The FIT Model of e-learning pedagogy

A surprising finding on starting as change agent at UC, working to implement online and blended education, in 2013, was the lack of direction for academics engaging for the first time with e-learning. As I began my work with them, I realized this was a significant issue, one that I have come across in many of my work places. It raises the question, what is an acceptable level of being online for academics, when they first start out in the online space? Often when Universities (or schools) begin their online learning journey, there is an expectation that the innovation of academics will be exceptional – Web 2.0 tools are the expected order of the day, students are expected to engage in blogs, wikis, web conferencing, Twitter, Prezi, Flikr, Slideshare, the list is endlessly long. The pressure on the academic, many digital migrants at best, is to adopt and become expert in as many as possible of these tools, to engage their students.

The reality is of course that whilst the academics in question (or teachers in the classroom when considering schools) are often excellent practitioners face-to-face, the thought of moving online for many is intimidating and daunting. Faced with this sudden demand, they suffer anxiety, may balk at the demands, some will leave their employment, others simply turn a blind eye! The best that can be hoped for, without direction, is for the academic to do the little that is required, whatever that looks like in the institution.

It needs to be recognized, in much the same way as when first learning to teach, there needs to be a guide for educational practitioners starting their online learning journey. There needs to be some discussions about what is an acceptable level of online presence at the outset, and then slowly build on from there, so that students get a good learning experience. And there needs to be recognition that there are times when these early levels are often enough, as they will meet the many different needs of the students. There are always those who will develop their online presence further, and that is to be encouraged. A variety of learning experiences gives the best educational outcomes across a degree course.

Developing the FIT framework

My initial task at UC therefore, was to develop a framework for practice to help the academics conceptualize what it might look like, important for a faculty whose dominant pedagogy was face-to-face and hands-on. I wanted to do this with them, as it was imperative that they owned and continued the adoption of online pedagogy well beyond available funding and support (Fullan, 2007)!

After a month of discussions, meetings and one-on-one’s, I understood how much they knew, and what was hoped for.  From this, further research (see references and bibliography at the end), and drawing on a decade of my own work in online education, I came up with the FIT (Foundational, Interactive, Transformative) model of e-learning pedagogy, an appropriate acronym for a Health Faculty (see end for a link for a Prezi showing a pictorial overview of the model).

The FIT Model of online learning is a non-hierarchical framework for implementing e-learning pedagogy, developed within the wider pedagogical context of UC Health. It was intended to help health academics make decisions about where they wished to start and head to, in their adoption of or build on existing e-learning practices.

The Fit model in detail

The model suggested uses three levels, Foundational, Interactive and Transformational. I describe each in terms of 4 core elements:

  • The type and nature of the content to be learned or received by the student,
  • The instructional strategies are the methods for delivering this content and how students will engage with it,
  • The communication tools to be used between student and lecturer and between student and student, and
  • How the course will assess the knowledge gained by the student, how are outcomes assessed?

The 3 levels of FIT

The FIT model of online learning
  • The focus of the Foundational mode of online is on the minimum amount of learning materials/instruction/communication required for a self-directed student to be able to successfully complete a unit from a distance (i.e. not on campus) with learning materials delivered via the web. A Foundational online unit can be used as a substitute for a face-to-face unit, the material is static, it does not depend on interaction with other students. However, with the intention to encourage active engagement with learning activities, which in the Health context could be face-to-face, thus encouraging either a flipped (SMME, 2013) or blended approach (Bonk & Graham, 2006). It could also be used to augment on campus activities such as face-to-face lectures and tutorials.
  • The Interactive mode, incorporating all that is the Foundational mode, is – as suggested by the name, focused on a more interactive engagement by the student with the learning content and others in the course.
  • In the Transformational mode, the learning content is delivered in alternative ways as designed by the lecturer/students.

[You can read more detail about the model here, explaining what might be found at each mode using the 4 core elements as described above.]

The levels described in the model are not intended to be a description of the quality of the unit or an assessment of the overall learning experience, as it is acknowledged that different subjects require very different learning experiences. And, it is essential to remember that students do not require all learning to be at the Transformative edge of learning. The levels are therefore not intended to be hierarchical, it is essential that the student experience will incorporate many diverse teaching and learning activities best suited to the unit outcomes.

