Embracing Diversity in the Virtual Class: Types of Online Learners (Part 1)

“The aim of teachers is to ‘leave no one behind in the digital transformation journey,’ so we need to be careful in our pedagogical strategies.”

Best Practices February 14, 2022

Within the same virtual class there may be people of different temperaments, nationalities, languages, cultures, faiths, ages, and genders. Their learning styles and computer literacy levels can also vary. We will focus on four differences between learners in this article and the next:

  1. The technically challenged learner vs the technically competent learner
  2. The procrastinator vs the organized learner
  3. The solitary learner vs the gregarious learner
  4. The ethnocentric learner vs the culturally relativistic learner

This article will focus on the first two characteristics.

The Technically Challenged Learner vs the Technically Competent Learner
The technically challenged learner may have the following characteristics:

  • Possesses minimal computer literacy
  • Slow or hesitant to try new technology
  • Frequently makes excuses about internet connection issues
  • Prefers face to face instruction

The technically competent learners, on the other hand, enjoy digital learning and trying new technologies.

Virtual classrooms generally include both types of learners. Teachers need to balance these groups so that the competent learners don’t feel slowed down and the technically incompetent don’t feel so frustrated that they end up dropping out.

One way to help students build technical competence is through blended learning. Blended learning uses a variety of technologies such as podcasting, social media, e- portfolios, blogs, wikis, and internet based audio and video communication. As Singh and Reed point out, blended learning focuses on “optimizing achievement of learning objectives by applying the right learning technologies to match the right personal learning style to transfer the right skills to the right person at the right time.”

The Procrastinator vs the Organized Learner
All learning demands commitment to a well-organized schedule. This is particularly important for virtual learning where students need to ensure they are online at the correct times for synchronous learning and also complete learning materials without supervision during asynchronous learning. They also need to complete assignments early in case of internet problems or other technical issues.

The procrastinating learner is characterized by the following traits:

  • Does not follow a specific schedule
  • Does things at the last minute
  • Frequently has excuses for late submission of assignments
  • Organizes their academic work in a haphazard way

These traits can cause problems in virtual learning. As Lincaru notes, the aim of teachers is to “leave no one behind in the digital transformation journey,” so we need to be careful in our pedagogical strategies so as to avoid leaving our procrastinating learners lagging behind. One way that teachers can help these students is to structure the work in bite size packages clearly arranged according to due dates and regularly send reminders before the due dates.

This article is Part of the Series Embracing Diversity in the Virtual Class. Watch for Part IV next week!


Constance Chifamba

Constance is a lecturer at Solusi University, Harare Campus. She has worked as a High School Science teacher. Currently is a Chairperson in the Education Department (Faculty of Education), Solusi University. She enjoys reading and gardening.

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