Have you heard the online instructor [cheekily] described as a ‘guide-on-the-side’, contrasted with the traditional professor, known as the ‘sage-on-the stage’? I’ve heard this term often – my interpretation is that the ‘sage’ is the learned professor with great expertise and knowledge, the ‘guide’ the mentor or coach. The terms ‘sage’ and ‘guide’ in this context, epitomize a collision between two theories of learning, each with opposing views on the way we learn. The sage-on-the-stage labels a teacher-centered approach, essentially a directive teaching style, grounded in behaviorist theory. One such theory, developed by B.F Skinner, suggests the learner is a vessel, waiting for knowledge to be absorbed like a sponge. Contrast this approach to the constructivist model, of which educators Piaget, Bruner and Gardner support(ed), where the learner directs his or her own learning and ‘constructs’ knowledge by drawing upon his or her experiences and background while interacting with learning content.
What is the Sage-on-the Side?
I first came across the term, sage on the side while reading Campus Technology’s article ‘2012: What’s Hot, What’s Not’ which seems to describe the blending of theories of learning, constructivist and directive. Four technologists shared their views about upcoming learning trends and tools in educational technology. Consensus is, that college lectures as we know them, will transform given new technology (i.e. lecture capture, mobile devices), online learning and changes in learner styles.
We need a Sage AND a Guide
I do not suggest one theory is better than another – though I see parts of the theories being necessary in online learning as a new paradigm for college instruction emerges. Why? First off, the medium of delivery for online learning, the learning management platform (such as Moodle) forces change. And two, the learner has changed and the learning context. It’s no wonder that academia has been wary of online learning with this clash in ideologies. The instructor, (aka the sage) requires a completely different skill set for e-learning – he or she needs to be a mentor and the intellect. I see the need for instructor’s knowledge (now more than ever) to be shared with students, especially since we have information available 24/7. These subject matter experts (sage or instructor), can help students discern, think and learn, but only with a skill set that can teach and communicate in the online environment.
Controversy about Online Teaching and Learning
Controversy about the quality of online learning should not be a new to most educators, but I suggest it is due in part to the lack of online skilled instructors. There has been a tremendous gap —- though top-notch instructors of face-to-face institutions may be excellent in the traditional lecture environment, they may be unprepared and lack the appropriate technical skills for teaching online. A new teaching model is needed – one that includes a subject matter expert with a specific set of competencies.
Essential Competencies for the Online Instructor
Colleges are beginning to recognize this need for additional skills and many have provided training programs and support. One such school, Penn State, developed Competencies of Online teaching Success, a video series geared to online educators to develop competencies for effective online instruction. University of South Wales, developed an excellent video series Learning to Teach Online, for online instructors.
Skills need by Online Instructors:
- Communication skills for the asynchronous environment
- Time management
- Technical skills for LMS
- Trouble shooter
- Instructional design skills to create an environment for online collaboration
I’ll leave you with a video from COFA, which describes how higher education institutions can adapt successfully to the changes and challenges of online learning.