According to Cyrs (cite by Richards, Dooley, & Linder, 2004), areas of competence important for teaching at a distance include (p. 100):
- Course planning and organization
- Verbal and nonverbal presentation skills
- Collaborative teamwork
- Questioning strategies
- Subject matter expertise
- Involving students and coordinating their activities at field sites
- Knowledge of basic learning theory
- Knowledge of the distance learning field
- Design of study guides
- Graphic design and visual thinking
These skills and competencies help build rapport between the teacher and student, vital to effective learning and motivation. Principles that were successful in the traditional classroom “must now be modified to facilitate effective online learning” (Richards et al., p. 100).
In order to provide high quality instruction in online learning, online course instructors should hold a certain set of beliefs about learning. The North American Council for Online Learning (Watson, 2007) reports, “many students in the 21st century don’t think of technology as something separate from daily life, and perhaps online learning should not be thought of as separate from the teaching and learning that goes on in schools every day” (p. 9).
To continue, the authors of the NACOL report assert, “as the nature of learning (and working) changes due to the explosion of available information via the Internet and new ways of managing and accessing information, the focus of education must continue to evolve from passing along information to students to helping students be better thinkers and learners” (p. 11). Online learning has brought about the term “learning coach” suggesting teachers are to guide, support, and encourage the learner and help facilitate in the learning process.
According to Watson, four core competencies online teachers should enhance through professional development are provided below (p. 13):
- Teachers must develop heightened communication skills, particularly in written communication. In many programs, teachers and students are communicating primarily through email, discussion board postings, and other texts; therefore teachers must “recognize the tone of their writing and pay attention to the nuances of words.”
- In asynchronous programs, time management skills are critical for teachers (and students) because they can be online at any time.
- In synchronous programs, teacher planning is an issue as lectures must have a multimedia component that requires much more planning for than is usual for traditional classrooms.
- If teachers have students with disabilities, they must know how to adapt course content and instruction to meet these students’ needs. Reaching visually impaired, hearing impaired, or learning-disabled students online can be quite different than in a physical classroom.
Many teacher competencies apply to both face-to-face and online teaching. However, for those teaching online, a professional development plan should incorporate needed online learning skills.