There are many ways that the same outcomes can be met, and students require a range of experiences in order to achieve the Graduate Attributes/course outcomes of their institution; this would include the ability to work in teams, to collaborate with peers, but also to work individually, whether this occurs face-to-face or online.  Teachers or academics working in similar units across a course should, where possible, work together to ensure that students gain the maximum benefit of their time at the educational institution whether on or off campus.

Adopting FIT in Health

The FIT model was presented to the Faculty, as well as to individual Disciplines. The Foundational Mode was adopted, and subsequently implemented, as the minimum standard for the Faculties’ 200+ undergraduate and postgraduate units. Academics were then free to adopt the other modes as desired. In 2013 less than a third of units in Health had some online presence, 10% meeting most or all Foundational mode requirements. 18 months later, all Health Faculty units had an online presence, and 75% meeting most or all Foundational mode requirements. Several academics adopted other modes; but no data on these were collected, as only Foundational Mode was required and subsequently reviewed.

Adopting e-learning is ‘slow knowing’

This experience reaffirmed for me again, that to improve educational practices, proposed changes must be embedded into the existing pedagogical context (Fullan, 2001). And it is not enough to have developed a model, it needs constant iteration, lots of at elbow support, and further supporting documentation – which I developed as time went on (see here for some samples). And, as I yet again discovered, that even when they do not want to read it for themselves (Price & Kirkwood, 2014), academics like to know that what you present them is solidly based on published work!

Educational change, whether individually or as a discipline, or across a Faculty takes time, but can be successful. It is about slow knowing – being patient to understand all the complexities. It is about recognizing and building on the context in which the change is to take place (Fullan, 2001). The 3 levels of online pedagogy (Foundational, Interactive and Transformational) described above when used together, should help an educational institution create a quality structure within their e-learning environment. And whilst no institution should fully adopt the model as is, we must always be aware of the contextual differences, it is a great place to start!

©Karin Oerlemans 2019


See here for a link to a pictorial overview of the model

References & Bibliography

Bonk, C., J., & Graham, R. C. (Eds.). (2006). The handbook of blended learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Charles Sturt University. (2013, July 23). Learning and Teaching at CSU – CSU Interact: Introduction  Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://www.csu.edu.au/division/lts/intro_to_landt/csu-interact

Conrad, R, & Donaldson, J. A., (2011). Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4 ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Keane, T. (2012). Leading with technology: 21st Century skills = 3Rs + 4Cs. The Australian Educational Leader, 34(2), 44. Retrieved from

Liaw, S., Huang, H., & Chen, G. (2007). Surveying instructor and learner attitudes toward e-learning. Computers & Education, 49, 1066–1080

Norton, A. (2013). The online evolution: When technology meets tradition in higher education. Melbourne, VIC: Grattan Institute.

Oerlemans, K., Button, Y., Partridge, L., & Hurle, B. (2006). Making IT work: A case study in developing a masters program via MLearning Paper presented at the Online Learning and Teaching Conference, Brisbane.

Oerlemans, K., May, E. F., & Hurle, B. (2007). Piloting Online Learning in Engineering Education. Paper presented at the AARE, Fremantle.

Paechter, M., Maier, B., & Macher, D. (2010). Students’ expectations of, and experiences in e-learning: Their relation to learning achievements and course satisfaction. Computers & Education 54, 222–229.

Price, L., & Kirkwood, A. (2014). Using technology for teaching and learning in higher education: a critical review of the role of evidence in informing practice. Higher Education Research & Development, 33(3), 549-564. doi:10.1080/07294360.2013.841643

Puentedura, R. (2011). Metaphors, Models, and Flows: Elements for a Cartography of Technology In Learning  Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2011/11/23/MetaphorsModelsFlows.pdf

School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering. (2013). OLT Flipped Classroom Project. Brisbane QLD.

University of Tasmania. (2013). Flexible teaching & learning – Section D: Other arrangements  Retrieved September 18, 2013, from http://www.teaching-learning.utas.edu.au/designing/flexible

White, G. (2012). E-learning definition. Digital Education Research Network. Retrieved from Australian Policy Online website: http://apo.org.au/commentary/e-learning-definition

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Proposing a Framework for Online Learning

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