Moving towards adoption of online music pedagogy

By Dr Carol Johnson (University of Melbourne, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music) Senior Lecturer in Music (Online Learning & Educational Technologies)

As we turn to the current Australian higher education crisis caused by the coronavirus, universities are facing critical questions regarding sustainability and scalability as the situation continues to unfold. The challenge of teaching beyond classroom walls is even more acute for performing arts faculties, like music performance, whose staff may be ill-equipped for agile online learning implementation.

A key challenge exposing music’s limitation for shifting to online learning is its traditionally-focused face-to-face teacher-apprenticeship teaching models. Moving forward in a COVID-19 world will likely challenge the pedagogical approaches used by many face-to-face higher education music academics. Addressing a pedagogical change to ensure continued excellence in music teaching is complex and stratified.

Research into teaching music online is not a new exploration (Keast, 2009), however it is still limited in study. Studies show that music can be taught online in ways that further student musical understanding (Keast, 2009) as well as performance skills (Kruse, Harlos, Callihan, & Herring, 2013), teaching internships (Pike, 2017), and music appreciation (Eakes, 2009). However, the complexity of offering online music classes surrounds the nature of teaching an artform from the audio and visual limitations of headphones or speakers, and a 2D screen. The best scenarios have yet to perfectly address all of the intricacies of a teaching music online. We are left with ontological questions such as: How do you teach art through a technology-mediated environment? And, how can a teacher create presence online?

These ontological questions will likely continue to be debated in forms for years to come. However, the critical matter for the future of music education involves supporting those who are teaching music online with the knowledge and skills in online design, assessment and communication.

A “lift and shift” of F2F teaching methods to an LMS is discouraged. Teaching music online is different than its face-to-face (F2F) counterpart. It involves understanding the most effective components for teaching music in an online environment and having a teaching philosophy that supports the adoption (Johnson, 2017). From a leadership perspective, it requires acknowledgement of the importance of online learning for the sustainability and scalability of music education, and a change in how music programs embed online classes (Johnson, 2018).

Short, medium and long-range planning will need to involve strategic forecasting and outlines for professional development programs to support instructors in how they can effectively teach online. Students will also need helpful orientation to support their new learning platforms. While COVID-19 demanded a rapid online response, we now have opportunity to re-adjust and design for purposeful online music pedagogy.

Editor’s note: Dr Johnson is presenting an ASCILITE Live! webinar on 16 June 2020 – “Creating presence in online learning for practice based classes”.  For more information and to register for the session, go here.


Eakes, K. (2009). A comparison of a sociocultural and a chronological approach to music appreciation in face-to-face and online instructional formats (Doctoral dissertation).

Johnson, C. (2017). Teaching music online: Changing pedagogical approach when moving to the online environment. London Review of Education, 15(3), 439–456.

Johnson, C. (2018). Preparing for change: Getting ready for offering online music courses. In Johnson, C. & Lamothe, V.C., (Eds.). Pedagogy Development for Teaching Music Online. Hersey, PA: IGI Publications.

Keast, D. A. (2009). A constructivist application for online learning in music. Research & Issues in Music Education, 7(1), 8.

Kruse, N. B., Harlos, S. C., Callahan, R. M., & Herring, M. L. (2013). Skype music lessons in the academy: Intersections of music education, applied music and technology. Journal of Music, Technology & Education, 6(1), 43-60.

Pike, P. D. (2017). Improving music teaching and learning through online service: A case study of a synchronous online teaching internship. International Journal of Music Education, 35(1), 107-117.

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