Thinking about Anderson’s Towards a Theory of On-line Learning

Anderson’s (2008) model makes a distinction between “collaborative, community-of-inquiry” and “independent study” modes of on-line learning (p. 60) helps me understand that although common human actors (teacher, learner) and variables (content, interface) can be identified, the model works differently between the two modes. Anderson also brings into the conversation Prensky’s (2001) suggestion that specific learning activities are better suited for differing learning outcomes than others (as cited in Anderson, 2008, p. 62) and argues that each of the activities listed can be accomplished on-line.

In our exploration of the flipped classroom concept, it occurs to me that these two modes can and probably should occur concurrently in the same course of study, i.e. the same teacher with the same students drawing from the same body of subject matter. In my view, Anderson’s model could be refined by exploring how specific learning activities (Prensky’s, or other related lists) fit into Anderson’s two major modes of online-learning. Perhaps more importantly, Anderson’s model might be expanded to include the nature of the ideal relationship between the two modes i.e. independent study supporting community-of-inquiry and vice-versa.

Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson (Ed.),  The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (pp. 45-74). Edmonton, AB: AU Press.


Flipping to a new pedagogy for online and mobile learning

I’ll begin by repeating some of my earlier comments on Ruth Skillen’s (2012) “Freudian Flip” post in which the author supports the idea that “flipping” is much more than simply flipping some “thing” out of the synchronous classroom environment.  Skillen (2012) states rather than simply define a framework for flipping content out of the classroom that we should attempt to “flip our pedagogy”.

Through my own experiences and our class and group discussions, I’m becoming more and more convinced that flipping the classroom can be defined as a need to find a “different” approach to teaching and learning in the digital age. No surprise, after all isn’t that what we are all trying to define though our work in EDUC 5103? To flip the classroom then might just be the start of a move to that “different” approach. Some of our discussion topics in class and various blogs seem to reveal what might be key elements in a flip to a new approach. Three of these key elements are; a move to a purely student-centric model of teaching and learning; assessments and feedback that provide a meaningful indicator for each individual student; and learning materials that are accessible anytime, anywhere, through a variety of digital and social mediums. If we can deliver on those three key elements, we may just find ourselves in a flipped classroom environment and one step closer to defining a new pedagogy for the digital age. (Dougherty, 2012)

There was a lot of conversation in class the other night that focused on trust and motivation.  If we are to embrace a student-centric approach, or as Anderson (2008a) argues, “learning-centred” (p. 47) we have to find some way to foster the trust and motivation required by learners.  As learners interact with and adjust the content, and apply their knowledge of course content, both synchronously and asynchronously, they have to feel empowered to take responsibility for their own learning.  Learners have to feel comfortable in an environment where they can access content directly, anytime/anywhere and rely less on obtaining “the answer” from the teacher.

I believe that this could be achieved by encouraging the learner to reflect on their learning, possibly by performing a self-assessment of their learning to a predefined point in the course, or to a specific learning goal as defined by the learner at the beginning of the course.  With the realization of how and when their individual learning occurs, the learner may begin to accept more responsibility for their own learning.  They should begin to realize that the motivation to learn comes from within, not as directed or “instructed” by the teacher.  As motivation to accept responsibility for one’s own learning increases, so should the learner’s trust that this new approach will satisfy their learning needs.  This isn’t wildly different from what I have experienced myself in the M.Ed. program.  Some of my most powerful learning experiences have originated through my own interactions with, and contributions or adjustments to, the content and through my own application of my newly acquired content knowledge through class and group discussions and writing.

Looking at Anderson’s (2008a) model it seems to me that one area that might be expanded upon is in the student – student interaction component of the model.  Perhaps it could be an expansion of the description of student – student interaction that includes self-reflection of their learning; or it could be an additional component that overlaps all interaction paths and both community of inquiry and independent learning, as indicated by my addition to Anderson’s (2008a) model in Figure 1 below.

Modified Model for Online LearningFigure 1: A model of online learning that includes a student – student reflective interaction.  Adapted from “Towards a Theory of Online Learning” by T. Anderson 2008 in Anderson, T. (Ed.), The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (p. 61). Edmonton, AB: AU Press.  

I agree that we may not yet be able to define a theory for online/mobile learning; in fact as technology advances we may not be able to define such a theory for some time.  As Anderson (2008b) states, “we are at the early stages in the technological and pedagogical development of online learning” (p. 361).  In the meantime, maybe we should all start to consider flipping content out of synchronous classrooms.  The newly found affordance of time in the classroom could be better purposed by working with students to help build their motivation and level of trust leading to an acceptance of the responsibility for their own learning.


Anderson, T. (2008a). Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson (Ed.),  The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (pp. 45-74). Edmonton, AB: AU Press.

Anderson, T. (2008b). Teaching in an online context. In T. Anderson (Ed.),  The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (pp. 343-365). Edmonton, AB: AU Press.

Dougherty, K. (2012, June 11). One thought on “A Freudian flip” [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Skillen, R. (2012, June 11). A Freudian flip [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Motivation in an (adult) digital age… (How to make the most of your lecture free ;) classroom experience.)

Motivation is surfacing as a critical piece to the learning equation.  But, what does it take to motivate individuals to engage in their learning?  As we explore pedagogy for online learning (and free up time to employ new pedagogy in an online/mobile learning environment) how might we act to support this engagement?  What we present as teachers could very likely result in more or less motivation to engage from our students, with the content, with us, and with each other.  Which sorts of conditions will result in an increased motivation to learn?

I’ve mentioned Dan Pink’s TED talk in an earlier post.  The following video is a summary of those points communicated by Pink during that talk.  Adopting an appreciation for a student’s need for autonomy, mastery, and purpose, has guided my practice as an educator and as an adult learner.  Yet, there are many ways to motivate your students.  I think it important to consider both the objective and difficulty of the task in ascertaining how this might best be attained.  Is there still a place for the principles of operant conditioning?  I think so.  However, if we relied on those principles as the be all and end all explanation for motivation we may have difficulty explaining some of the interesting phenomenon we have witnessed in the present day.  The emergence of Wikipedia is one of many examples some may have considered whimsical and delusional.  And yet it exists.

Assuming motivation as foundational to the learning experience, which other trending pedagogies might we consider as further demystifying motivation and engagement?

Appreciating those may help us establish best practices for the utilization of pedagogy in the digital classroom.