The Loneliness of the Long Distance Learner

How do you successfully transform online learning from ‘electrified paper’ to a collaborative learning environment?

On Brock Online Academy at Niels Brock Copenhagen we have successfully transformed online learning to not only an alternative to physical classes but to a better learning experience.

What we did was the traditional online course; some stuff to read, some videos, some quizzes and a couple of graded assignments. The students were committed to reading the PDF’s or watching the videos to pass the quizzes. Teacher interaction only happened if the student didn’t take the quiz or hand in the assignment. Students could interact through discussion forums or social media but it rarely happened. The connection was between the learner and a teacher (1-1).


Being a distance learner can be a very lonely experience. You alone with the computer. The flexibility is a two-edged sword. You can study when you have spare time but it also attracts procrastination. Self-discipline and rigid planning is necessary.

The online courses were successful. The grades on online courses were significantly above average for the physical classes. Though we had two concerns: Dropout rates and quality of the learning outcome.

All online courses have dropouts. Rather than accepting this as a natural law we wanted to bring it down to a minimum. Learning is about more than taking quizzes and passing exams. How could we secure the quality of the learned and make alumni think back on the learning experience as a rewarding experience.

We had to take a closer look at the learning process.


Source: Dr. John Moravic, in

Dr. John Moravic has developed the comparison between teaching and learning during the web 1.0., the web 2.0 and the web 3.0 paradigm. Web 1.0 is the traditional approach to teaching with classrooms and transfer of data from teacher to student. Educating industry workers. Web 2.0 sees learning as a social construction between teacher and student, and between students. Educating for a knowledge economy. Web 3.0 sees learning as socially constructed and contextually reinvented. Learning can happen everywhere and from everybody. Even teachers can learn from students.

How could we make our online courses support that understanding rather that of ‘filling-station pedagogics[1]’? How could we make courses that was more ‘web 2.0’ than ‘web 1.0’? Or even ‘web 3.0’?

We believe that learning is a social construction rather than a delivery of information and that you learn better (deeper) when you learn in chunks and repeat knowledge, turning it in your head, creating your own meaning of the subject. Also feeling as a part of a class could prevent loneliness and increase student activity.


Here we turned to Gilly Salmon for ideas about ‘e-tivities[2]’ and her 5-stage model.

An e-tivity is way to construct online activities that by nature are constructivist and collaborative. They invite the students to participate and focus on sharing, refining and appropriating knowledge. Reflection and feedback are integral parts of the e-tivity.

The e-tivities are mapped against the 5-stage model. The model shows a stepwise approach to motivating and supporting online learners to action and interaction. It also shows the role of the e-moderator and what he can do to support the learners through each stage.


The role of the e-moderator becomes more critical when constructing e-learning this way. It is important, especially in the beginning, that the learner is ‘seen’ and included in the group of learners and in the learning process. It is the e-moderator who invites, encourages, gives feedback and stimulates.

In this example we took a vocational online course (HgV and HgD) and implemented the concept from Gilly Salmon, and activity on the Learning Management System just exploded!

Statistics from the first 4 days activity shows the difference between traditional online activities and e-tivities:


On the vocational HG august class the students was forced to watch videos and to answer quizzes. The number of clicks is generated from clicking on the video and on the quiz answers. Activity dropped as the task was finished.

On the vocational HG January class the students were invited to share a picture of their working space. The e-moderator would comment on each entry. What actually happened was that students started to comment on each other posts and went into the LMS several times a day, just to check up on classmates.


Numbers shows that our students during the first 4 days clicked around in the main LMS room about 10.000 times more than HG August. Several came back, even if they had finished the tasks. For each learner activity doubled, even though less clicks was required to solve the tasks.

What we saw was that e-tivities increased student activity and that students got interested in others students. Instead of waiting for the teacher comments on their own work, students went active in and red each other posts. Several even interacted and commented on peer students. We believe this strengthen their sense of community and provides a basis for future collaborative work. They went from loneliness of the long distance learner to togetherness in long distance learning.

We will explore this further by the end of the vocational course.


Morten B. Andersen, Lotte Nørregaard & Liselotte Strarup Nielsen


[1] The type of teaching believing that it is all about simply moving information from one media to another, from teacher dictating knowledge to the student, whom is seen as a sponge, ready for information adaption.


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