Elemental Analysis of the Online Learning Experience

Article excerpt


The following discussion will compare four contemporary methods of online teaching and learning: 1) student-centered, 2) subject-centered, 3) teacher-centered, and 4) teaching-centered. This paper argues that the most effective methods are those that engage six dimensions of human existence: physical, social, emotional, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. However there is no golden rule or single instructional model that will guarantee effective teaching or learning in every situation. Guidelines should be chosen based on how well they meet the needs of the discipline being studied, the students involved, and the ability of the instructor. What engages one class may disengage the next. Learning, whether online or not, is a personal process. With an understanding of the personal nature of the learning interaction, the most effective teaching methods are those that engage individuals in an intimate way. The objective of this paper is to present and define four contemporary teaching models, their expressed or applied engagement of the dimensions listed above in the online environment and provide foundational concepts which may serve as starting points in the evaluation of one's own methods, philosophy, and practice.

Keywords: online teaching and learning, student-centered, subject-centered, teacher-centered, teaching-centered, Maslow's hierarchy of needs.


Education can be defined as an activity undertaken or initiated to effect changes in knowledge, skill, and attitudes of individuals, groups or communities. Learning, in contrast, emphasizes the individual where the change occurs (Knowles, Holton and Swanson, 1998). Based on this definition, the goal of the educator is to facilitate change in an individual that may be a member of a larger group or community. The degree and direction of this change is determined by the purpose of the educational activity itself. In the workplace this is usually defined in terms of corporate objectives and expectations, while academic institutions usually define objectives as discipline related competencies.

Regardless of its origin and purpose, learning must occur within the individual; education occurs from the outside, learning occurs from within. Further distinction is warranted between processes and experiences as they relate to education and learning. A process implies a prescribed set of procedures leading to the attainment of a predetermined objective. There are clearly defined boundaries in a process that are exclusive to its function and design. Both objects and people can participate in processes. Experiences, however, are totally inclusive of all aspects of an activity and are people centered. Generally, only people have experiences as they are described in terms of their physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or psychological impact. Thus, the education/process, learning/experience relation is illustrated; education is a learning process undertaken to gain knowledge or skill, learning is the experience of gaining knowledge or skill. Learning is an experience; therefore it can be described using the six elements described below.


William Hettler (1984) proposed a six dimensional model that provided an objective representation of human experience and existence. This article refers to these dimensions as existential elements. The six original dimensions or elements were: physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional, and occupational. Due to the importance of psychological mechanisms in the learning process the occupational element has been changed to psychological. This dimensional model provides a useful and objective method of examining an individual's experiences, as any experience can be described in terms of one or more of the dimensions. When examining experiences, we do not consciously separate each element from the whole; however, each dimension is affected in some way, negatively or positively. …