Understanding Resistance to Online Learning

computer keyboard

I’ve been involved in online learning for 10 years and I’ve seen massive changes, both in the technology as well as in the way people react to the idea of online learning. Even as it gains massive popularity, online learning is still not necessarily mainstream. There can be resistance toward online learning, but my research points toward misunderstanding what it means to teach in the online classroom as the main culprit behind this resistance.

I designed a survey and asked 300 to 500 faculty and students about their thoughts regarding online learning. The results were interesting.

The first question was “Have you ever taught online?” Most respondents had not actually taught or attended online classes.

The next question was: “Have you ever been offered a class to teach online?” And some people said, yes, they had been offered a class to teach online. And then some people said, yes, I accepted. And some people said, yes, but I refused for one reason or another.

Out of those roughly 129 people who refused to teach online, the majority of people cited “having no personal relationship with the students,” as the reason why they refused. These are people who have never actually taught online. Yet, somehow, they’re making this judgment about the lack of personal relationships between people.

We then asked students—some students refused to take online courses—and most students said the same thing: There’s no personal relationship. Quality is less online than on-campus. The survey results tend to be less about the technology and more about relationships.

Two things that seemed to keep instructors from trying online teaching was the fear of change and the fear of being made obsolete. Several other misconceptions are that online teaching takes more time and that it is more difficult to ensure fairness and prevent cheating. These fears, however, are simply unfounded.

How to overcome resistance

So how would you combat resistance to online teaching at your institution?

  • Ensure you have the proper support. At NYU we have a group, Create an Online Learning Unit, which is a technological pedagogical faculty and student that includes structural designers, and educational technologist editors, animators, etc. We work with faculty to help them build classes that are really great.
  • Team up with supportive mentors like educational technologists and instructional designers.
  • Create a connection between on-campus and online courses. This could be flipped classrooms, merged classrooms, webinars, or livestream classes.
  • Educate the masses. There are so many tools, and technologies, and methodologies that are out there that you may not know about.
  • Get support of the academic departments. There has to be a voice within the academic department—either a program chair, or a department chair, or some sort of voice, who says, “I want to go online. I want to be the leader academically within the department.”
  • Host online-learning events, like colloquia, a conference, a workshop, a much more formalized sort of thing where you host a conference about online learning. And you invite them to attend or present, get their colleagues to attend or present. Then they feel more comfortable with it, rather than sort of just throwing them into a classroom.
  • Degrees should be the same as on-campus. We’re a firm believer that online degrees should not be different from those granted in face to face classes.
  • Mirror on-campus and online offerings. Whether online or face to face, the same courses should be offered.

And, finally, evolve, diversify, and be interactive. Let your own online learning unit lead the way!

Adapted from the Magna Online Seminar presentation, “Understanding and Combating Resistance to Online Learning,” 2015.

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