I’d like to start a conversation about online learning and teacher training.

My name is Neil Ballantyne and I work for the British Council based in Hong Kong. Most of my job revolves around teacher training these days, I write and deliver teacher training for the Council, both online and face-to-face.

I’m also studying an MA at the University of Manchester as a distance learner. This is done online using a variety of different methods. I have access to a couple of learning environments where the tutors put materials for us to read, host videos and audio files for us to watch or listen to, and create forums where we can discuss topics related to our studies with the tutors or with the other participants.

The main difference in my experience between face-to-face study and online study is that face-to-face is synchronous, i.e. you are in the same time as the tutor, and online is mostly asynchronous, i.e. the student and teacher are interacting at different times as in email (where the receiver does not need to be online to get an email from the sender).

Of course, it is possible to meet online with tutors and other students at the same time using technology such as in chatrooms and VOIP (voice-over internet protocol) which works like a phone but over the internet (e.g. Skype).

However, most online learning takes place at a different time to the ‘teaching’. The teacher prepares the materials, which could be in text form or video or audio, and places it online. The teacher may also start a forum asking the students questions related to this material. The student then reads/watches/listens to this material and posts thoughts in the forum. The forum replaces the conversations that students and teachers may have at the end of a lecture.

I’d like to know more about your thoughts about online learning. Have you ever taken part in any? If yes, what did you study and what were your experiences? If no, would you like to? What do you think would be the benefits and challenges of studying online?

It would be great to hear from you so please do leave your comments below.

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