Prototyping tools

In the MOOC delivered by the Open Learning Design Studio focusing on 21st Century Curriculum we explored tools to design a prototype of a technology-based element to learning, such as activity, LMS, etc.

The main reason to produce a prototype is to display to your team and stakeholders the intent and layout of the future technical and interactive product. It was emphasized that small mistakes in the beginning of a development could be quite costly later on. As well, it is hard to share ideas about the experience in a media-rich setting without visual explanation of the layered functions of an interactive piece.

I played with a PowerPoint to represent an interactive activity for learners to discover the best way to configure IV pumps on an IV pole, considering the weight of the equipment and design of its functions. See below.

Note: Now that I’ve made the interactive piece, I could have added more to this prototype as I did not have the configurations correctly outlined. However, my team (content providers and client) understood what I was going to build.

Other prototype tools that looked promising are balsamiq and guidance from elearning blueprint





Instructional design tools

At the moment I am engaged in a MOOC on open learning design with a consortium of universities and educational organizations in the UK – really great learning! It is titled Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum.

This week we have explored tools to help plan the design of any kind of learning. The tools I enjoyed using are a card pack of learning activities or supports organized in 4 categories based on sound pedagogical principles. I cut out the cards and selected and organized them for a learning piece I am designing for a client.While I had my client’s course sketched out, the exercise of thinking more critically about the design of the course through reflection on the cards and compiling/expanding my thinking in a course map helped to deepen the the course, and allow me to see the gaps, such as entailment guidance for learners.

Once I have reviewed the course plan with my client, I will work on the details of the course (micro-level) using further tools provided by the MOOC instructor, Grainne Conole, and fellow students. The tools are given below.



I find these tools are quite practical and visual and allow for reflection, discussion and amendment to create rich learning.

Contextualizing learning through the Ecology of Resources (EoR) framework

Ecology of Resources Design Framework (EoR)

The EoR is a framework used to investigate and consider the forms of resources a learner currently obtains, and subsequent resources to help build their understanding. Applying the EoR model requires exploring the learner’s context in various ways (interview, ethnographically, observation) to reveal their available internal and external resources, such as knowledge, environment, tools and people, and the relationships between them.

Following this would be determining other resources and more able partners (MAPs) that would help move the learner from their present state of understanding to a more developed one. The space between the two states would be considered zones: zone of proximal development (Vygotsky), proximal adjustment, and available assistance. See diagram below about these zones taken from:   The placement of assistance would be to have supports that are just-in-time and fading in order to scaffold learning.


This is a complex framework and model to help explore the context of the learner in order to design useful, supportive and  customized/personalized learning experiences. It continues in understanding the relationship between resources, such as the use of technology and available apps or WiFi connection, and other affordances.

The framework also identifies both positive and negative filters in a learner’s context, which are taken into consideration when developing learning supports. This could be a mentor, organizational structure, workshop, rules, etc.

While developing learning using such a framework could be potentially overwhelming and complex, I believe it offers a deeper look at the many influences and resources surrounding a learner. I like the concept of considering the relationship between resources – this peaks my interest, and has me wonder about multi-layered and dynamic situations, tools and influences affect learning based on and for real-life scenarios.

A good case study about exploring EoR for language learning can be found at:

Who pay$ for OER developments?

Money talks and makes the world go around.

Something I have been questioning for some time is the sustainability of OER (open educational resources). It amazes and thrills me to see the effort put into discussing, researching, planning and implementing OER by the learning community. Though strides are being made to accredit this type of learning, its impact is significant and providing learning opportunities for students in programs, curious people, casual learners, and educators. I am more thrilled to see education reach afar allowing .those who don’t have many opportunities for advanced education to engage in new ways – this has been driving my excitement when working with e-learning.

Let’s talk money

A number clients have hired me over the last few years to advise, design and/or build programs and courses to be delivered online or in a blended/hybrid fashion. These have been generous projects that focus on a variety of subjects such as academic courses, field instruction, and organizational and professional training.

I suspect from the commitment my clients have put into these developments they aren’t interested in (or can’t) sharing them freely, but rather offer to their own learners. Though many of the developments are generic enough to share broadly, it isn’t feasible for them to provide them pro bono.

As a contracted instructional designer and developer (ID), I am only one of their costs. They also have an ID team to finalize the product, a management team to oversee the project, administration and learning platforms and software to run the piece, marketing costs to promote the course/program, etc. An online course could cost $20,000 or more to create.

This interesting survey of instructional development costs for e-learning projects shows a range from basic courses, with static text and graphics, to highly interactive pieces. The survey suggests, depending on the project type, that approximately 50 to 265 hours is needed to develop one hour of e-learning. That’s quite the investment!

Considering this, my questions remain: Who pays for OER development? Is it feasible for institutions to widely and freely share their developments? Is this a sustainable or realistic endeavour?

