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December 2001

Competencies for Online Teaching

J. Michael Spector and Ileana de la Teja

Information technology is changing the way people live and learn. Not surprisingly, information technology (IT) is also transforming the nature of teaching. These remarks provide a framework for thinking about such changes and exploring work in progress that is relevant to the development of competencies specific to teaching online (i.e., teaching occurring outside a traditional classroom, typically in a virtual classroom facilitated by use of the Internet).

Competence, Competencies and Certification
Competence refers to a state of being well qualified to perform an activity, task or job function. When a person is competent to do something, he or she has achieved a state of competence that is recognizable and verifiable to a particular community of practitioners. A competency, then, refers to the way that a state of competence can be demonstrated to the relevant community. According to the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction (IBSTPI), a competency involves a related set of knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable a person to effectively perform the activities of a given occupation or function in such a way that meets or exceeds the standards expected in a particular profession or work setting (Richey et al., 2001). The structure and assessment of competencies may differ from one community of practice to another and even within a community. To facilitate a common understanding of competencies in the context of online and distributed learning some specifications have been elaborated (IMS, 2001). Typically, a competency is divided into specific indicators describing the requisite knowledge, skills, attitudes and context of performance.

There are different ways to validate that a person has demonstrated the relevant competencies (Le Boterf, 1998, 2000, 2001). One of them is through a certification process (Lévy-Leboyer, 1999). Teacher certification is a common practice, and the notion of teacher competencies is fairly well established. However, competencies are generally associated with highly formalized professional activities and not applied to ill-defined tasks (those involving variable and uncertain circumstances, procedures and outcomes). Ill-defined tasks certainly include many forms of teaching. This narrow view of competence runs counter to common sense and professional practice, but brings into attention the mainstream approach to elaboration of teacher competencies where it is essential to clearly identify the conditions of teaching (Paquay et al., 1998). The delivery environment (classroom-based, Internet-based, laboratory-based, hybrid environments, and so on) is a particularly relevant condition to identify competencies for online teaching.

Online and Classroom Teaching
Information technology can be integrated into both online and classroom settings, but the interaction between these technologies and new approaches to learning and instruction may vary (Spector & Anderson, 2000). The range of activities available in online settings and the multiple conditions of time in which they take place are evidence that the technology demands placed on online teachers are somewhat more significant than those associated with classroom teachers (Table 1).

Table 1. Comparison of Online and Classroom Teaching Activities

Setting Location of learners Use of IT Temporality of activities Type of activity
Classroom At the same location - Presentation of topics
- Consultation
Synchronous - Similar for all learners
- Mainly teacher-led
- Discussions and small group work
Online Distributed - Presentation of topics
- Consultation
- Management
- Production (e.g., distributed, collaborative edition of a text)
- Wide range of interactions (one-to-one; one-to-many; many-to-one; & many-to-many)
- Synchronous (e.g., for tele- and video-conferencing, simultaneous broadcasts)
- Asynchronous (e.g., threaded discussions)
- Synchronous and asynchronous (e.g., live broadcast of a remote speaker & archiving for reuse)
- According to individuals
- Mainly learner-centered
- Individual and/or collaborative work (small, medium or large groups)

Much of what has already been published with regard to online teaching has focused on technical skills and requirements of successfully moderating and facilitating online discussions and chat sessions (e.g., Collison et al., 2000; Kearsley, 2000; Rosenburg, 2001). This body of literature suggests that becoming an effective online moderator requires training and that there are competencies unique to online environments.

In online asynchronous discussions, the moderator’s competencies involve (1) allowing learners time for reflection, (2) keeping discussions alive and on a productive path, and (3) archiving and organizing discussions to be used in subsequent lessons.

In online synchronous discussions (e.g., chat), the moderator must (1) establish ground rules for discussion, (2) animate interactions with minimal instructor intervention, (3) sense how online text messages may appear to distant learners, and (4) be aware of cultural differences.

How are these competencies unique to online teaching? At the applied level, animating discussions, displaying cultural sensitivity and so on, apply to all teachers. At the environment level, however, the ways in which a teacher demonstrates such competence is quite different, which suggests that there are competencies unique to online settings. According to Belisle and Linard (1996) the use of IT in teaching calls for additional competencies adapted to new roles and circumstances. Teaching competencies and online teaching competencies have generally been considered separately. However, efforts to interrelate the two are being undertaken by IBSTPI in association with the research center for Télé-université, Université de Québec (LICEF).

Implications of Competencies for Online Teaching
The current interest in competencies for online teaching is coming from business and industry, primarily with regard to technical training and professional development courses offered in online settings. It is quite likely that some of the interest in competencies for online teaching is a result of hastily crafted online courses and inadequate preparation of online facilitators. Clearly technology offers the potential to create and implement highly engaging and effective online environments to support a wide variety of learning goals. It is also quite clear that our capacity to make effective use of information technology in educational settings is impaired by inadequate preparation of teachers (as well as learners) and by a shortage of properly trained instructional designers and educational support personnel.

The development of competencies for online teaching should lead to the associated development of training for online teachers and (in some cases) to the certification of online teachers. To develop competencies for online teachers is not without challenge. Competencies are dynamic in nature, and they largely depend on the relevant social context (Le Boterf, 1994). The constant transformation of IT makes the development of competencies for online teachers a continuous process and demands continuing professional preparation and training for online teachers. Such endeavors will improve our ability to make effective use of technology in learning and instruction.

References and Related Readings
Belisle, C., & Linard, M. (1996). Quelles nouvelles compétences des acteurs de la formation dans le contexte des TIC? Education Permanente (127).

