A Rich Environment for Active Learning (REAL): A Model for Online Instruction

A Rich Environment for Active Learning (REAL): A Model for Online Instruction

Heather Robinson, Alana S. Phillips, Anneliese Sheffield, Michelle Moore
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6280-3.ch003
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Online teaching is considerably different from face-to-face teaching. With the continued growth of online teaching, all teachers should be prepared to teach an online course. Since the overarching difference between face-to-face and online instruction is communication, it is imperative for online instruction to be delivered using a social constructivist model to make up for the lack of social interaction in the classroom. Delivering instruction using the Rich Environment for Active Learning (REAL) model has the potential to remove communication barriers and draw more students into the social aspect of instruction, and therefore truly engage them as lifelong learners. The REAL model is explored in this chapter.
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Higher education institutions understand the inherent importance of the development of online education and offering online courses, as well as the importance of improving their respective teaching and learning formats. While the majority of academic leaders believe online education is critical for their long-term strategy, there is continued concern about barriers which may impact the growth of online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Academic leaders are aware that it requires extra time and effort for instructors to teach online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Specifically, Beck and Ferdig (2008) found that moving their course to the online environment impelled interaction among instructors. The researchers found that instructors developed instructional teams in order to divide responsibilities. Instructors also expressed the need to promote “teacher training as a high priority for future directions” (Beck & Ferdig, 2008, p. 14). Training on time management, technology aspects, how to teach online, and audience analysis would be beneficial to instructors (Beck & Ferdig, 2008).

Online courses in U.S. higher education have been increasing steadily for more than ten years (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Almost a third of all higher education students (32% or 6.7 million) are taking at least one online course—courses that deliver at least 80% of the course content online. A large proportion (62%) of higher education institutions have shifted from offering specific online courses to offering complete online programs (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Nearly 70% of higher education institutions agree that online education is a critical component of their overall strategic plan (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Despite the general enthusiasm for online learning in higher education institutions, there are two classes of higher education institutions that may not be placing urgency or priority on online education. Picciano, Seaman, and Allen (2010) found that private four-year liberal arts colleges are reluctant and research-based universities are planning for the expansion of online education, but only in select areas of study. Likewise, their study revealed that educational leaders perceive online courses as a lower quality alternative to face-to-face courses. Nearly one third of faculty (32%) view online learning as inferior, and more than a third (38%) view it as somewhat inferior to face-to-face courses (Picciano et al., 2010). However, students taking online courses recognize the benefits: flexibility for balancing career, family, and school (Picciano et al., 2010). Faculty, like their students, appreciate the flexibility, particularly in managing the added time commitments (Parietti & Turri, 2011). The demand for online courses may continue to motivate higher education institutions to focus on the quality of each course. Strategic planning for continuously improving teaching and learning formats is a part of that focus.

According to the apprenticeship-of-observation, teachers have a tendency to teach the way they were taught (Lortie, 2002); since most have received face-to-face classroom instruction, they would be inclined to teach accordingly. “Perhaps for the first time in centuries, however, instructors now have to teach in ways vastly different from how they were taught and from how they were taught to teach” (Anderson, Standerford, & Imdieke, 2010, p. 1). For universities looking to expand their course offerings to include training related to online teaching, the path is not clear-cut. With so few universities offering such courses, lack of research and few models to guide their development, there is little on which to build (Barbour, Siko, Gross, & Waddell, 2013). Furthermore, the courses, certificates, and professional development programs that have been developed vary widely in intended audience, duration, and scope (Barbour et al., 2013), providing little in the suggestion of a best practice.

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