Syllabus for OLT-510



Theory and Culture of Online Learning is designed to give adult educators a theoretical base and practical orientation to the culture of online learning, as well as tools and concepts to use in creating and teaching online courses. The course emphasizes a variety of readings, individual student work, and a class discussion of online learning accompanied by practical experience in designing an online course.

Because of the theory base and instructional approach used in this course, participation by every student is crucial so that students can both learn and support each other in their learning process.


The course and course textbook both take a constructivist approach to learning. Greatly simplified, the constructivist view proposes that each learner builds (constructs) an individual understanding of new ideas. This construct is commonly called knowledge. Each person’s construct of reality is based on his or her perceptions and understanding of the world based on the totality of his or her life experiences. So each person’s perceptions and understandings can be quite different.  

The impact of this for educators is that students must find their own meaning for their experiences in a course. The instructor can’t "impress Truth" on students—they have to construct their own meaning for what they learn.

To learn more about constructivism, read "Constructivism and the Five E's," Miami Museum of Science (2001), accessed from This site explains the theory briefly and provides a "five Es" illustration of how they use it in educational programs. This site points out: "It is up to the teacher to facilitate the constructivistic learning process. The structure of the learning environment should promote opportunities and events that encourage and support the building of understanding."

Because of this philosophical base, the course places considerable weight on students constructing their own view of educational practice and their ability to explain and defend that view.


After completing this course, you should be able to:

  1. Discuss the concepts introduced in the text and readings, agree or disagree with them, and defend that agreement or disagreement.
  2. Identify one or more learning theories useful in designing online learning experiences, and interpret and defend one's choices and position.
  3. Discuss aspects of learning theory that impact on the online learning process.
  4. Elucidate your current teaching practices and describe ways in which those practices need to change in order to deliver an online course successfully.
  5. Articulate and apply best practices in the creation and delivery of online courses.
  6. Recognize and improve practices that may detract from successful delivery of an online course.
  7. Successfully create a unit of an online course.


You will need the following textbook to do the work of the course. The required textbook is available from the University's textbook supplier, MBS Direct, as well as from both and Barnes & Noble, among other vendors.

  • Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom, 2d ed., by Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt (Jossey-Bass, 2007)

ISBN-13: 978-0787988258


Theory and Culture of Online Learning is a three-credit online course consisting of twelve modules. Each module, in turn, includes an overview, list of topics, learning objectives, study materials, one discussion forum, and one publication activity/forum.

In the discussion forums, you interact with your classmates by discussing assigned questions based on readings from the text and other Web-based material. Through the publication activities, you begin to construct your online course using your own course shell. Upon finishing each activity, you post a message in the corresponding publication activity forum and then offer constructive suggestions to your classmates on their courses. By the end of the course you will have completed one unit in your online course.  

For the purposes of this course and the Online Learning and Teaching Certificate program, we will use a free installation of Moodle as our learning management system (LMS) for constructing student course shells. For further details, see Module 1.

Like word processors, LMSs have many similarities. Thus, by teaching yourself Moodle while mastering the principles of course construction, you should be able to transition easily from one LMS to another—from open source products like Moodle and Sakai to corporate systems like Blackboard and Desire2Learn, to name a few.


For your formal work in the course, you are required to participate fully in twelve discussion forums and twelve publication activities/forums. See below for more details.

Consult the Course Calendar for due dates.

Discussion Forums

Theory and Culture of Online Learning requires you to participate in twelve graded discussion forums.

Communication among fellow students and with the mentor is a critical component of online learning, and active participation is required to pass this course. Participation in online discussions involves two distinct activities: an initial response to a posted question (discussion topic) and subsequent comments on classmates' responses. Meaningful participation is relevant to the content, adds value, and advances the discussion. Comments such as "I agree" and "ditto" are not considered value-adding participation. Therefore, when you agree or disagree with a classmate, the reading, or your mentor, state and support your agreement or disagreement. You will be evaluated on the quality and quantity of your participation. Responses and comments should be properly proofread and edited, professional, and respectful.

Deadlines for posting discussion topics and comments are given in the Course Calendar.

Click the link below for an evaluation rubric that will aid in the grading of discussion forums.

For posting guidelines and help with discussion forums, please see the Student Handbook located within the General Information area of the course Web site.

Publication Activities/Forums

You are required to complete twelve publication activities and to participate fully in their associated online discussion forums. Publication activities/forums 1–10 and 12 are worth 4% each. Publication activity/forum 11 is worth 8% points.

In the publication activities, you will follow the instructions given and begin to construct your online course using your own Moodle course shell. Each publication activity has an associated online discussion forum in which you discuss the activity and offer constructive suggestions to your classmates on their courses. Our underlying philosophy is that we learn from one another, and we believe you will find that discussing issues with your classmates and looking at their courses will be a big help in the construction of your own course. By the end of this course, you will have completed one unit in your online course.

Click the link below for an evaluation rubric that will aid in the grading of publication activities/forums.

For posting guidelines and help with discussion forums, please see the Student Handbook located within the General Information area of the course Web site.


Your grade in the course will be determined as follows:

All activities will receive a numerical grade of 0–100. You will receive a score of 0 for any work not submitted. Your final grade in the course will be a letter grade. Letter grade equivalents for numerical grades are as follows:


















Below 73

To receive credit for the course, you must earn a letter grade of C or higher on the weighted average of all assigned course work (e.g., assignments, discussion postings, projects, etc.). Graduate students must maintain a B average overall to remain in good academic standing.


