Are you teaching online classes and interested in an instructional strategy which could help strengthen your relationships with students, while also influencing their level of performance, motivation, and engagement?

The online classroom does not change the basic principles of adult learning; but the format of learning has changed when it is enabled by technology. However, the online classroom may change the nature of the student's involvement. A student's need for self-motivation and taking responsibility for their involvement in class may be greater with an online class.

The online student's engagement in the class is usually encouraged through the use of discussion boards and asynchronous interactions with his or her instructor. Performance in an online classroom environment is based upon the student's work product, whether this is accomplished through learning activities or written assignments. Depending upon the level of involvement by the instructor and the student, it may easy for a student to experience a sense of disconnection from the class and his or her instructor.

Another environment where issues of individual motivation, engagement and performance are studied can be found within the organizational setting. These issues are considered essential factors of a successful employee and lead to improved overall organizational performance. The field of organizational development has produced numerous theories of employee development and one theory that addresses development from a positive frame of reference is appreciative inquiry.

Appreciative inquiry has been successfully utilized within organizations and has demonstrated an ability to affect individual motivation, engagement, and performance. Due to this success of appreciative inquiry and its ability to impact individuals as well as organizations, it has the potential to be adapted to other environments, including the online classroom environment. As an instructional method, appreciative inquiry has a potential to help bridge the gap between the instructor and student within an online classroom. Appreciative inquiry also has the potential to assist in the development of positive working relationships, which in turn may improve the student's motivation, engagement, and performance.

Dr. J developed an innovative approach to online teaching with an instructional strategy called Appreciative Andragogy. This takes Appreciative Inquiry, an organizational developmental strategy, and combines it with the principle of teaching adults called Andragogy.

Appreciative Andragogy emphasizes the positive nature of adult learning and the enhanced view of self that will occur through supportive interactions with an instructor. Through the use of appreciative andragogy as an instructional method, the instructor may have a tool that can build nurturing relationships and increase the instructor's presence within an online classroom environment. With a positive approach to student development the student is likely to experience a greater sense of motivation, engagement in the classroom, and improved performance overall.

Now you can learn about this innovative instructional strategy in Dr. J's book, Appreciative Andragogy: Taking the Distance Out of Distance Learning.

Overview

The online classroom has not changed the basic principles of adult learning, only the format. What has not changed is the students' need for one-on-one interactions. Instructors can guide the development of online relationships by creating an environment that is conducive to and supportive of productive exchanges. This requires an investment of time on the part of the instructor as online interactions are not limited to one scheduled class meeting.

Students develop perceptions about the class, the process of learning, and the school based upon their classroom interactions and they are likely to find it reassuring to know that their instructor is dedicated to their progress and overall development. These interactions are most effective when the instructor has developed a strong virtual presence, one that is responsive to students and their developmental needs. Being actively engaged and present in the class results in a positive experience for the instructor and the students, and promotes a productive learning environment.

The online classroom may also change the nature of students' motivation, engagement, and performance. A student's need for self-motivation and taking responsibility for his or her class participation and assignment completion may be greater with an online classroom. Depending upon the level of involvement by the instructor and the students, the online classroom has the potential to become mechanical in nature and it may become easy for a student to experience a sense of disconnection from the class and/or the instructor, even with assigned class discussions.

Distance Learning Challenges

Some of the challenges that are related to distance learning involve a lack of direct communication, students who feel stuck in the class for whatever the reason, those who lack academic skill sets and the determination to learn, and feedback that is provided without the benefit of any follow up discussion or explanation. All of these factors have a direct impact on students' performance, including written work and participation, along with their engagement in the class and the learning process. It will also have an impact on their level of motivation, which influences their progress, willingness, and persistence when faced with challenges. Online or distance learning has experienced continued growth and attracted millions of students as both traditional and online colleges and universities extend their reach by offering virtual courses and degrees. It has made education accessible to students who might not otherwise have access to any other options.

Educators have had to adapt to this environment and learn how to communicate effectively through written words. The challenge is being able to help students feel connected to their class and their instructor. Traditional methods of instruction have to be adapted simply because instructors are not present and they are not able to have the benefit of visual cues and physical interactions. Some instructors are effective in developing a virtual presence and others find the online platform too difficult to navigate or they feel too distant from their students.

An Online Educator's Perspective

As an educator with extensive online teaching and faculty development experience, I am fully aware of the challenge that instructors face when they try to bridge the virtual distance. One of the inherent problems is that instructors develop a perception of students based upon what they see or what they read. If the students post an introduction at the start of class that does provide initial background information. But over time instructors see what is posted in the discussion boards and submitted in written assignments and those words represent the students, creating a lens through which they perceive them.

