e-Ethics Students - Lesson 1

Lesson 1: What does it mean to be an online learner?

About this lesson
This first lesson introduces the characteristics of online learners. The content of this lesson is based on the book Online Learning: Concepts, Strategies, and Application from Nada Dabbagh and Brenda Bannan-Ritland, 2005. To now more about this content, consider visit the following links:

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What does it mean to be an online learner?
As in any other educational environment, the online learner is the key element on the online environment. Online learners have different characteristics and motivation. Your current motivation on taking this online course on Ethics may differ of those students taking the same course on a face to face environment. Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland have identified two different online learners: the classic distance learner, and the emerging online learner.

Classic Distance Learner
The classic learner refers to the one taking a classic distance education such correspondence or home study. In this environments learners were mostly described as adults with occupational, social and family commitments. As mentioned on Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland, a studied performed on 2000 showed that the student age average was 34 years old, mostly male, 75% with college education (degree or studies), and 75% were married. This students were “self-motivated, goal oriented, and disciplined self-starters”. Other studies on online learners shared almost same characteristics. These results indicates that online learners usually have enrolled on a course because there is an intrinsic motivation to achieve a goal.

Emerging Online Learner

The emerging online learner differs from the classical profile basically on the online activities he is able to perform. Current emerging technologies allow students to participate in discussion forums, group contributions, shared resources, peer assessment, and group projects. Most of the online course now focused on collaboration. There are more activities that involved group participation and social interaction even though there is not physical contact with other classmates. The new online instruction have had an impact on the way online learners must interact and carry out the instruction. Students are now required to share their knowledge, to contribute to discussions, interact in small/medium groups, and dedicate more time to the instruction to accommodate to different schedules. If an emerging online student fail to do this, it risk to become isolated on an online community which is expecting the participation of others to build their knowledge. In order to succeed on current online courses, students must be skilled using online learning technologies, and also understand the process that is implicit in the online instruction. It should be involved in social negotiation, and collaboration. It is then expected that online learners behave in a certain way that can benefit not online his own learning experience but can contribute to others as well.


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Characteristics of the Online Learner
Dabbagh and Bannan present a list of characteristics and skills an online learner must have in order to success in the online learning:

  • Being fluent in the use of online learning technologies
  • Exhibiting a need for affiliation
  • Understanding and valuing interaction and collaborative learning
  • Possessing and internal locus of control
  • Having a strong academic self-concept
  • Having experience in self-directed learning or the initiative to acquire such skills

Why Ethics for Online Students?
As previously described, one of the challenges on online instruction is the expectation to collaborate and be willing to share information, and work in different groups. Online instruction is usually committed to provide group participation, discussion forum, and personal reflections. All these are carried out using mostly asynchronous participation. Students must respond to questions or cases in a innovative way, in time and using a special writing language. Furthermore, students must usually adhere to a code of conduct that may differ in certain aspects to those created for traditional instruction. In next lessons, we will introduce ethics definition and principles that must be followed to provide a safe and success online experience.


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