This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

putting yourself in the learner’s shoes

Image courtesy of winnond /

Image courtesy of winnond / 


As part of the preparation for my ULTA2 assignment, I’ll be getting some of my online teaching observed. This has raised the question of how to carry out observation of online teaching, and how observation of online teaching is different to traditional observations. I’ve been reading around this a little today, and one thing struck me as particularly interesting…

It seems a safe assumption that all HE teachers will have experience of being learners in a classroom, and furthermore of being learners in a classroom of the type that they teach in. HE teachers will have been to school, to college, to university. They’re highly likely to have been taught in the discipline that they now teach. Since disciplines tend to be taught in similar ways over time, they’re therefore likely to have experienced the kind of teaching that they now deliver, whether that’s a lecture, seminar, or lab-based class. This doesn’t apply to online learning. Whilst some HE teachers will have taken part in some online learning as learners, a lot will not have. Their first experience of online learning is as teachers. This is significant if we recognise that an important influence on the teaching styles of most HE teachers is their own experiences of being a learner at university. Anecdotally this seems true, and evidence is cited in Bennett and Barp (2008).

Formalised training in teaching is increasing within HE, for various reasons, but it’s still not universal. So past experience of being a learner is very important – it either provides a model (if the teaching experienced was perceived to be good) or an example of what to avoid (if it was perceived as being less than good). HE teachers involved in online teaching are likely to have had neither formalised training in online teaching, nor experience of being a learner online. So arguably peer observation is even more important in this context. It’s a good thing I’ll be participating in ocTEL over the next month!

More seriously, the more I think about this the more I conclude that it’s crucially important to empathise with learners, to put yourself in their shoes and experience, as far as possible, what the learning experience is like for them, in order to understand how it can be done better.


Teaching Fellow and Online Learning Specialist at the University of Leeds

Tagged with: , , , ,