Change is good

Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa reflects on the benefits of online instruction in Part Five⎮2 min 40 sec read

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In Part One Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa reviewed the factors teachers should consider before transitioning classes to online courses, while in Part Two she explored how student attitude and the quality of materials contribute to successful online learning outcomes. In Part Three she demonstrated how communication and good design motivate students to learn, while in Part Four Tracey discussed how to manage the transition to online and the support systems available to teachers and students. To conclude her series, Tracey reflects on the benefits of online instruction in Part Five.


There is a vast amount of literature that points to the potentials, promises and perils of online learning. It is easy to demonstrate that online learning has several important advantages noted in rigorous comparative studies in which it was found that, “students in the online courses reported better understanding of the course structure, better communication with the course staff, watched the video lessons more, and had higher engagement and satisfaction,” (Soffer & Nachmias, 2018, p.534) than the same students in face-to-face classes. 

Answers to educational challenges are never easy as there are multiple confounding variables that must be taken into consideration, not the least of which have to do with the quality of the teacher, the attitudes of the students, the use of instructional design and available tools, the personalisation of the endeavour, the knowledge-base of the actors and the way change is managed by the institution.

The answers to our most frequent questions about online learning are naturally complex as human learning and the brain are complex. All animals learn, but few, including humans, have a science of teaching (Blakemore & Frith, 2005), and humans alone do this in modalities other than being face-to-face. Learning to teach online is not easy because it requires not only (a) knowing how to teach and (b) understanding the tools and strategies available, but it also presumes that teachers have (c) content or domain area knowledge (i.e., the history teacher knows history); and that the teacher has (d) an understanding of the brain and how humans learn best. None of these premises can be taken for granted. This means that to “take your course online,” educators and those requesting this change should offer the right training to fill in any potential gaps in teachers’ general abilities. 

Online is a modality with a wonderful potential to save time (i.e., no more commuting to class), reach more students (i.e., classes are no longer limited to the physically present but can be comprised of global school houses and the ability to include those traditionally excluded from regular classrooms), differentiate (i.e., offer multiple levels of entry points to topics with a wider variety of resources), and personalise learning. This is all contingent, however, on ensuring both teachers and students are ready for the challenge and well-equipped with evidence-based premises before logging on.

Stay tuned for more advice about transitioning into virtual classrooms with Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa's new podcast, up next. 


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Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa

Professor, Harvard University Extension School

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