Money matters, and I think if we openly discuss this in a capitalistic way, we may find a solution to continue to share our excellent educational projects. Comments? Solutions?


Something to learn from the corporate world on e-learning

Recently I designed a report with a partner for a professional organization looking to place a classroom seminar online. This organization was relatively new to delivering learning online and looked to me and my partner for guidance.

To provide a complete picture of e-learning in the corporate world, we needed to brush up on the latest trends. By dipping into group sources in LinkedIn, reviewing white papers and blogs, and finding exemplary training initiatives we put together an overview.

We found e-learning and training are becoming synonymous in the corporate world and with emphasis on engagement. If you want someone to invest time (without pay, at times) then e-learning needs to be engaging, but not entertaining. Professionals don’t have time for games, but rather need to learn what they require at the moment. Thus, learning has to happen.

Here are a few other things that I learned about e-learning preferences of professionals in the workplace – in order of importance: learner, focus, and structure.

The Learner

  • Design for independent learning
  • Design with forgetting in mind
  • Draw on learners’ existing knowledge
  • Allow learners to personalize their learning by adding notes to content, choosing delivery of content, and accessing variety of resources

The Focus

  • Design and provide tutorials, scenario-based learning, and problem-solving strategies
  • Make course relevant and realistic; help with transferring learning to workplace
  • Informal learning is important to include, such as mentoring, social networking,and online resources
  • Motivation and appeal is important to engage learners; focus on emotions
  • Tell/share stories

The Structure

  • Chunk learning and content with one concept at a time; and make each e-learning segment no more than 10 minutes
  • Arrange learning in non-linear fashion; allow flexibility to learn what want and how much; don’t expect all to finish
  • Assess learners and often to provide feedback; test skills and knowledge; measure and communicate results; allow to practice and review
  • Avoid e-coaching, user-generated content, online discussions, and group collaboration (more present in academia)
  • Use visuals purposely to increase interest
  • Interactivity could include interactive scenarios, practical applications and exercises, and ‘what would you do’ cases. A great example:

The Hype of E-Learning?

I recently listened to a refreshing session with Steve Weiland presenting for an Athabasca University’s CIDER session. Steve addressed the hype of e-learning from a unique perspective. Like many of us, he has watched the evolution of technology use in education and has embraced it to a degree in his teaching of university courses. Steve named his session “The Case of the Self-Paced Course”. He spoke in a compelling way that was intelligent and thoughtful, and used only 9 presentation slides. Great orator.

As the premise to his presentation, he questioned the overuse of technology in learning and shared his journey through the evolution of e-learning and the theories that followed them. In turn, he tends to use technology less than more in his courses yet attempts to leverage its best qualities for his purposes. For instance, he makes a commitment to put his thoughts into words and develops something similar to an e-book. His writes chapters, similar to online modules, of comments and ideas, which are embedded with links and artwork – he then posts this for students to review. As well, we responds to each student with as many typed words as they provide in their work.

In his use of technology, he is thoughtful of where he places links to external sources so not to disrupt the learners’ engagement with the content, placing most at the bottom of the webpage. Online discussions are voluntary to allow students to work at their own page and the opportunity to post is more apt to attract social learners with some courses have postings and some very few. However, he argues there is interaction between himself and the learner in his lengthy responses. For Steve the conditions of self-paced online learning include the mind at work, the use of alone time, student characteristics, the role of interaction, and student preference. In essence, Steve is more interested in students reading and writing as an exercise. 

For me, he brought back the roots of learning in a refreshing way that did not address technology in a diminutive way. In turn, he uses technology to support his vision of teaching and learning, which he pondered for years. I found this refreshing and almost a relief as I wonder through the erratic world of e-learning and its sexy appeal of movement, interaction, visuals, copious sources, and expansive networks. Like Steve, I try to keep the learning in mind when I design online and blended courses. His style of teaching involves the instructor heavily but for Steve this is his style. Good on him.

Steve ended his session with the following quote:

“He who permits himself to be propelled simply by the momentum of his attained right habits, loses alertness;
he ceases to be on the lookout. With that loss, his goodness drops away from him.”

John Dewey, The Theory of the Moral Life

Creativity and education: can they coincide?

I recently listened to a talk given by Dave Snowden through the MOOC course, Dave is a well spoken man with passion and conviction about cognitive processes. My understanding of the theory he follows is that humans react to cause and effect situations through simplistic, complicated, complex or chaotic thinking drawing on environmental cues, cultural nuances and/or past experiences while always dealing with uncertainty. And he states we react and think differently depending on our predisposition and past experience where our “styles of creativity produce different patterns of behaviour.” I can’t attempt to summarize his work unless I read it more thoroughly.

During his presentation he implied that formal education stifles creativity and innovative thought – one reason he did not pursue a PhD. Having studied the higher education field and spending most of my adult life pursuing formal degrees I have to agree with him somewhat, and I’ll address that in a minute. However, I become cautious when statements are made that negate a particular system to propose another. In my graduate studies we were taught to balance all ideas to build our argument. Detesting something is more an emotional response than an intellectual one. In that way, formal education did provide me with a balanced outlook among other skills.