Online course participants and designers should understand that there are ownership issues around materials published in that course, and remember that there are limits to the privacy of their participation. In addition to the mentor, course administrators, guest faculty, and technical support staff may enter the course for a number of reasons. E-mail and message features within the LMS are two methods of interaction. E-mail can be intercepted or go astray on the Internet. Participants in an online course own their submitted communications and materials under copyright law, but it is possible for course materials to be copied and reproduced by mentors or other course participants or visitors. As a student you should ask permission before you copy another student's ideas into your own course.

Ground rules for this course are as follows:

  1. Under U.S. Copyright Law, when a work in any tangible medium is created, the owner automatically owns a copyright on that work effective at the time of creation. Online materials such as e-mailed text, graphics, and images all fall under this law.

  1. To respect property rights, students should not copy, reproduce, use, or quote the work or communications of the mentor or other students outside this course without the permission of the person whose work or communication is in question.

  1. The University makes no claim of ownership of student materials but requests permission to re-use student work and communication from this course. The University will re-use any material in such a way that the creator cannot be identified from the material quoted. Any student not agreeing to this should notify the mentor within the first week.

  1. Based on the above, the mentor and students will treat the other persons in the course, and the materials created by those persons, with regard for the rights of others.

  1. Class discussions, both formal and informal, will be conducted with civility and regard for other persons involved in the discussion. Conduct or communication exhibiting a lack of civility might result in a lowered grade for participation. Such postings will be removed from the discussions.

  1. Links to sites outside this course are used as a way to access the resources of the Internet and to reduce the cost for texts. Students should realize that all Web pages linked to this course were written by others and are their interpretation of the facts and concepts represented. These interpretations are often subject to argument or to alternative interpretations. To gain the most accurate understanding of learning theories and other concepts, study the original writings of the author(s) in question and use your own judgment to agree or disagree.

  1. Links to readings and most other resources in this course are shown with the full URL address. The reason is to make it possible to access that link from a printed page taken from the course material. Consider whether following this practice could be advantageous in your own courses.


First Steps to Success

To succeed in this course, take the following first steps:

Study Tips

Consider the following study tips for success:


Thomas Edison State University is committed to maintaining academic quality, excellence, and honesty. The University expects all members of its community to share the commitment to academic integrity, an essential component of a quality academic experience.

Students at Thomas Edison State University are expected to exhibit the highest level of academic citizenship. In particular, students are expected to read and follow all policies, procedures, and program information guidelines contained in publications; pursue their learning goals with honesty and integrity; demonstrate that they are progressing satisfactorily and in a timely fashion by meeting course deadlines and following outlined procedures; observe a code of mutual respect in dealing with mentors, staff, and other students; behave in a manner consistent with the standards and codes of the profession in which they are practicing; keep official records updated regarding changes in name, address, telephone number, or e-mail address; and meet financial obligations in a timely manner. Students not practicing good academic citizenship may be subject to disciplinary action including suspension, dismissal, or financial holds on records.

All members of the University community are responsible for reviewing the Academic Code of Conduct Policy in the University Catalog and online at

Academic Dishonesty

Thomas Edison State University expects all of its students to approach their education with academic integrity—the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception. All mentors and administrative staff members at the University insist on strict standards of academic honesty in all courses. Academic dishonesty undermines this objective. Academic dishonesty can take the following forms:


Thomas Edison State University is committed to helping students understand the seriousness of plagiarism, which is defined as using the work and ideas of others without proper citation. The University takes a strong stance against plagiarism, and students found to be plagiarizing are subject to discipline under the academic code of conduct policy.

If you copy phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or whole documents word-for-word—or if you paraphrase by changing a word here and there—without identifying the author, or without identifying it as a direct quote, then you are plagiarizing. Please keep in mind that this type of identification applies to Internet sources as well as to print-based sources. Copying and pasting from the Internet, without using quotation marks and without acknowledging sources, constitutes plagiarism. (For information about how to cite Internet sources, see Online Student Handbook > Academic Standards > “Citing Sources.”)

Accidentally copying the words and ideas of another writer does not excuse the charge of plagiarism. It is easy to jot down notes and ideas from many sources and then write your own paper without knowing which words are your own and which are someone else’s. It is more difficult to keep track of each and every source. However, the conscientious writer who wishes to avoid plagiarizing never fails to keep careful track of sources.

Always be aware that if you write without acknowledging the sources of your ideas, you run the risk of being charged with plagiarism.

Clearly, plagiarism, no matter the degree of intent to deceive, defeats the purpose of education. If you plagiarize deliberately, you are not educating yourself, and you are wasting your time on courses meant to improve your skills. If you plagiarize through carelessness, you are deceiving yourself.

For examples of unintentional plagiarism, advice on when to quote and when to paraphrase, and information about writing assistance and originality report checking, click the links provided below.

Examples of Unintentional Plagiarism

When to Quote and When to Paraphrase

Writing Assistance at Smarthinking

Originality Report Checking at Turnitin

Disciplinary Process for Plagiarism

Acts of both intentional and unintentional plagiarism violate the Academic Code of Conduct.

If an incident of plagiarism is an isolated minor oversight or an obvious result of ignorance of proper citation requirements, the mentor may handle the matter as a learning exercise. Appropriate consequences may include the completion of tutorials, assignment rewrites, or any other reasonable learning tool in addition to a lower grade for the assignment or course. The mentor will notify the student and appropriate dean of the consequence by e-mail.

If the plagiarism appears intentional and/or is more than an isolated incident, the mentor will refer the matter to the appropriate dean, who will gather information about the violation(s) from the mentor and student, as necessary. The dean will review the matter and notify the student in writing of the specifics of the charge and the sanction to be imposed.

Possible sanctions include:

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