Blurred Lines: Course Types

This week we’re talking course types, specifically the 3 major “classroom” environments: face-to-face (F2F), hybrid (or blended), and online.

Face-to-face (F2F) classrooms are most often associated with traditional education – learning takes place during the school day (except for homework) in a single classroom featuring a

Image courtesy of

teacher leading a group of students. That doesn’t mean the students are sitting catatonic in their seats while the teacher drones on in front of the blackboard (or whiteboard or SMARTboard). Plenty of good teachers recognize the importance of active and collaborative learning. Many incorporate engaging technology. Take, for example, the teachers who participate in an adventure learning program called GoNorth! Their students are chatting with field experts, adopting virtual sled dogs, and building actual dog sleds – that they will race in school (Doering et al., 2008)!

Technology integration raises a sticky point about the distinctions between types of class environments: they are, in fact, getting harder to distinguish. The lines between F2F and hybrid/blended classrooms is blurring. The students involved in GoNorth! were in a F2F classroom, yet content was disseminated and explored through the internet. Students collaborated in chat rooms with experts and children around the country, and created projects that were then posted online (Doering et al., 2008). Experiential learning (foundational idea for adventure learning) is ideal for hybrid classes. “Experience rather than osmosis” (p. 25) makes learning authentic and applicable to the real world, and provides numerous opportunities for incorporating technology. The GoNorth! program features audio and video, “collaboration zones”, quizzes, diary-style passages and virtual reality-based tours of the sites featured in the curriculum (Doering et al., 2008, p. 26).

Sled dog team from GoNorth! adventure learning program. Image courtesy

Of the 3 course types, online classes are the most radical departure from F2F. There is no physical classroom. Learning Management Software replaces the daily housekeeping functions of a physical classroom. Perhaps the most important difference comes in the shift of responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student (Bates et al., 2008). Instead of lecturing, the teacher provides guidance and space for collaboration and experimentation. Students must seize the opportunity and “[self-learn] through technology” (Bates et al., 2008, p. 40). This new teacher-student dynamic is perfect for learner-centered teaching. In fact, an online course where the student drives the content according to needs and interests is the definition of learner-centered teaching, according to MERLOT (n.d.). Control over time, pace, and content (to some extent) places the student at the center of the learning experience (Atkinson et al., 2009).

As wonderful as online classes are, they will not be the best fit for every learner or every situation. Working in an elementary school, I see the value of F2F teaching and learning every day. Yet I know that my students are lured by the flashy screens of their mobile devices. My proposed learning activity – a blog – aims to unit the best of both worlds: the confidence and support of a live teacher, and the intrinsic motivation of using technology to write about their own interests.

Do you find your motivation differs based on the type of course? Does content influence your motivation more than environment or delivery method?


Atkinson, T. (2009). Second Life for educators: Teaching and learning. TechTrends, 53(3), 30- 32.

Bates, C. & Watson, M. (2008). Re-learning teaching techniques to be effective in hybrid and online courses. Journal of American Academy of Business, 13(1), p. 38-44.

Doering, A. & Velestianos, G. (2008). Hybrid online education: Identifying integration models using adventure learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(1), 23-41.

MERLOT Pedagogy Portal. (n.d.). Retrieved from


2 thoughts on “Blurred Lines: Course Types

  1. I have found that my motivation is very much depended on the course material. I experienced this the most after high school when I started my Associates Degree program in horticulture. I went from an apathetic student who found school in general boring, to an engaged top performing college student. The learning environment and teaching styles were basically the same in both settings, the big difference was the content. Because of the plant science focused nature of the Associates Degree program most of my classes where related to something I was interested in and motivated to learn about. I struggled in biology in high school, and never took chemistry, but in college I got an A in soil science which was heavy in chemistry! Why, because I wanted to learn about it. The professor was dry, the class was 100% lecture, and the curriculum was about dirt, but the content kept me motivated because I knew I would actually use everything I was learning someday!


  2. Hi Maureen,
    Awesome blog post! I believe that the content influences my motivation more than the learning environment or delivery method. For me, I need to have an interest in the content so that I will be motivated to engage in the research and complete the course work. As a student, I am intrinsically motivated to do my best, but when the content is relevant to me, or more interesting I tend to be more motivated. For some, however, I believe that delivery methods and learning environments play a huge role in student motivation. Some people need to sit in a classroom in order to experience the “school feeling” which in turn will help motivate them to do well in school. Others’ like to see the instructor’s excitement and passion in a face-to-face setting, which will help, motivated them to become excited about the learning. I think it just depends on the learner. To each their own….


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