Is Striving for Balance Imbalanced?

Consider what Anderson means when he describes the attributes of learning in terms of being learner, knowledge-, assessment- and community-centred.

Figure 2-3 Educational Interactions (Anderson, 2008)

Figure 2-3 Educational Interactions (Anderson, 2008)


After reading several peer posts pertaining to the idea of practicing a balanced approach between these attributes, I can’t help but play devil’s advocate. While I agree that one would strive to attend to all four types of learning interaction however, balance is something that rarely works in real-life practice.


According to Anderson, online courses should demonstrate an “awareness of the unique cognitive structures and understandings that learners bring to the learning context” (2008). Thus, a carefully orchestrated imbalance might be required depending on preconditions, social and cultural needs as well as teaching and learning goals. If for example, a particular context or domain relies heavily on or blossom through a certain kind of interaction, then a wider use of this type of interaction ensures the activity is situated and has practical application. On closer inspection, Anderson never mentions balance but rather describes these attributes of learning as “four overlapping lenses” (2008). Anderson also states that “meaningful learning can be developed as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student-teacher; student-student; student-content) is at very high levels” (2008).



The danger in declaring a balanced approach to all interactions is that this can inadvertently lead to generalization in one’s approach. Generalization does not cater to need and context. Generalization can inadvertently result in mediocrity. I remember expressing this concern in my other class of this being the “all-in-one-printer phenomena” where design and function is equally poor in all aspects in an attempt to fit everything in. Special attention paid to interaction types (as they relate to the knowledge domain in contemporary use) should partially inform decisions of how to best support the learning need.


Anderson’s model proposes to do this by “tracing the interactions expected and provided for learners through […which] one can plan for and ensure that an appropriate mix of student, teacher, and content interaction is uniquely designed for each learning outcome.” This clearly communicates the context-specific nature of each application. This is inclusive of difference and implies a fresh and creative approach every time.  To me, this is the ideal use of the four lenses. Also what I meant by “the knowledge domain in contemporary use” is not how the type of learning or interaction is currently being taught, but rather how these types of learning and interaction are occurring in the real-world where the topic is currently applied in active practice.


Considering this approach, we can extend our networks and contexts as educators by continually researching the topic/domain we are teaching to find and assess the most relevant mediums, interactions and learning practices rather than relying on established or outdated methods. This is supported by Anderson’s statement that “teachers must learn to develop their skills so that they can respond to student and curriculum needs” (2008). I’ve witnessed this take place in post-secondary interaction, industrial and communication design disciplines out of necessity for these programs to stay bleeding edge. It’s exciting to think of what this might look like implemented in other fields.



Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a theory of online learning. In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi, Theory and practice of online learning. Athabasca University. Retrieved here.

5 replies
  1. M
    M says:

    Hi Bobbi:
    Thanks for your post. I agree with you that sometimes imbalance can be better suited to a situation, than a balance of the various interaction types. I think that your apt illustration of the “all-in-one-printer phenomena” can be applied to online learning environments in general. For example, I don’t necessarily think that one broad online learning environment can suit many types of learning. I work in an online writing lab, which is really an online learning environment that is suited to one particular learning task (writing), and one or two particular interaction types. I sometimes think about why such specialized online learning environments haven’t emerged in other disciplines and subjects, whether in the humanities, sciences or beyond. Perhaps they have and I’m not aware of them. I think of Connect (Blackboard) as one of those all-in-one-printers—an environment that has been outfitted with various components and affordances, and that might not ultimately work for all subjects and interaction types its intended to. I thought I remembered reading one of your comments, perhaps in a previous class, about developing an LMS for creative/artistic higher ed.programs, so maybe you have had the same observations on Connect?

    • Bobbi
      Bobbi says:

      Great thoughts M, I do indeed see some LMS environments as trying to “do it all” or at least offer a wide variety of tools to suit many different types of interaction. What I’ve noticed is that each tool integrated into systems like Moodle and Blackboard tends to focus on doing one thing well, rather than any type of hybrid multimedia experience. And yes, the LMS then huddles them together into one common framework. What I don’t see (beyond the forums which allow for limited integration of picture and video etc.) are hybrid tools that combine sound, video, text and image like some of the more dynamic social media tools. You’re right, I spent my undergrad capstone project re-envisioning an new LMS concept for ‘creatives’ that tries to work in or hybridize social aspects in the framework. I’m inspired by the immediacy and flexibility of social tools like Twitter and Facebook. In Facebook for example, you can post a URL that will auto-thumbnail giving you an instant visual, caption, text on top of it or a video. You can attach files with ease, share other’s posts dynamically and have visual time lines of content and projects. I long for this type of interaction within LMS frameworks, but short of clumsy embeds, the capability just isn’t there yet. Perhaps as these external tool API become more advanced, LMS designers will be motivated to find ways to incorporate these wildly popular Web 2.0 tools more meaningfully. :)

  2. Brian
    Brian says:

    I agree with you that a balanced approach may not always be best and it could lead to mediocre learning experiences. Additionally, institutional systems need to have the right tools available to handle multiple methods. Large middle schools and hight schools for example need to have balanced support so that teachers have the flexibilty to choose the best overlap of domains.

  3. V
    V says:


    I would LOVE to see social media and web 2.0 tools easily embedded/integrated into the current LMS options. Or, at least, afford us the option to go to those forums to have our discussions instead of forcing all conversation to be within a specific LMS. For example, last term, my group used a Google HangOut On Air to share some of our discussion ideas about a final project, which we then embedded into our project’s website. The prof was very excited about the fact that you could record and archive these HangOuts as a YouTube video and made the suggestion to use this as a landing base for discussions the following term. I’m not sure if she actually followed through on that, but it certainly got me thinking:

    Could you imagine how our discussions might change and/or become more authentic if we were talking about them “face-to-face” versus having to lay it all out in text? The community of these online courses would change SO drastically once it became more human to interact with. I think that’s why I’m so disillusioned by what online courses have to offer; I feel little to no sense of community or care here – just business, not real, not connected. By bringing in options where we could cultivate such a community, perhaps the nature of the discussions would change.


  4. Mich
    Mich says:

    Hi Bobbi,
    Thanks for sharing your very insightful thoughts! I love your line ” I realized that sometimes a carefully orchestrated imbalance might be required.” This really resonated with me and I was able to connect to it. I know personally that I can get excited about trying new things in my class to improve student learning and I end up taking on too much. As a result I end up doing thing all not very well, and mediocrity prevails! The idea of orchestrating a careful imbalance may in the end result in a very productive balance!


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