Getting InSync » Latest Articles
Jun 13, 2014 Phylise Banner

The Pedagogy of Learning Design: Crafting Optimal e-Learning Spaces with Teaching Presence

Woman with LightbulbThis is the third post in a series titled The Pedagogy of Learning Design by Phylise H. Banner. To read the first in the series, click here: The Pedagogy of Learning Design: A Translation of Pedagogies.

Let's have a look at what teaching presence is, and how direct instruction and facilitation play a role in crafting optimal e-Learning spaces.

Crafting Optimal E-Learning Spaces with Teaching Presence

In the previous post in this series (The Pedagogy of Learning Design: Creating Learning Communities with Social Presence), we explored methods for establishing and sustaining social presence in the e-learning space, setting the stage for open and engaged learning. This post will focus on teaching presence - the design, development, management, facilitation, and direction within the learning space. It is what we intentionally do before, during, and after the session to help our learners reach desired outcomes.

Teaching presence is often misinterpreted as instructor presence, when in fact, it would be better labeled as "instructional presence." Effective practices in teaching presence tend to fall under three categories: designing instruction, directing instruction, and building understanding.

Designing Instruction

Learning design involves making informed decisions about content, context, structure, flow, and timing, as well as the infrastructure needed to support our designs. It involves mapping out the journey before we even get started. And just like preparing for any journey, we most likely have a few questions as we're packing for our trip!  For instance:

  • Where are we starting from? We need to assess our learners early on to know where they are in reference to where they want (or need) to be.
  • Where are we going? Measurable goals and objectives are key to successful learning events. As designers, we need to know our final destination in order to craft the best route to get there. As facilitators, we need to know where we are going so that we can steer our learners on the right heading.
  • How will we get there? The delivery method needs to be factored into the design at every stage, along with a backup plan in case something breaks down (or we run out of fuel) along the way.
  • How will we know when we get there? Continuous assessment helps us determine if our learners are actually learning, and not just ambling along aimlessly. Just as important as "getting there" is knowing where we are along the way.

The answers to each of these questions unfold the pedagogy of learning design, by helping us draw up our instructional design road maps, and support teaching presence in e-Learning environments.

Directing Instruction

Providing direction in any learning environment is important. In an e-Learning environment, it is critical. Establishing teaching presence involves direct instruction - providing learners with guidance related to key concepts and recognizing (and responding to) misconceptions. Keeping learners on track requires regular intervention and direction in the form of clear instructions and feedback through an open channel of communication.

Let your learners know what they should be doing and what you expect them to have accomplished from beginning to end - at regular intervals along the way! Some learners will find their way through the content and learning activities on their own. Others will need (and want) your help. If you are designing the instructional path, be sure to place a variety of signposts along the way. If you are directing the learners, be sure to help them as they progress.

Signposts can range from a simple "help" icon to instructional guidance callouts placed throughout the learning experience. A separate chat instance opened during a break provides you with the opportunity to reach out to folks who may have fallen behind and need to catch up to the rest of the pack.

I am a big fan of evaluation rubrics in support of direct instruction, as they provide me and my learners with a road map for success. Set clear standards by taking the time to expand on learning activity instructions and rubrics and consider providing a FAQ reference guide for each activity to help guide your learners toward meeting those standards. These resources will not only guide your learners but will make it much easier for you to compose quality feedback on learning activities.

In support of learning, feedback should be constructive, timely, and meaningful. Constructive feedback highlights the strengths and weaknesses of learner work and provides pathways for improvement. Timely feedback gives learners the opportunity to learn from their mistakes before they move on - while the concepts they have just covered are still fresh in their minds. Meaningful feedback addresses individual needs and is directly tied to learning activity guidelines and evaluation rubrics.

Differentiate feedback from praise. Extend your feedback beyond comments like, "nice job!" When providing feedback, you need to let your learners know what skills they need to develop, how close they are to mastering those skills, and what they need to do next. Make recommendations for improvement, if necessary, and provide examples of exemplary work along with your comments.

Finally, direct them to appropriate learning materials for further review. Remember, feedback needs to be provided to learners on a regular basis in order to keep them on track, to confirm understanding, and to reflect on where - and how - they need to make improvements in order to progress on their learning journey.

Building Understanding

My favorite part of delivering instruction is when learners have that "aha!" moment - when they know they have reached a new level of understanding or mastery, and can pass their learning on if need be. This is when teaching presence is in full bloom! As learning designers, developers, and facilitators, it is our core responsibility to bring our learners to these moments.

How can we build understanding into every step along our learning pathways?

  • Provide an annotated learning agenda/course outline to serve as a road map to success for your learners, and distribute it in advance of your learning event. Annotation means adding context to your outline - detailing objectives and introducing key concepts.

  • Encourage your learners to set aside time to review and reflect on their learning. If you know in advance that they have limited time, build review and reflection into your learning activities. Reflection is a key component of understanding, and it is how we, as humans, make learning "stick!"

  • Ask questions and encourage your learners to do the same. With the usual limited time for instruction and applied learning, losing time because someone is lost or confused could throw off everyone's progress entirely.

  • Take advantage of additional resources, social networks, and professional organizations to enable your learners to explore what interests them most. Often these resources are the catalyst we need to reach those "aha!" moments.


Teaching presence depends on the design of learning environments, the facilitation of productive discourse, and the provision of direction throughout the learning experience. It is how we lead our learners to their "aha!" moments!

Within this pedagogical framework, we still need to investigate the intricacies of how our learners get to that "aha!" moment through the critical inquiry process - better known as cognitive presence. In the next post in this series, we will build on what we know about social and teaching presence, and explore how we foster critical thinking skills and cognitive presence through the design, development, and delivery of e-Learning events.

Interested in learning more about instructional design in the virtual classroom? Click on the graphic below to read about our Virtual Classroom Design Mastery Series and how you can earn your Virtual Classroom Instructional Designer Badge.

Virtual Classroom Design Mastery Series Badge


Published by Phylise Banner June 13, 2014
Phylise Banner