26 Regan, Baker, Jerome, Spencer, Lawson, and Werner, “Experiences of instructors in online learning environments: Identifying and regulating emotions”


Regan, K., Evmenova, A., Baker, P., Jerome, M. K., Spencer, V., Lawson, H., & Werner, T. (2012). Experiences of instructors in online learning environments: Identifying and regulating emotions. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(3), 204–212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.12.001.


It is common for instructors of online courses to experience a similar variety of emotions as felt by students of online courses mentioned in the previous article. Currently, little research about the emotions and what instructors can do to manage them while leading an online course is available. In the article, “Experiences of instructors in online learning environments: Identifying and regulating emotions,” two questions are explored:

  1. What are the emotional experiences of instructors in online learning environments (OLEs), and
  2. How do instructors attempt to regulate their challenging emotions when participating in OLEs?

Key points

  • Six individuals were chosen for this research study; all had led OLEs in some capacity in the past.
  • Both successful and unsuccessful experiences were shared during two focus groups in order to encourage recall of specific emotions experienced while leading an OLE.
    • In the first round of focus groups, participants were asked to come up with at least three emotions that arose when teaching an OLE in the past.
      • In the second round, the participants discussed how the emotions that they had identified affected their teaching and/or facilitating of OLEs.
  • Five “themes” of emotions were expressed during the focus groups: restricted, stressed, devalued, validated, and rejuvenated.
    • Of those five, each emotion was defined, and how each of the negative emotions was regulated was also discussed.
    • Technology limitations, needing to be well-planned far in advance, and not getting the “teachable moments” usually available in a face-to-face classroom setting were all precursors for feeling restricted.
      • Participants recommended making sure that the goals and tasks of the course were well defined to avoid feeling so restricted.
    • Lacking control and knowledge of particular technologies, technological mishaps, and the shift from being a teacher to being facilitator is what led participants to feeling stressed. Being blamed by students for technology malfunctioning was also a major theme amongst those participants who labeled stress as one of their emotions.
      • To minimize stress, it was recommended that facilitators of OLEs further their knowledge of the technologies they are working with, as well as create group activities such as polls or less formal discussion boards to encourage student activity.
    • When the mention of feeling devalued was evaluated, participants shared that they felt as though all they had to do was share information online and then the students of the course would do the rest of the work. This took away from the importance of even needing an instructor for the course.
    • Continuous work and collaboration with other instructors of OLEs was one recommendations to combat the feeling of being devalued.
  • Of the positive emotions, validation came in a much stronger experience than when felt in the traditional classroom setting.
    • Participants noted that good reviews and class evaluations of OLEs led to much more intense feelings of validation than felt when instructing traditional face-to-face courses.
  • The feeling of being rejuvenated came from the excitement of the unknown in online courses—because technology is continuously advancing, participants noted that they were excited to try it out.


When reflecting on emotions experienced during the facilitating of OLEs, more positive emotions surfaced during the discussion, whereas initially there were more negative emotions associated. This information leads us to believe that continuous dialog amongst OLE professionals would help to regulate the emotions experienced, whether they be positive or negative. Considering the amount of time spent on group study of the emotions, it is not surprising that the majority of emotions discussed were negative. It was noted that the “shift in roles may take considerable adjustment, requiring instructors to modify their own thinking as they work in OLEs” (Regan, 2012, p. 211). Having this in mind, it is important for instructors of online learning experiences to understand that they cannot approach an online class in the same way that they would a traditional classroom. Then, in creating a support group, instructors would be able to continuously provide feedback on their experiences, thus sharing in the shared frustrations and successes of other instructors in a similar position. “Studies have found that emotion regulation strategies like reappraising unpleasant emotional experiences and not suppressing or hiding one’s emotions may avoid overall burnout for teachers.” (Cheng, 2009).

Discussion questions

  1. What are some of the ways instructors regulated the negative emotions they experienced?
  2. Why might it be important for instructors of OLEs to form their own discussion communities?
  3. What key points were addressed in this study?

Additional resources


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