Tutor Skills & Qualities in Blended Learning

This page is a supplement to Linda Martin's talk entitled Tutor skills and qualities in blended learning: The learner's view, delivered as part of the Symposium Enhancing Online Literacies at the AILA 2011 World Congress of Applied Linguistics in Beijing, China, 23-28 August 2011.

See other talks in the symposium: Digital Tools (Mark Pegrum) / Tutor Skills & Qualities in Blended Learning (Linda Martin) / Preparing our Students for the Intercultural Reality (Aline Germain-Rutherford) / Learn English or Die (Hayo Reinders & Sorada Wattana) / Transforming Teaching (Regine Hampel & Uschi Stickler)

--Abstract-- The skills, attributes and knowledge required for classroom teaching in general and classroom language teaching in particular have been well researched, as have the generic competencies for online instruction. More recently research has focused on the skills needed for online language teaching (e.g. Hampel, 2009). Many institutions are making the transition from primarily face-to-face instruction to a blend of face-to-face and online learning and there is increasing interest in the way this impacts on practice. Does it mean adding to the teacher’s skills repertoire, or a transformation of practice? This paper will look at the preliminary findings from a study carried out in a UK distance language learning context where teaching is carried out through a blend of print and online material, synchronous online conferencing and face-to-face tuition. Other studies have generally explored the teacher or institutional perspective on good practice. The work reported here explores the distance language learner view of the skills and qualities required for effective blended teaching.

The study is part of a longer-term collaborative research project involving researchers from the OU (UK) and Massey University (New Zealand). Work was carried out with distance language teachers at the OU to identify the skills and qualities which they felt were essential for effective distance language teaching. The resulting taxonomy is framed by eight broad categories of knowledge skills and expertise:
  • affective qualities and orientation;
  • pedagogical expertise;
  • subject matter expertise;
  • IT skills;
  • interactive support skills;
  • organisation and self-management;
  • group support and management;
  • knowledge of institutional systems and distance learning.

Defining features for each category were also identified.

The views of OU language learners were sought in 2008, in relation to this taxonomy (excluding the aspect of self-management) and the views of teachers and learners have been compared. (See Murphy et al., in press; Murphy et al., 2010; Baumann et al., 2008; Shelley et al., 2006).

The exploration of OU language learner views in 2008 involved a cohort who had opted for a distance learning programme with either face-to-face or synchronous online tuition. Since then, programmes have been merged and are presented with blended face-to-face and online tuition. The types of online tools available have also changed and all online tuition is through Elluminate. The present study investigates the impact of this change on learner views of teacher expertise by comparing responses with those of the 2008 study. It is based on the same taxonomy, but the defining features for the IT skills items were up-dated by teachers to take account of the new tools. Learner responses are being examined within the framework of distance tutor cognitive, affective and systemic functions identified by Tait (2000) and the Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison and Arbaugh, 2007) of online learning comprising cognitive presence (facilitating active construction of individual meaning), teaching presence (providing structure and leadership) and social presence (supporting risk-free interaction and inclusion). They are also considered in the light of Hampel and Stickler’s Pyramid of Skills (2005).

The paper will explain this background and the context of the study, before briefly presenting and discussing some of the initial findings and considering whether they point to additions to the teacher repertoire or a transformation of practice for teaching in blended contexts.


  • Baumann, U., Shelley, M.A., Murphy, L.M. and White, C.J. (2008). New challenges: the role of the tutor in the teaching of languages at a distance. Distances et savoirs, 6 (3), 365-392.
  • Garrison, D.R. and Arbaugh, J.B. (2007) Researching the community of inquiry framework: review, issues and future directions. Internet and Higher Education 10, 157-172.
  • Hampel, R. (2009) Training teachers for the mulitimedia age:developing teacher expertise to enhance online learner interaction and collaboration. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching 3 (1), 35-83.
  • Hampel, R. & Stickler, U. (2005). New skills for New Classrooms: Training tutors to teach languages online. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 18 (4) (October), 311-326.
  • Murphy, L.M., Shelley, M.A. and Baumann, U. (2010) Qualities of effective tutors in distance language teaching: student perceptions. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 4 (2) (July), 119-136.
  • Murphy, L.M., Shelley, M.A., White, C.J. and Baumann, U. (in press). Tutor and student perceptions of what makes an effective distance language teacher. Distance Education.
  • Shelley, M.A., White, C.J., Baumann, U. & Murphy, L.M. (2006). ‘It’s a unique role!’ Perspectives on tutor attributes and expertise in distance language teaching. IRRODL, 7 (2) (September). www.irrodl.org
  • Tait, A. (2000). Planning student support for open and distance learning. Open Learning, 15 (3), 287-299.

The above text was composed by Linda Martin. It is hosted on the E-language resource wiki maintained by Mark Pegrum. Please do not hesitate to contact either of us with comments, suggestions or questions.