This document is part of a larger collection of documents on online instruction from the Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring's Instructional Resources KnowledgeBase. See more online instruction documents from that collection.
Learn about the various roles an instructor plays in an online course
The complexity of the online environment brings into focus the need for instructors to facilitate an online course through various perspectives or “roles.” These roles include managerial, social, pedagogical, or technical (described below). Each of these four roles encompasses a number of skills and competencies specific to that domain of teaching. A successful online instructor combines all four roles to help teach students the subject matter and build an online learning community in support of that subject matter.
It might be easy to overlook or forget the fundamental differences between face-to-face and online teaching; however, it is these differences—especially for fully online (asynchronous) courses—that can determine learners’ and instructors’ success in an online course. The online learning environment requires an instructor who can not only communicate effectively using technology, but also guide student learning, coach students to collaborate effectively, and provide enough structure for student success while allowing self-directed exploration. By facilitating an online course according to the four major roles, online instructors take a comprehensive approach to teaching that greatly benefits all online learners.
Instructors in online classrooms have to consider multiple roles that have some similarities to teaching face-to-face but also many differences. When teaching online, the associated competencies and tasks should be tailored to the nature and requirements of the online learning environment. Online instructors performing these roles will simultaneously bring learners together around the course material and thereby give them the opportunity to make social connections and create new knowledge along the way.
The managerial role refers to the organizational, procedural, and administrative tasks associated with maintaining the online learning environment.
The social role promotes a friendly environment and community feeling to support students’ cognitive processes and learning experiences.
The pedagogical role includes a wide range of tasks (e.g., instructional, intellectual, and content-based) that contribute to the students’ understanding and application of course content as well as the development of their critical thinking skills.
The technological role helps students feel comfortable with the technology used in an online course.