Transforming Online Teaching Practice: Critical analysis of the literature on the roles and competencies of online teachers.

Evrim Baran
Ana-Paula Correia
Ann Thompson


Understanding what is lacking in the online teaching literature is critical to helping researchers and practitioners develop programs and support mechanisms for online teachers in higher education. This review formulates a critique of the standards- and competency-driven vision of online teaching from the perspective of transformative learning theory, in order to offer an alternative exploration of the professional development of online teachers as adult learners. The results indicate that while research about online teacher roles and competencies guides the development of teacher preparation and training programs, it lacks in terms of addressing the issues of empowerment of online teachers, promoting critical reflection, and integrating technology into pedagogical inquiry. An alternative perspective is suggested that considers teachers as adult learners who continuously transform their meaning of structures related to online teaching through a continuous process of critical reflection and action.


Online teaching, Transformative learning theory, Online teacher roles, Competencies


This critical analysis examined 11 scholarly articles since the 1990s through use of the transformative learning theory as a framework. The three primary constructs of transformative learning theory are centrality of experience, critical reflection and rational discourse. Transformative learning theory in online teaching has three premises: “(a) viewing online teachers as active adult learners, (b) recognizing that transformative learning occurs through critical reflections, and (c) considering that transformation happens as teachers conduct pedagogical inquiry with technology” (p. 425). The authors suggest further research is need into “empowering online teachers,” “promoting critical reflection,” and “integrating technology into pedagogical inquiry” (p. 430). Through the analysis and recommendations for future research, the authors recommend that online teachers be considered as adult learners who continuously seek out and create new pedagogical approaches to online teaching. They caution against attempting to transpose traditional teaching approaches to online spaces and encourage self-reflection and creativity on the teacher’s part.

APA Citation

Baran, E., Correia, A., & Thompson, A. (2011). Transforming online teaching practice: Critical analysis of the literature on the roles and competencies of online teachers. Distance Education, 32, 421-439.

About the Study

Links to Article
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Distance Education
Type of Research Critical or postmodern
Research Design
Intervention/Areas of Study Assessment, Engagement, Instructor-student interactions
Level of Analysis
Specific Populations Examined
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest Instructional effectiveness
Student Sample Size
Citing Articles,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en