a lack of emotional contact between the learner and the teacher as it existed a few weeks ago. This calls for a renewed relationship management pattern between the teacher and the learner. It would, therefore, be appropriate if teachers could understand the challenges they could face and adopt some simple strategies to make the learning effective, interesting and focused. Important pedagogical concerns teachers need to address for effective online learning.

1. Diffusing any linearity in learning

A number of brain studies have indicated that learning is not a linear process. It is influenced by several inputs that impact, that emerge from the learner’s eco-system. The duration of attention and the resultant focus could be much less than in a formal classroom as the freedom to learn in the online learning environment might add to the distractions of the learner. However, the nature of the content, the modus operandi of the pedagogy, the varieties in learning inputs, opportunities for thinking and effective tools of communication may enhance the attention and focus on the online platform. It would be ideal if the contents are captured in small learning capsules and delivered. The content has to be gravitating with diversified inputs that are based on concepts. The ability to relate to the texts on the screen will be much less as compared to the visual content. Learning, not being linear, efforts should be made to weave the content with a variety of illustrations, experiences, narratives that further the learning stimulation.

2. Organising the content

The content organisation for online delivery has to be articulated on the following four elements:

a. Provoking the curiosity

b. Element of novelty

c. Gravitating attention

d. Sustenance of attention and motivation

Any content that does not provoke the curiosity of the learner within the first two minutes has possibly forfeited its purpose. The presentation of the content has to provoke the sensory stimuli of the learner so that they can relate to the content. The element of novelty refers to the pedagogical novelty that would be embedded into the content, so that the learner finds a new value or purpose with this technological intervention, lest the learner identifies only its documentary value. Any novel content would certainly gravitate the attention of the learner and this is the time the online teacher exposes the learner to the universe of the content and its operational and experiential dimensions, so that the learner stands gravitated. Subsequently, the content delivery should move to inputs that would not only sustain his attention till the successful delivery of the content, but it further motivates him or her to revisit the content for reinforcement.

3. Empowering Memory

In the online platform, we are not addressing to building a rote memory, but a conceptual stabilization in the memory that leads to understanding for effective application and refection. Usually, most of the visual or auditory inputs suffer from a transient value and hence are captured only in the short-term memory of the learner. Neuro-cognitive experiments have indicated that only a minor percentage of the cognition embedded in the short-term or volatile memory is transmitted to the long-term memory. This is usually achieved, according to the brain scientists, by following ‘repetition – and spaced repetition’. Hence the online faculty should steal the opportunity of enabling the learners to engage repeatedly and at intervals revisit the concepts and their immediate universe. Further, it is claimed that ‘Emotionally Competent Stimuli’ have direct access to long-term memory as compared to stale packaged deliveries. So, it is important to find and provide opportunities for periodic excitement in learning. Such inputs of excitement need not be direct or formal but could be those which are auxiliary, scaffolding or secondary. Nevertheless, they have an outreach value and they relate to the learner to stay focused in the compass of learning.

4. Enabling ‘AHA’ experience

Technology-enabled platforms have a great opportunity to help the learner to move towards an ‘AHA’ experience. This is possible, on a virtual platform, because of an integrated approach to visual, auditory and sensory inputs to the context of learning. The synergy of the above helps in a meaningful and focused approach to seeking conceptual clarity, and also seek learning inputs and experiences which are not usually accessed through a largely auditory based classroom. Further, as the dominance of the teacher is much minimal in an online platform, there is either participatory access to knowledge acquisition or a creative approach to knowledge acquisition. Either way, the learner’s self-esteem is boosted and there is greater ownership to learning resulting in a sense of achievement, and consequent ‘aha’ experience. Further, there is a better opportunity of personal performance in the online platform as the normal ‘conditioned learning’ approach of a formal classroom is minimised.

5. Focus on the synergy of the right-brain and left-brain learning resources

Though the recent researches in neurosciences have clarified that learning is a whole brain activity, the argument of active engagement of the right and the left brain in a prioritised manner for a short duration of time, has not been negated. Brain scientists do recommend, therefore, the need for varied content that would engage and impact both the right and the left-brain faculties from time to time. It would, therefore, be appropriate to design and deliver content that would enhance both faculties by periodic engagements, then letting a stereotype content for a longer duration. It is also equally important to design and deliver the content that would mindscape all the facets of intelligence as detailed in the MI pedagogy.

6. Facilitating learner engagement

In a number of content delivery platforms, the method of delivery often is unidimensional, just replacing the dominance of the teacher by the dominance of technology. Such an approach would have retrograde effects in online learning. Periodic facilitation for learner engagement through multiple strategies has to be embedded so that the learner doesn’t feel ignored, marginalised or his interests subordinated in the process. The methods could be seeking differentiated response processes - through an edutainment strategy that motivates play, an intellectual engagement strategy like quiz, a creative engagement strategy as problem solving, or a logic provocation strategy like the crossword puzzles. There could be several other innovative approaches.

7. Facilitation for extended learning

One of the limitations of a formal learning environment is the attempt of teachers to limit the learning to textual content or a defined curriculum or the needs of an examination. All these, oftentimes, curb the curiosity of the learner for further learning or are suggestive of the small achievements one is expected to have in a specified period of time. In the online learning platforms, this psychological limitation can be diffused by introducing effective pedagogy and content strategy that could lead to a variety of referrals either immediately or subsequently to enhance and further knowledge. By igniting the curiosity of the learner to such extended platforms of learning, the entire process of learning can be modified to knowledge acquisition rather than examination-oriented performance. This could further trigger the self-learning competencies of the learner and the ability to reach out to content at one’s will. Thus, the limitations of learning defined through time and space can be re-engineered to learning anywhere and anytime.

8. Assessment while learning

In a formal classroom, the strategies for assessment for learning is usually inadequate. There is a larger focus on assessment on learning. The formative assessment practices appear to be very limited, stereotyped to the competency profile of the teacher. Further, both in terms of tools and assessment strategies they do not necessarily meet the actual need and profile of the learner and his learning style. The online platforms provide a huge opportunity for the teachers to remain adequate, well-prepared and empowered with a variety of tools to be delivered to the learner. Further, these can be positioned to meet the actual needs of the learner from time to time; and to draw a factual learning curve of the learner. Online learning also would help ‘assessment as learning’ to help the teachers to fix the learning inadequacies from time to time or in short intervals so that the requisite pedagogy for the individual learner can be strategised for effective learning.

This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine June 2020 edition.