Image of a blue computer monitor. In this module we explore trends in online learning.

Our focus is on the overall concept of a shift in control – a reoccurring theme of 21st century learning in a flat world. We will explore the following:




At the end of this module, participants will be able to:

Photo of a dictionary definition. Glossary of Key Terms

Flat world – A reference to the book, The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. This concept is explored in detail in the Cultural and Global Considerations module.


Big Idea - The Read / Write Web

The following video, A Vision of K-12 Students Today, reflects how many of our students want and expect to learn in the information age.


Big Idea - The Read/Write Web

Photo of a girl with a globe. As the video suggests, for today's students the Web has become more than a place to consume content. It is also a place for them to create and collaborate.

For educators, the opportunities are unique:

Here's How - The Read/Write Web

To learn more, watch this video with educator Will Richardson. Will discusses the concept of the Read/Write Web and talks about specific examples of connective spaces within which students share ideas and real work.

From the Field - The Read/Write Web

There are many ways to provide students with connective spaces in your online classroom that may engage them and add value to their overall learning experiences.

Consider the following free online social networking tools:

  • Social bookmarking –, Digg
  • Wikis – PB Wiki
  • Blogs – Edublogs
  • Microblogs - Twitter


  • Learning Community Groups - Ning
  • Virtual Worlds – Second Life
  • Photo Sharing – Flickr


Discussion icon Discussion Question: Have you used social networking tools in your online classroom. If so, which ones and how did you utilize them?

What advice would you give instructors who may be thinking about incorporating them into their teaching practice?

Big Idea - Open Access

Dr. John Willinsky Another trend in online learning is an increase in the number of educators and higher educational institutions who are openly sharing access to their educational content.

This represents a shift away from traditional models of education publication – a model where textbook companies, journals and institutions themselves were in control of who was able to access academic resources.

Stanford Professor of Education, John Willinsky, believes all scholars should make resources freely available and advocates the 'open access principle':

"A commitment to the value and quality of research carries with it a responsibility to extend the circulation of such work as far as possible and ideally to all who are interested in it and all who might profit by it." (Willinsky, 2006, p. xii).

In this section, we will explore open access resources.

Discussion icon.

Discussion Question: Do you agree or disagree with Dr. Willinsky's statement regarding the open access principle?

Here's How - Open Access

Road sign that reads Opportunity Boulevard. MIT's online newspaper The Tech, announced in March, 2009 that faculty had "voted unanimously to approve a resolution that allows MIT to freely and publicly distribute research articles they write."

This decision is no surprise given that MIT already offers all of their course content through MITOpenCourseWare free of charge.

Participation in one of MIT's online courses will not grant you any official degree or credit (nor will taking the free course materials from Stanford, UC Berkley, Yale or UCSC).

However, the free courseware will reflect just about all of the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at these top schools.

Here's How - Open Access

It is not only professors from MIT and Stanford who are contributing to the Read/Write Web and taking the open access principle seriously.

Founded at Rice University, Connexions is a free global online education system that puts the power of creation and collaboration in the hands of teachers worldwide.

Connexions allows authors to upload bite-sized chunks of learning materials called "modules." Modules are pieced together to form whole courses, or "collections."

Anyone can build a collection from any combination of modules, and collections can be downloaded in PDF format, bound and printed at a fraction of traditional textbook prices.

Take the time to see what is available in your subject area.

From the Field - Open Access

Image of a globe. Below is a list of a few key places that offer open access resources:

Big Idea - Shifts in the Online Classroom

We have now looked at the shift away from regarding the Web as a place to merely consume information, as well as the shift away from traditional models of publication towards open access to content.

In this final section, we turn our attention to the online classroom and the opportunities these shifts present for teachers and learners.

For a review of the concepts we have covered, complete the activity below.


 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 

Big Idea - Shifts in the Online Classroom

Photo of a old red school house. Today's students have grown up as digital natives. They approach work, learning and play in new ways; absorb information quickly from multiple sources simultaneously; and expect instant responses and feedback (Tapscott, 1999).

The traditional model of the teacher standing at the front of the class, delivering lectures, writing notes on the chalkboard and calling on students sitting in rows might seem a little 'old school' to online learners.

