Role of the Instructor in Distance Education

In our classroom there was a lively discussion about the role of the instructor in an online classroom.  While I have never pictured myself as an instructor in an online classroom (I don’t think I have enough subject matter knowledge to fill the position), it was interesting to think of the challenges and advantages involved with being an online tutor.  As a distance education student, it also helped me to empathize with my own instructors.

One aspect that seemed to be universally agreed upon was that the role of an online instructor is that of a facilitator.  The instructor is not in the classroom to act as the ‘fountain of knowledge,’ but rather as someone that provides the necessary materials, questions, and projects necessary to engender student participation and learning.  Not only this, but in distance education “participation is not likely to happen unless it is well planned and instructors have training to facilitate it” (Moore and Kearsley, 2012, p.114).  Therefore, an instructor must not only facilitate learning by being extremely well prepared, but they must also have the technical know-how to deliver the material in a meaningful way.

Another tricky aspect of being an online instructor is being able to exercise flexibility in lesson execution and trying to establish a ‘human’ tone.  I imagine that teaching via distance education must often feel very rigid; if a discussion topic isn’t leading students to the right ideas, an online teacher may have to create a new discussion board or try to provide timely feedback online (a difficult task). A face-to-face teacher can simply re-frame the conversation with a new question or idea.  This goes along with Moore and Kearsley’s (2012) idea that an instructor must be able to write in a conversational tone in the absence of face-to-face interactions.  Communicating strictly through text is very difficult, especially when trying to convey emotion.  It becomes even more difficult when all interactions are to be considered academic. 

Needless to say, the instructor has a very challenging role in distance education.  I think that the concept that an online education is somehow easier (both from the student and teacher perspective) is false.  If anything, it is more challenging.

Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance education: A systems view of online learning. USA: Wadsworth-Cengage Learning.


One thought on “Role of the Instructor in Distance Education

  1. Tonya

    You made some interesting point in your discussion of the instructor’s role in distance education. As you mentioned, the professor is someone who provides students with the necessary information to be successful. They also need to know how to deliver the course material in a way that the students can understand the information and be eager to learn. Therefore, teachers in DE course can’t lose focus on engaging student participation. As with face-to-face classrooms, the role of the teacher is easier and they are actually interacting with the student on a more personal basis. In distance education, communication can pose a problem as it is hard to read someone’s express or tone through technology. This leads to say, that in a distance education environment, it take a lot for a teacher to create the course in a meaningful way that benefits the students. Great post !


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