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  • Online pedagogical hierarchy of need

Online pedagogical hierarchy of needs

April 28, 2017


Guiding teachers to start their first online or blended course is a challenge. How, and with what shall I start? While many starts to focus on different online tools, I think you need to look at the pedagogical aspects.

With these questions, and as a subject to our ‘pedagogical café’ (a place where staff meet and discuss different themes), I tried to create an ‘online learning hierarchy of needs’. It’s still unfinished but I want to share it and hopefully get more inputs. It is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that somehow inspire me. In addition, besides my own experience and research I have used frameworks like Garrison’s Community of Inquiry, Gilly Salmon’s Five stage model and John Biggs constructive alignment. The main question was what building blocks do I need to building an online or blended learning course, and in what order?

The purpose of the online pedagogical hierarchy of needs (I really have to find a shorter name) is to help teachers create net-based courses and in the right order. The higher you reach in this hierarchy, more collaboration will appear and you will find a higher order of thinking according to Bloom’s taxonomy. The role of the teacher will also change from instructor to facilitator. However, the point is that you have to start from the bottom and build upwards. Depending on the course, you do not always have to climb to the top, but the more online the course is, and the more advanced the requested knowledge is, the higher you need to build.

Online pedagogical hierarchy of needs. By Filip Levälahti 26 April 2017.

So, let’s have a quick overview on the different building blocks (starting from the bottom):

  1. Course and competence objectives
    1. Understandably, the purpose and learning outcomes of the course is important. All activities and study materials should support the objectives in the course. In addition, the examination should test if the students have achieved the objectives in the course. As Ramsden (1992) stated, “From our students’ point of view, the assessment always defines the actual curriculum”.
  2. Platform or context
    1. To start a net-based course you obviously need a place where the students know they can find information, materials, where they can communicate and share ideas. And this place need to be well organized and structured so that students do not need to spend a lot of time searching for materials.
  3. Study materials and activities
    1. In a net-based course, you need some kind of materials or activities. If you choose not to use any study materials, e.g. you want the students to find their own materials, you still need the activity where they are supposed to find their own materials.
  4. Direct instructions
    1. When you have all above mentioned blocks you need to tell the students what you are expecting from them, the rules and objectives of the course. In a net-based course, it’s even more important to communicate and to show the students that you are present.
  5. Communication and feedback
    1. Communication and feedback between teachers and students and between students are important to create social presence. Social presence is important to create an environment of collaboration. The students are also in need for some kind of feedback in almost every aspect of their study path.
  6. Knowledge exchange
    1. When you have created a social presence, you can start with knowledge exchange where students can share their findings with each other’s in their mutual effort to find answer or reach a solution.
  7. Knowledge construction
    1. Within the social presence and by using the shared knowledge, the students can collaborate to come up with a solution or even more questions. This block gives the students different aspects of the same learning task.
  8. Innovation
    1. When you’re working together and looking at the same issue or problem from different perspectives and with different background, you are able to come up with a “not-yet-seen-solution”. However, to get there you need the other building blocks first.

Many teachers are working mostly in the green area of the ‘online pedagogical hierarchy of need’. The university often support you with a learning management system (LMS), and it is easy for teachers to upload their PowerPoint presentation. However, very often there are weaknesses when it comes to both constructive alignment and a good and organized structure in the LMS. In this case, the students have a very hard time to find the information, materials and activities they are supposed to find.

I think the challenges most universities have is how to take the step further to socialisation and collaboration. To get there, I believe, you first need to build a supportable foundation to build on.

The question now is, if this is a good way to support teachers when they are building their online courses?