Participation within a virtual classroom has opened doors to increased flexibility for students and teachers, access to information and opportunities for collaboration.

The changing demographic that digital natives represent has provided a climate where the use of student-centered learning is more commonplace (Downes, 2005). A traditional teacher-focused transmission of information is now becoming increasingly criticized.

This has paved the way for a widespread growth of 'student-centered learning' as an alternative approach (O'Neill & McMahon, 2005).

Here's How - Shifts in the Online Classroom

The concept of student-centered learning has been credited as early as 1905 to Hayward and in 1956 to Dewey's work (O'Sullivan, 2003).

It is also associated with the work of Piaget, and more recently, Malcolm Knowles (Burnard, 1999; Rogoff, 1999).

Carl Rogers argues that the shift in power from the expert teacher to the student learner is driven by a need to change the traditional environment - this 'so-called educational atmosphere, [within which] students become passive, apathetic and bored' (Rogers, 1983).

Which do you think best characterizes your style of teaching?

Read the overview to see: Teacher-Centered or Student-Centered.

Here's How - Shifts of Control

Photo of a young boy teaching adults. Based on the constructivist theory of learning, a student-centered approach to learning places greater emphasis on the autonomy of the learner, on active learning, with creation, communication and participation playing key roles for students.

Teachers step off the "stage" and start listening and conversing with students. They abandon a broadcast style and adopt an interactive one.

Instructors inspire students to discover for themselves, and students learn a process of critical thinking instead of just memorizing the teacher's information (Tapscott, 2009).

Discussion icon.

Discussion Question: Does teaching in an online learning environment automatically equate to a shift away from a teacher-centered approach? What techniques in the online classroom help foster a more student-centered approach?

From the Field - Shifts of Control

Photo of three teachers standing in front of a chalk board. As expectations for teachers shift away from traditional approaches, so do expectations of what online learning will look like in the years to come.

In Stephen Downes' eyes, the model of online learning as being a type of content, produced by publishers, organized and structured into courses, and consumed by students, is turning on its head.

He envisions a future of personalized online learning that looks something like a blogging tool with students creating their own content.

"It represents one node in a web of content, connected to other nodes and content creation services used by other students.

It becomes, not an institutional or corporate application, but a personal learning center, where content is reused and remixed according to the student's own needs and interests" (Downes, 2005).

 Hyperlink to Sorting Activity 



Regardless of where online learning is headed, clearly the role of the online instructor will always be of utmost importance in guiding student learning.

In this module we have looked at the theme of shifts of control and explored three examples:

Although we may not know exactly how these shifts will impact the world of online learning, one thing we know for certain is that the technology is going to change.  


Allen, M. (2004). Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Burnard, P. (1999). Carl Rogers and postmodernism: Challenged in nursing and health sciences. Nursing and Health Sciences 1, 241-247.

Downes, S. (2005). E-Learning 2.0, eLearn Magazine, Retrieved April 14, 2009 from

Huba, M. E. & Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses: Shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Lea, S. J., Stephenson, D., & Troy, J. (2003). Higher education students' attitudes to student centred learning: Beyond 'educational bulimia'. Studies in Higher Education, 28(3), 321-334.

O'Neill & McMahon. (2005). Student-centred learning: What does it mean for students and lecturers? Emerging Issues in the Practice of University of Learning and Teaching. Dublin: All Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE).

O'Sullivan, M. (2003). The reconceptualisation of learner-centered approaches: a Namibian case study. International Journal of Educational Development, 24(6), 585-602.

Plotkin, N. (2009). MIT will publish all faculty articles free in online repository, The Tech, 129(14), Accessed March 20, 2009.

Rawlinson, L. (2007). Throw away your school books: Here comes textbook 2.0,, Retrieved April 20, 2009 from

Rogers, C. R. (1983a). As a teacher, can I be myself? In Freedom to Learn for the 80's. Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company.

Rogoff, B. (1999). Cognitive development through social interaction: Vgotsky and Piaget. In P. Murphy (Ed.), Learners, Learning and Assessment. London: Open University Press.

Tapscott, D. (1999). Growing up Digital. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Willinsky, J. (2006). The access principle: The case for open access to research and scholarship. London: MIT Press.


Final Assessment

Please complete the following before proceeding to the next module. Click on each question to begin.

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

Question 4