Brain Puzzle and Unspeakable Intension : On-line Course Learning

When digital learning and social media usage become new trends in higher education, we start to hear so many good things about digital learning, and we begin to get showed by “Big Data” about how powerful social media is. People start to use digital learning on line to deal with long distance. On-line courses are offered more and more frequently to give both teachers and students time and location flexibilities.

However, according to my personal experiences, on-line courses are not always so effective. I took two on-line courses among my two-year PhD study here. Both of them are offered by great teachers, and they both prepared a lot judging from what they offered on line. The way these two courses have been taught in is similar. Teachers offered video lectures on line with the slides and their voices, they assigned a lot of readings according to different topics, and they set up a weekly due day for the assignments.

But I went through so much trouble when I tried to learn from on-line courses. First, I find it is difficult to gain a clear knowledge structure or thought process after I watched the lecture videos. It was usually the case that I tried so hard to follow the content on each slide, but I couldn’t get a big picture after I watched the whole thing. I agree with Robert Talbert, “modeling thought processes” and “sharing cognitive structures” are two important things in-person lectures offered, which are hard to describe or pursue in the video lecture.

Second, it is hard to make deep impression of knowledge and create engagement using video lecture and discussion section. Lack of context and stories, video lectures can be kind of boring compared to in-person lectures. And the engagement of students dropped a lot when we can’t talk immediately face to face. Using the discussion section seems like a solution to the communication problem, but the talk lack of tone and expression tend to lose some of the original meanings.

Third, it is always unspeakable intension in the on-line course. Since the teachers would like to make sure students put enough effort to the courses, they give more readings and assignments to students comparing to in-person courses. The due time is very strict that students always need to submit a lot of materials at the same time every week. So that due time, that day every week suddenly become nightmares. At least for me, nervousness was always there since I took the due time and assignments as the only chances to prove that I learnt. Even after the submission, new kind of intension began because of the grading, and sometimes an unexpected low score came out and limited reasons would be offered on line. That would be so different if students could talk to teachers to see what happened and what could be improved.

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In general, I feel that the knowledge gained from the video lectures is like being fed by a puzzle piece of other people’s brain set, which would make you so confusing and nauseous even if you try so hard to swallow it. And the communication difficulty and higher expectation of yourself always make you nervous and shaking, and did worse in on-line courses.

In addition, some students around me also hold weird thoughts that if you choose on-line courses, you are trying to take the easy cut to get credits. I would say that is not the case at all.

Call me old fashion, but I will say do not throw away the in-person lectures. New media can be used in the classroom to help with the in-person lectures, I think that should be a better solution to bring in the benefits of social medias and digital learning. Creative lectures, activities and interactions should always be the core of the course, I call that my “teaching innovation statement”.



Jean Lacoste. “Jean Lacoste’s Teaching Innovation Statement”. Retrieved from

Robert Talbert. (2012). “Four things lecture is good for”.  Retrieved from

5 comments for “Brain Puzzle and Unspeakable Intension : On-line Course Learning

  1. Maria Saxton
    13 February, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with online courses– I really think it depends on what the course content is. For instance, I took an art history course online during my undergraduate years, and it was actually really engaging and I learned a lot. There were definitely a lot of readings, but I was actually more inclined to read and focus in the comfort of my home. However, I also took an online math course (unfortunately it was the only way to take this particular math course), and I found it impossible to learn the information from a video lecture, primarily because I had so many questions and the content was rushed.

    So all in all, I think online courses can be a good thing if they are done correctly– as you said, they are often more work, but if the content is learn-able from afar, it can be a positive experience

  2. Jyotsana Sharma
    14 February, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing Dan. It seems like even though students and teachers tried really hard, the mark was missed and the connection wasn’t there. Hopefully in class we will try to find some ways in which that could have worked better or what you could possibly do if you ever had to teach an online class. Due to the changes in the educational systems I do believe that online courses might be here to stay…in that case we have to figure out a way to best manage that and be creative with it.

  3. 15 February, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Dan, thank you for sharing your experiences. I’ve had mixed experiences of taking and teaching online courses. Some have worked out pretty well, but others just didn’t provide the learning experience I was hoping for. I’ve never been a huge fan of online classes for the reasons you provide above. I’m a counselor, so face to face interaction is so important to what I do. I see the impact of that in person communication can have on learning as well. There are many benefits to online classes, but I still prefer face to face. That being said though, technology has helped for some amazing advancements in education. The very fact that we are able to interact at the moment and over distances can increase the potential for learning. But it has to be used in the proper manner to be effective.

  4. Michelle Soledad
    15 February, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    I resonate with some of your experiences, Dan! I, too, took two online courses during my stay here, and I have mixed feelings about them. I liked one more than the other, and I think it was mainly because I had more opportunities to interact with both my professor and the other students in my class in the one that I liked. I guess it goes back to the fact that, at least for me, learning is very much a social activity, and I feel that I learn more effectively if I engage in conversations with other people about a particular topic, even if it is only through a forum. Thank you for posting!

  5. Hanh le
    15 February, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Even I am not a big fan of online classes, I believe online classes will become more and more important in the education system because of their unique flexibility.
    Online classes have changed so much to improve learners’ experience. I will name some of these improvements:
    – During the video, there are several times the video stops and show questions to test learners’ understanding so far.
    – There is an introductory video showing keys things of the course and how they are connected together. Also at the beginning of each lecture, there is a list of expected outcome to show students the main points.
    – Since online classes tend to have a lot of reading, reading materials are classified into required and recommended ones. Just only materials that are closely related to the content are listed as required. Students, who want to discover more, will have good directions to go.
    – Lectures are often grouped into some modules, to reduce stress of submitting assignments on time, several courses provide two “deadlines”. One is every week, and the other one is when the whole module is done.
    There are ways to improve online classes.

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