Remember the Human in Online Courses

Remember the human is something we intuitively do in traditional face-to-face classrooms, but somehow this gets lost in distance education. If it’s only text-based independent study, then we’ve silenced our students and treated them as mutes by not providing communication platforms that are supported in the grading criteria. Virginia Shea asks us to remember the human in the impersonal cyberspace, as part of her Core Rules of Netiquette. She was referencing politeness. I, on the other hand, am referencing the instructional goal of teaching to the whole student.

This blog focuses on the basics of computer-mediated instruction in terms of the dichotomy of transmissive (authoritarian) education versus that of a transformative one (democratic). Whenever I present on this topic at conferences, participants share that they or their peers have also encountered and endured transmissive online courses. I wonder how big the problem really is.  Since first encountering this problem in an online course in 2012, I have dedicated my research efforts on addressing it.

Transmissive vs. Transformative

Critical pedagogies, Ignatian pedagogy, a community of inquiry (COI), and Freirean praxis, place the human in a real-world context as much as possible through learning experiences and reflection. The goal being transformative learning experiences instead of transmissive ones that use the antiquated banking model of education where the teacher deposits knowledge for the student to withdraw (Bradshaw, 2017). A good example of transformative learning is Ignatian pedagogy, which advocates for context, experience, action, reflection, and evaluation (Korth, 1993).

Interactions for transformative learning are active, authentic, constructive, cooperative, and intentional. Hooks (1994) calls this humanity-affirming location of possibility.  The design of interaction treatments online doesn’t rely solely on synchronous sessions through web hosting with everyone present. Instead, the goal of high-quality online instruction is to avoid passive learning that requires little cognitive engagement. A good example of a transformative learning activity would be a student (or group) project where students provide each other with authentic feedback.

Interaction treatments are any direct or indirect action between and among students, teachers, and the content. This includes nonverbal immediacy behaviors such as an instructor’s response time.  The alternative is unethical—a corpse of knowledge delivered by the unknowing instructor through text-based study devoid of interactions with other students (e.g., read-write-submit). The lack of contact with others in the class is not only isolating, shielding us from social learning, but can be frustrating for some students.

Are we teaching machines to learn better than we teach humans?

Embed from Getty Images

I recently read an introductory book about artificial intelligence (AI). I was struck how even the old AI addressed the environment of the robot, as this is something online instructors sometimes overlook for humans. If we want to come away as winners in the man vs machine competition, when humanoids such as Erica the robot have complete human feelings and singularity occurs in 2045, we need to focus on providing human interactions in online courses.

Through trial and error, AI has developed heuristics to address the robot’s interaction with the environment such as the symbol grounding problem, where symbols are meaningless unless they’re grounded within a real-world context.  For example, the Skydio R1 drone may become the ultimate selfie as it maps its environment using GPS, cameras, and other sensors. How often are instructors grounding the instructional content into the lifeworld of human learners?

What are the heuristics for effective human interaction in distance education?

Provide an online COI to dispel the perceived psychological distance between students and teachers in distance education to improve student learning outcomes and student satisfaction. An online COI, a sublime goal, requires consideration of the types of interaction treatments that could engender social, teaching, and cognitive presence for going beyond generative learning. These presences are the key elements for the COI loop (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, 2000).

Technological affordances can provide humans with multimodal instruction such as narrated PowerPoints or audio feedback for teaching presence for an online COI. For example, podcasts increase student achievement and student satisfaction because they can listen to them over and over (Beylefeld, Hugo & Geyer, 2008; McKinney, Dyck & Luber, 2009; Seed, Yang & Sinnappan, 2009). Learning management systems allow for student-student discussions and the sharing of projects with opportunities for peer feedback to engender social presence in a COI. For example, Schoology’s Media Album allows students to upload their media projects for peer feedback. Projects also provide student agency in the design of their own learning.

Cognitive presence is the other component in the triad of the COI. Instructors generally provide this with interesting and challenging activities online that they’ve honed over the years from their F2F courses. In my two research studies (Rogers & Van Haneghan, 2016; Rogers & Khoury, unpublished), the potential plans for cognitive presence have been high at the institutions. However, social presence has been average and teaching presence below average.

Designing interaction treatments (e.g., student-student, student-teacher, and student-content) will help address the psychologically perceived distance in computer-mediated courses (Bernard et al., 2009). These designed interactions need to focus on meaningful activities for the students’ lifeworld to aid their learning. Remember the human as you plan your online course; otherwise, the robots will overtake us.


Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, C. A., Tamim, R., Surkes, M. A., & Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three types of ITs in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1243-1288. doi:10.3102/0034654309333844

Beylefeld, A. A., Hugo, A. P., & Geyer, H. J. (2008). More learning and less teaching? Students’ perceptions of a histology podcast. South African Journal of Higher Education, 22(5), 948-956. doi:10.4314/sajhe.v22i5.42914

Bradshaw, A. C. (2017). Critical pedagogy and educational technology, in A.D. Benson, R. Joseph, & J.L. Moore (eds.) Culture, Learning and Technology: Research and Practice (pp. 8-27). New York, NY: Routledge.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education 2(2-3), 87-105. doi:10.1016/s1096-7516(00)00016-6

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom.  New York, NY: Routledge.

McKinney, D., Dyck, J. L., & Luber, E. S. (2009). iTunes university and the classroom: Can podcasts replace professors? Computers & Education, 52, 617-623. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2008.11.004

Rogers, S., & Van Haneghan, J. (2016). Rubric to evaluate online course syllabi plans for engendering a community of inquiry. Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, 349-357. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Magis Instructional Design Model for Ignatian Pedagogy

Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Engraving by C. Klauber. Wellcome M0005653

The Magis Instructional Design (ID) Model for online courses was developed by Sandra Rogers (2015) with input from the Jesuits at Spring Hill College, as subject matter experts, and her professor in instructional design, Dr. Davidson-Shivers. It’s unique in that it addresses religion, spirituality, and social justice in addition to intellectual growth.

Jesuit school educators include techniques for reflection within their units of study in order to challenge students to serve others (Korth, 1993). According to one theology professor, Jesuit educators focus instructional activities on experiential learning to engender the cycle of experience leading to reflection and further action. This is based on the dynamics of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises from which Ignatian pedagogy is derived.

The principles of Ignatian pedagogy include context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation (Korth, 1993). Further action and service to others are for the greater glory of God. Magis means doing more for God’s Kingdom (Ad majorem Dei gloriam). The Magis ID Model is an alternative to existing ones in that it embeds the following Ignatian pedagogical layers into the systematic design of instruction to develop learners into caring leaders by addressing the whole person:

  1. Analyze human learning experience online/offline
  2. Establish relationships of mutual respect online/offline
  3. Tap into learner’s prior knowledge & experience
  4. Design optimal learning experience for the whole person
  5. Assimilate new information
  6. Transfer learning into lifeworld
  7. Encourage lifelong learning & reflections beyond self-interest
  8. Learners become contemplatives in action

Online Community of Inquiry

Designing for a community of inquiry (COI) loop will address the Ignatian principles of teaching to the whole person. A  COI exists when you have social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence. These are essential elements to the communication loop for an online COI (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). This means that learners in an online environment are involved in activities that are cognitively challenging, are able to interact with their classmates, and that teaching is present in some way through words (e.g., text-based discussion), voice (e.g., podcasts), or person (e.g., webcast). The teaching can be delivered by student moderators or the instructor.

Bernard et al. (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of 74 online course interactions and found substantive research outcomes indicating the positive effect on learning when online educators build these types of interactions into their courses: student-student, student-teacher, and student-content. These interaction treatments (ITs) were defined as the environments and not the actual behaviors that occur within them. Through ID processes, one can design and develop these types of environments for distance education. Table 1 displays the main components of a Jesuit education, COI, and ITs, and their interrelationships.

Table 1

Comparison of Jesuit Education and Research-Based Best Practices

Jesuit Education of the Whole Person Mind Body Spirit
Necessary Elements for an Online Community of Inquiry Intellectual Presence Social Presence Teaching Presence
Research-based Best Practices for Interaction Treatments Student-content interactions Student-student interactions Student-teacher interactions

Designing Optimal Learning Experiences for the Whole Person

The Magis ID Model analyzes the type of instructional strategies used in distance education to ensure they address the whole person through cura personalis (mind, body, & spirit). Strategy selection should vary to meet the needs of diverse learners and engender higher-order thinking for cognitive presence. Selection depends on various affordances and constraints such as time and resources. For example, an activity-centered lesson is based on an interactive task and requires collaborative tools and student groupings. Content-centered lessons are passive tasks where the student generally only interacts with the content; the exception being discussions of content. Experience-centered activities require a hands-on approach to developing something or serving/working with others. The learner-centered activity provides the learner with more autonomy over their pursuit of knowledge and includes metacognitive actions for self-regulation of learning; the affordances and constraints for this type of activity are highly dependent on the task. Ideally, online educators should provide active learning activities to enhance cognitive transfer of new information and skills learned to long-term memory.

