Considerations beyond the COI in online teaching: The Affective Domain

According to Leaf and Diaz, (2017 p. 231) “The affective domain encompasses the changes in emotions or attitudes that occur as a result of participating in learning activities”. At a time when our students are likely to be feeling stressed and/or vulnerable due to current requirements to socially distance, the need to spend more time isolated and the sense of an unknown future, this ‘domain’ deserves our attention.

Considerations of the affective domain are complex and while they focus on emotions there are other components. For example, some authors link it to teaching students how to be mindful (Hyland, 2011) while others associate it with the way teachers’ behaviour influences student engagement and motivation (Baker, 2010).

This article considers the affective domain in relation to the online interactions between teaching staff and students.

In online teaching environments it is “harder (without the enhancement of nonverbal cues such as smiling, nodding, leaning in, etc.) for an instructor to convey and for students to interpret verbally immediate behaviours as well as they could in a face-to-face learning environment” (Baker, 2010 p. 19). It is also more difficult for teachers to ‘see’ how learners are responding or reacting to what they are being taught. Care needs to be taken around how we pass on the messages we are sending, the way we respond to students, and how we provide feedback (formative and summative) on their learning.

To address the missing non-verbal cues, we need to ensure that we do not inadvertently stress or confuse students by unintentionally miscommunicating with them. Some basic online practices that mitigate against creating bad feeling in students when writing include:

  • not using capitals (as the use of capitals is viewed as shouting)
  • using a calm and friendly tone (rather than more formal academic tones)
  • avoiding using red coloured type when providing feedback (as red is often considered aggressive).

Baker (2010) discusses the following practices for managing online discussions:

  • reviewing and commenting on what students have posted
  • raising questions specifically related to the discussion
  • encouraging reflection on what is said by making observations which move discussions in a desired direction
  • revisiting and reviving stalled discussions, relevant to the desired direction of the discussion
  • working to include students who are not contributing.

These actions are similar to those addressed in the article Online teaching: Social presence and communicating with students.

Paying attention to students’ affective domain supports positive engagement by students as well as encouraging them to be more motivated to learn.

Baker, C. (2010). The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation. Journal of Educators Online, 7(1). doi:10.9743/JEO.2010.1.2

Hyland, T. (2011). Mindfulness and Learning Celebrating the Affective Dimension of Education Dordrecht: Springer.

Leaf, B., & Diaz, K. R. (2017). Reflective Information Seeking: Unpacking Meta-Research Skills Through Digital Storytelling. In G. Jamissen, P. Hardy, Y. Nordkvelle, & H. Pleasants (Eds.), Digital Storytelling in Higher Education International Perspectives (1st ed. 2017. ed., pp. 225-242). Cham: Springer.


Written by Dr Ann Luzeckyj,
Senior Academic Developer (Teaching Specialist) – CILT

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