An Exploratory Study Comparing Two Modes of Preparation for Online Teaching

Oct. 01, 2012

Source: Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, Vol. 28, No. 4, p. 146-152. (2012)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine online teachers’ self-reported frequency and confidence in performing online learning tasks.

The study compared between two groups of teachers.
One group was comprised of teachers who had completed a comprehensive preparation program, the other group comprised of teachers who participated in a one-day face-to-face workshop.
The teachers from both groups completed an online survey.


This study found no differences between those with extensive preparation for teaching online and those with only a basic understanding of the course design, the structure of online course materials, and expectations and responsibilities.
These findings reinforce the literature’s recognition of the importance of prior qualifications such as subject-matter expertise, online learning experience, and experience teaching face to face.
However, there are several caveats to such a conclusion.

First, because the study relied on self-reported data, it is not possible to distinguish between teachers’ perceptions and their behaviors.
For instance, a new teacher might report frequently offering explanations but actually do it only four times a week, whereas returning teachers might report frequently offering explanations but actually do it eight times a week due to a better understanding of teacher–student interaction.
Thus, there would be a practical difference in performance of teaching tasks even though self-reported perceptions demonstrated no differences.

Second, the unique design of the online courses and the expectations and responsibilities of teaching those courses focus on teaching tasks directly related to supporting student learning, content learning, and relationship building.
These are tasks consistent with skills often associated with face-to- face classroom experience.
Thus, the design itself influenced the performance of online teaching tasks.
It may be that online teaching is influenced less by teacher preparation and more by the design of the online learning environment itself.

Third, standards for online teaching include competencies that address technology competence, management and delivery, and course design.
The online course design model for courses taught by teachers in this study did not focus attention on course design tasks, tasks related to management and delivery to groups of students, or those associated with unique technology-supported learning activities.
Thus, this study did not address those competencies in the context of the two approaches to preparation for online teaching.

Fourth, this study relied on established definitions of teacher competence.
The authors made no attempt to verify the actual quality of study participants’ face-to-face teaching, content expertise, or technology competence.
Study findings must be understood within the constraints of these assumptions.

Finally, a survey methodology presents its own set of unique limitations and challenges. These include the validation of the instrument that is used, the limited extent to which findings can be generalized, and the weakness of self-reported data.
Because study findings are based on self-reported data rather than the measurement of observable behavior, they are susceptible to bias.


This study did not support the need for extensive online teacher preparation for those who taught in this online course design model and possessed the prerequisites identified in the literature.
The authors suggest that it may well be that such preparation for online teaching should focus on a triad of core competencies targeting:
(a) understanding the unique attributes of online learning environments essential to effective online course design,
(b) understanding and using a range of technology applications unique to online learning, and
(c) working with virtual groups and the associated concerns with teachers’/ learners’ online presence and teacher– learner and learner–learner interactions.

Updated: Aug. 16, 2015