The learning relationships of online education

by Eileen Schiffer

I often think of my role in the educational process. I take my responsibilities seriously and am firmly committed to making a meaningful contribution to the university and to my students. At least equally, though (probably more), I’m cognizant of how very much I gain, personally and professionally, from my relationships with the school, my colleagues and my students. While it may seem obvious that each of us in this triad has an impact on the others, in the midst of the daily demands of teaching and learning, we likely take few opportunities to consciously reflect on our reciprocal responsibilities and benefits.

I decided that my own engagement in this educational process could be reinvigorated by some brainstorming about the roles we each play in the learning triad. The following outline is certainly incomplete; I’m sure you can think of other responsibilities and outcomes to consider – and I encourage you to do so! Perhaps increased recognition of the relationships we have with each other will renew our various commitments in maximizing our inputs and outcomes in the educational process.


I’d like to focus a bit more on students – the heart and soul of the educational process. Students pursue an education to gain personally valued results, and their investments of time, energy, effort and enthusiasm are the most significant agents of those desired outcomes.

One particularly rewarding observation I’ve made over the years is that each student’s fulfillment of their responsibilities impacts not only their own outcomes in the educational process, but their peers’ outcomes, as well – particularly in the online environment in which collaborative, constructivist learning is at the heart of our online discussions. Each student who contributes valuable posts on a regular basis enhances the learning opportunities in the online forums – for themselves and their classmates. It’s inspiring, humbling and exciting to bear witness to the organic and dynamic evolution of challenging and enriching conversations in the online forums. When each student is fully engaged, seeks opportunities to increase their own understanding and critically challenges their own and their peers’ thinking….well, it’s easy to recognize that the online classroom can be the ultimate learning environment!

In our various learning relationships, there is one thing that all of us can – and should –bring to the table: commitment. The fruits of your efforts will far exceed any direct outcome for yourself or the other stakeholders; the effects of your contributions will have a synergistic force with the contributions of your learning partners. And this will impact the learning environment, as a whole, for everyone.

It’s a good reminder for me: each of my actions has both intended and unintended consequences for myself and for many others. I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of the education process. I am an enthusiastic advocate for online education. I choose to take responsibility for the impact of my actions in the online learning process – and to be mindful of the immense satisfaction I receive from the role I’m privileged to play in this community of learners. I hope this piece prompts you to reflect upon your own place in the learning triad and to encourage you to hearten you to renew your commitment to your own educational journey.

Eileen Franzese Schiffer, Ph.D. is the curriculum specialist for the MBA in Sustainable Business in Marylhurst’s accelerated online program and a passionate advocate for high-quality, online adult education.