Branch, R. M., & Fitzgerald, M. A. (Eds.) (2001). Educational media and technology yearbook, 2001. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology. ED452816

Calderhead, J. (1996). Teachers: Beliefs and knowledge. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology (pp. 709-725). New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.

Cyrs, T. (1997). Competence in teaching at a distance. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 71, 15-18. EJ554107

Collison, G., Elbaum, B., Haavind, S., & Tinker, R. (2000). Facilitating online learning: Effective strategies for moderators. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing. ED448684

Goodyear, P. (2000). Online teaching. In N. Hativa & P. Goodyear (Eds.), Teacher thinking, beliefs and knowledge in higher education. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Goodyear, P., Salmon, G., Spector, M., Steeples, C., & Tickner, S. (2001) Competencies for online teaching. Educational Technology Research & Development 49 (1), 65-72. IR544351

IMS Global Learning Consortium (2001). Reusable Competency Definitions Information Model. IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. Public draft available online at http://www.imsproject.org/rcd/

Jones, C., Asensio, M., & Goodyear, P. (2000). Networked learning in higher education: practitioner perspectives. Journal of the Association for Learning Technology, 8 (2).

Kearsely, G. (2000). Online education: Learning and teaching in cyberspace. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Le Boterf, G. (1994). De la compétence, essai sur un attracteur étrange. Paris: Les éditions d’organisation.

Le Boterf, G. (1998). Evaluer ses compétences, quels jugements? quels critères? quelles instances? Education Permanente (135).

Le Boterf, G. (2000). L’ingénierie des compétences, Second Edition. Paris: Éditions d’organisation.

Le Boterf, G. (2001). Construire les compétences individuelles et collectives. Paris: Éditions d’organisation.

Leinhardt, G. (1990). Capturing craft knowledge in teaching. Educational Researcher, 19 (2), 18-25. EJ411277

Lévy-Leboyer, C. (1999). La gestion des compétences. Paris: Éditions d’organisation.

Martinet, M. A., Raymond, D., & Gauthier, C. (2001). La formation à l’enseignement : les orientations : les compétences professionnelles. Québec: Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec.

Paquay, L., Altet, M., Charlier, E., and Perrenoud, P. (1998). Former des enseignants professionnels: quelles stratégies? quelles compétences? Bruxelles: De Boeck Université. Second edition.

Pea, R. (Ed.) (2000). The Jossey-Bass reader on technology and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ED450109

Richey, R. C., Fields, D. C., & Foxon, M. (with Roberts, R. C., Spannaus, T. & Spector, J. M.) (2001). Instructional design competencies: The standards (3rd ed.). Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology. ED453803

Rosenberg, M. J. (2001). E-learning: Strategies for delivering knowledge in the digital age. New York: McGraw Hill.

Salmon, G. (2000). E-moderating: the key to teaching and learning online. London: Kogan Page.

Schoenfeld, A. (1998). Toward a theory of teaching-in-context. Issues in Education, 4 (1), 1-94.

Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., & Persichitte, K. (2000). Differential skills and competencies required of faculty teaching distance education courses. International Journal of Educational Technology, 2 (1). EJ616728

Spector, J. M., & Anderson, T. M. (Eds.) (2000). Integrated and holistic perspectives on learning, instruction and technology: Understanding complexity. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Thatch, E., & Murphy, K. (1995). Competencies for distance education professionals. Educational Technology Research and Development, 43 (1), 57-79. EJ501723

Related Web Sites
Centre de recherche LICEF, Télé-université--A research center dedicated to cognitive informatics and training environments with special interest, expertise and tools related to distance education. http://www.licef.teluq.uquebec.ca/anglais/index.html

The Masie Center--An international e-lab and ThinkTank dedicated to exploring the intersection of learning and technology. http://www.masie.com/masie/default.cfm?page=default

Resources for Moderators and Facilitators of Online Discussion--A growing set of resources for moderators of online discussion in both academic and non-academic settings. http://www.emoderators.com/moderators.shtml

Specialization Program in International Online Education (SPICE)--Provides a shared base of knowledge, skills, and values regarding online education and training. http://www.nettskolen.com/in_english/

TechnoCompetences--An organization that developed a dictionary and a profile of competencies in the multimedia and telecommunications domains. http://www.technocompetences.qc.ca/site/frame_rech_comp.php

TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence (TLNCE)--Tracks leading telelearning research advances in collaboration with university and industry partners throughout the world. http://www.telelearn.ca/index.html

Vignettes for Training (VFT)--An e-learning consulting and systems development company that assists clients with e-learning systems design and implementation, content development and conversion, and web hosting. http://www.vignettestraining.com/index.htm

Web-based Education Commission—Established by the U.S. Congress to develop policy recommendations geared toward maximizing the educational promise of the Internet for pre-K, elementary, middle, secondary, and postsecondary education learners. http://www.hpcnet.org/cgi-bin/global/a_bus_card.cgi?store_SiteID=154797

About the Authors
J. Michael Spector, PhD, is Professor and Chair, Department of Instructional Design, Development & Evaluation at Syracuse University’s School of Education, New York. Ileana de la Teja, PhD, is Associate Researcher, Cognitive Informatics applied to Training Environments, Research Centre (LICEF), Télé-université, Montreal, Canada. Both authors are IBSTPI board members.

ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated.

This publication is funded in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education under contract number ED-99-CO-0005. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government. Visit the Department of Education’s Web site at: http://www.ed.gov/