The Online Learning Research Team

Our Vision

To move research in online education from questions of access through technology to developing theory-based effective practice. The purpose is to understand, develop and design enhancements of a set of enablers that support student success.

What we do

We are interested in a range of issues centered on improving online teaching and learning at the university level.  We apply rigorous theoretical models both to understanding how online teaching and learning happen and more specifically how to promote an environment of active inquiry. Development of a learning culture requires new pedagogical requirements on how online courses should be designed, and how they can be improved using the online tools available. Our goal is provide tools and methodologies to 1) improve online course materials,  2) to improve teacher preparation, and 3) to ensure that learners are actively involved in the learning process.

Theoretical Models

We approach online teaching and learning from two perspectives:  the Macro- (course) level using the Community of Inquiry model of Garrison and Anderson and colleagues, and at the Micro- (task) level using Engeström’s Activity Systems Theory.  By using these two theoretical models we are able to look at the effectiveness of online instruction globally as well as at the level of the specific online task to ensure it satisfies the fundamental principles of learning science, including  social constructivis, inquiry, formative assessment, educational objectives, self regulation, and modeling.

Who we are

Prof. Michael L Hoover. (PhD, Columbia)  His academic background is in theoretical linguistics and experimental psychology, which led to studies in psycholinguistics and use of indigenous languages in schools, as well as teacher training for indigenous teachers in Canada and South America.  In trying to understand how first nations teachers who were highly literate in their second language learned to be literate in the first led Prof. Hoover to a reconceptualization of the issue in terms of language as an artifact rather than as an object of learning, leading to approaching pedagogy from a strongly Vygotskyan perspective.  He has taught courses online at McGill for over a decade.

Contact Prof. Hoover at michael.hoover [at]

Ying Ji is a doctoral student at McGill with experience in online education in China and has been actively involved in projects at McGill to produce online materials for graduate level statistics and research design courses. 

Janice Wong is a graduate of Faculty of Education who has been collaborating on research projects involving formative assessment in online teaching and learning. She is providing technical support for the Online Module Project. Janice comes from the telecom industry and has over 20 years of experience in communication technology and 15 years experience in project management. She has also been involved in securing a large government grant to develop training requirements in the industry.


We are actively collaborating with:

Prof. Egan Valentine of the University of Quebec at Trois Rivières (UQTR), who has developed an online program in translation.  Current research concerns students’ experience of teaching presence in online learning environments.

Profa. Benilde Garcia Cabrero of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in the development of online materials and pedagogy for Virtual University of Veracruz, in collaboration with pedagogical content experts at the University of Veracruz. 

Current Projects

The Stats and Research Design Module Project.  We are currently creating online materials to support the learning of statistics and research design for graduate students in the faculty of Education. 


Developing a Constructivist Instructional Model for Effective Online Learning. (with Profs Garcia Cabrero & Valentine).  Student success in online learning requires the development of expertise in collaborative learning so one can constructively lead, learn and contribute within online communities. The proposed research seeks to develop a rigorous model of online learning based on Engeström's Activity Systems Theory (AST). Currently applying for funding.

Recent presentations

Hoover, M.L. & Wong, J, (2014). Shaping Online Learning: Online Instructors’ Experiences of Assessment. Submitted to the 2014 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Philadelphia

Hoover, M.L. & Wong, J, (2012).” Formative Evaluation in Online Education“ Presented at the annual meeting of the American Educaitonal Research Association, Vancouver.

Hoover, M.L. & Garcia-Cabrero, B. (2011)  “Towards An Activity Theory Model for Distance Education” Presented at the annual meeting of the American Educaitonal Research Association, New Orleans.

Hoover, M.L. (2011)  Statistics as Artifact:  A case study in online course design.  Presented at the International Society for Cultural and Activity Research (ISCAR) conference, Rome.

Hoover, ML (2007)  Improving On-Line Instruction: An Activity Theory Approach. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Educaitonal Research Association, Chicago.

Hoover, M.L. (2005). Learning to be Literate in One’s First Language: The Construction of Literacy for a non-literate Language, Presented at the annual meeting of the American Educaitonal Research Association, April 2005, Montreal.