Contact Dr. Rogers ( at Spring Hill College to learn more about this ID model and how it’s being used to develop distance education courses.

Join me at the MSERA 2016 in Mobile, Alabama!

Photo of Sandra Annette Rogers
Say hello if you see me.

Join me in Mobile, AL this November 2nd-4th for the Mid-South Educational Research Associations (MSERA) 2015 annual meeting.  Click this link to see the full conference schedule.  The conference takes place at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel on Water Street downtown.  For more information on the MSERA, visit their Website.  The great thing about #MSERA is that they are friendly and welcome newcomers—and they remember your name the time they see you!

I’ll be making two brief paper presentations and chairing these same sessions. Here’s my schedule:

  • 2:00 eLearning Session in Grand Bay Room I/II: November 3 (Thursday)

    Rubric to Evaluate Online Course Syllabi Plans for Engendering a Community of Inquiry

    Sandra A. Rogers & James Van Haneghan, University of South Alabama

    10:00 Instructional Design Session in Windjammer Room: November 4th (Friday)

    Magis Instructional Design Model for Ignatian-based Distance Education

    Sandra A. Rogers, Spring Hill College


e-Learning Instructional Strategies to Teach to the Whole Person

Heart Tagxedo for blog post image

Teaching to the whole person is more important than ever.  But how can we do this in an online learning environment?  I work at a Jesuit and Catholic college where I’ve been learning about Jesuit education and Ignatian pedagogy. The principles of Ignatian pedagogy include context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation (Korth, 1993).  To address these in distance education, I’m developing an instructional design (ID) model that is a combination of learner-centered, experience-centered, activity-centered, and content-centered to fully address the whole person in online courses. Ragan, Smith, and Curda (2008) stated that a combination ID model is possible.  Not only is it possible, to include research-based best practices, it is absolutely necessary to provide diverse and rich experiences in online environments.  Otherwise, a single-mode of learning will become monotonous and decrease student motivation to learn.

Table 1 provides instructional strategies for the online environment that engender higher-order thinking (cognitive presence) for each approach.  This chart represents an initial listing to assist educators with strategy selection depending on various affordances and constraints such as time, resources, et cetera. For example, an activity-centered lesson is based on an interactive task and requires collaborative tools and student groupings. Content-centered lessons are passive tasks where the student generally only interacts with the content; the exception being discussions of content. Experience-centered-activities require a hands-on approach to developing something or serving/working with others. The learner-centered activity provides the learner with more autonomy over their pursuit of knowledge and includes metacognitive actions for self-regulation of learning; the affordances and constraints for this type of activity are highly dependent on the task.

Table 1

Cognitive Online Instructional Strategies to Teach to the Whole Person

Activity-Centered Content-Centered Experience-Centered Learner-Centered
· Analysis of case studies

· Critically review an article

· HyperInquiry team project

· Academic controversy assignment

· Develop a book trailer on topic

· WebQuest

· Pretest/Posttest

· Write a literature review

· Complete modules on topic in computer-adapted lab/program

· Write essay

· Make a presentation

· Discuss content with peers and instructor


  • Develop questionnaires

·Develop a personal model of topic

·Participate in a simulation

·Develop a workshop

·Develop a wiki on topic

· Develop a podcast on topic or narrated PowerPoint

· Develop a how-to guide or video tutorial on procedure

· Write a blog post on topic

· Serve others as a mentor, tutor, or volunteer on topic

· Virtual fieldtrip

· Peer-review of papers or projects

· Students create m/c questions for review

· Design a project

· Evaluate a program

· Write an autobiography of your interaction with topic

· Complete self-evaluation

· Develop a personal learning network

· Capture reflections in journal, audio, or video

· Curate digital books and articles on topic for lifelong learning

Note. I linked some of these activities to sources of my own and others. Check back soon for an update!


Korth, S. J. (1993). Precis of Ignatian pedagogy: A practical approach.  International Center for Jesuit Education, Rome, Italy.

Ragan, T. J., Smith, P. L., & Curda, L. K. (2008). Outcome referenced, conditions-based theories and models. In J.M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. van Merriënboer, & M. P. Driscoll (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (3rd ed.) (pp. 383- 399). New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor and Francis Group.