As an example, if an instructor sees continued writing mistakes in a student's posts or papers they may view this student from a negative perspective. This can lead to a deficit-based approach when interacting with the student. The main focus of their interactions and feedback will be focused on correcting those errors and it tends to overshadow positive accomplishments. A student who experiences what they perceive as continued negative interactions may become disengaged from the class. While the intent of the instructor is to guide and teach the student this approach has a potential to alienate the student and create resistance on their part.

The Field of Organizational Development

Another environment where motivation, engagement and performance are studied can be found within the organizational setting. The field of organizational development has produced numerous theories of employee development and one theory that addresses development from a positive frame of reference is appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry is a tool that has been used to affect change and influence employee performance, which are essential factors of a successful employee and lead to improved overall organizational performance. It is a process of examining peak performance, it has a positive focus, is strengths-based, and often used to enact change or support a change initiative.

Translating Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry was viewed as having potential to be adapted as an instructional strategy for online learning, which could bridge the gap between an instructor and his or her students.  Because there was little research concerning the application of appreciative inquiry to an academic environment, elements of appreciative inquiry were adapted for a research study within undergraduate and graduate online classrooms. This instructional strategy was called appreciative andragogy, which used the appreciative nature of appreciative inquiry and the word andragogy to acknowledge that adult learners are self-directed in nature and their ability to learn depends upon their involvement in the process. Appreciative andragogy emphasizes the positive nature of adult learning that may occur through supportive interactions with an instructor.

To test the potential for appreciative andragogy in online classes a research study was conducted. I enlisted online instructors as participants for the study and they tested this strategy in their online classes. This brought appreciative inquiry from an organizational environment into the online classroom. The results of this study have now been published so that other educators may adapt and utilize it in their online classes. Of course implementing appreciative andragogy is not done without challenges. From an educator's perspective they have to take the time to interact with students and make an attempt to follow the process. It may also be difficult to show appreciation for a student who is not open to interactive communication or does not demonstrate appreciation themselves.

The Research Study

To test the potential for appreciative andragogy in online classes a research study was conducted. I enlisted online instructors as participants for the study and they tested this strategy in their online classes. This brought appreciative inquiry from an organizational environment into the online classroom. 

  • The primary research study question was: How does the application of elements of appreciative andragogy as an instructional strategy for instructors positively affect online post-secondary classes?
  • Additional research questions were related to application of elements of appreciative andragogy as a positive instructional strategy for online classes and the impact of this strategy on adult learner motivation, engagement, and performance.

The purpose of this multiple case study was to explore the application and outcome of appreciative inquiry as an online instructional strategy.  The appreciative inquiry model was adapted for this study as appreciative andragogy and utilized over a four-week implementation period. The participants worked with selected students from their online class and they measured the three factors (motivation, engagement, and performance) before and after the implementation phase.

The Findings

The use of appreciative andragogy provided many benefits for the participants and the conclusions reached after the implementation period indicated the potential that it holds to be applied to other online classes. The use of appreciative andragogy as an instructional strategy was easy to implement, even with limited prior knowledge of appreciative inquiry, because of the conversations held with each of the participants about the underlying concepts.

The participants found that appreciative andragogy provided an effective relationship-building tool and it helped them put the focus of their conversations on the students' developmental needs, which were then tied to the students' future goals. The use of appreciative andragogy also modeled active motivation, engagement, and performance on the part of the participants, which in turn demonstrated that they were responsive to their students and actively present in the class. The study concluded that appreciative andragogy has an ability to take the distance out of distance learning.

An Investment in Your Ongoing Professional Development; You can purchase a copy of Dr. J's book and learn how you can take the distance out of distance learning, for any online class, regardless of the subject matter. The focus of appreciative andragogy is centered on the development of relationships between instructors and students through the use of positive language and the development of strengths. Consider this to be an investment in your ongoing professional development.

Special Sale: Appreciative Andragogy is available for anyone who is interested in teaching online courses for only $7, plus $3.00 flat shipping fee for shipping to the United States. (The original cost was $15.00). The downloadable PDF version has also been reduced from $10 to only $5.

  • Added Bonus: You will also be provided with the worksheets used in this study and this will provide you with tools to use in your online classes.

To Purchase Appreciative Andragogy: Taking the Distance Out Of Distance Learning signed by the author, please visit: Appreciative Andragogy  

About Dr. J

Dr. Johnson has worked in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005. He specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, and online teaching. Dr. J's roles included Chief Academic Officer, Dean, Faculty Director, Faculty Manager, Faculty Development Specialist, Dissertation Mentor, Faculty Workshop Facilitator, and online instructor.

Dr. J has extensive experience with curriculum development, having authored courses and curriculum for bachelors, masters, and doctorate programs. He also developed a Faculty Performance Model, Faculty Orientation Program, Faculty Training and Mentoring Program, Faculty Professional Development Courses and Workshops, and a Faculty Remedial Program.

Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA. As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has also published over 200 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and career development.

To learn more about Dr. Bruce A. Johnson, please visit the following resources:

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