My sense of Dave’s point about creativity was that freely exploring ideas, visions, and perhaps passionate thoughts would most likely need to take place outside of academia. I think he is right based on my personal experience. In my formal education, I was quite aware of the hoops I had to jump through (requirements, restrictions, supervisory advice and committee approval, and even journal submissions) when developing my work, whether a paper, exam, or dissertation. All through my studies I tried to keep a part of myself and thinking that was mine, though difficult at times. I remember my doctoral supervisor advising me to keep the exploration of ‘risky’ theses for a time when my degree was complete and to see the formal program as a place to learn the methods of deep study and critical thinking. This made sense and I appreciated the advice.

Today, I read and explore as I wish and develop my own thoughts; however, there is a trade-off  – applying it to sensible things, like paid work. Again, I’ve learned to balance my idealism with pragmatism to apply fresh concepts to client’s educational needs. And sometimes clients want their educational products developed into more conventional forms, which I do.

A recent post about informal learning, called the Accidental Learner, nicely supports Dave’s perspective and reflects how we learn outside the formal setting.

Here is how I develop innovative thinking and creativity:

Designing learning like radio programming

Recently I completed an instructional development project for a client who was open to my concept of designing an educational diploma program in the same manner as radio programming. Their student body were dispersed across a wide non-urban region, and were working adults with limited transportation seeking to update their education and skills.

My radio programming concept derived from the need for flexible delivery for this student population. More specifically, I enjoy listening to CBC radio via my computer, iPhone, iPad, and car radio. The CBC website offers a transparent schedule of different radio channels and programs to be streamed live, through recorded versions, and subscriptions to podcasts. They also offer interesting background information on programs, musicians, etc. Basically, they provide a variety of choices catering to the preferences of listeners, very much like the varied learning styles and needs of learners.

Transposing the concept of radio programing to educational programs or courses would entail providing a selection of content, experiences, delivery formats, and locations for students to choose. Next, I describe the basic concepts of my instructional design idea.

Course or Module Design

  • Each course or module would have multiple, separate, non-linear units delivered in flexible formats
  • All units would need to be completed to obtain credit for the course
  • Half of the course/module units would be are self-paced and delivered online with support from a distant resource person (preferably an instructor or SME)
  • The remaining units would be short (3-4 weeks) instructor-led seminars and workshops  delivered on a continual basis (i.e. every few months)
  • The instructor-led units could be conducted through f2f sessions at a campus/institution location, remote learning centres, and/or through video and audio conferencing
  • If for formal purposes, each course with its many units could equate to 40+ hours of instructional time, whether in-person, virtual or simulated
  • Students could challenge courses or practicums by submitting specific items, or be awarded credit for any part of the program or course through PLAR investigations

Course or Module Unit Design

To gain credit for a course or module students would need to obtain credit for each unit, which could be taken at anytime and simultaneously with other course units. The units within each course would include the following important learning components:

  • Introduction: background information delivered online with a resource person in a self-paced manner; includes text materials along with tutorials, simulations and/or quizzes
  • Seminar: short instructor-led seminars to explore theoretical concepts
  • Workshop: short instructor-led workshops focusing on practical application
  • Practical: self-paced projects to gain experience in real-world situations
  • Assessment: submit completed assignments from introduction, seminar, workshop and practical components; assessed by instructor (follows the model by University of the People)

Illustration of Course Design
(Click image for larger view)

Such a program or course design would require an online administration system that allows students to register for courses and course units as well as track their credits and progress. The systems would also initiate delivery of learning material, whether shipped or downloadable, and access to online LMS or other platforms. A recommender and alert system would also be advantageous to keep students progressing through the multi-modular, unidirectional program or course.

Such an instructional design rests on a number of popular learning theories and approaches, such as for adult learners, experiential learning, active and authentic learning, constructivism, and  self-directed learning (I have discussed my ID approach in another blog entry).

Rhizomatic possibility

Dave Cormier spoke this week via the change MOOC venue on rhizomatic learning – a model meaning that “curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process” (Cormier, 2008). I can appreciate Dave’s attempt to define and theorize the learning taking place in a networked, information-heavy world to illicit it and to  present an argument that formal education should apply it, as well.The distributed knowledge/network learning/chaos theory movement, as played out through MOOCs, is a good attempt to forward new ways of learning due to the affordances of technology and the learning hunger of people.

Yet, I can’t help feeling that measures are taking place to ‘name’ what is happening to justify it as the BIG way to learn while diminishing traditional formal ways of learning. To me, this is an attempt to throw the baby out with the bathwater and not learn from the earlier work of others (okay, that might be a bit harsh – he does draw on constructivist type learning, etc.). Emerging as modern day critical theorists, Dave et al. are showing how traditional modes of learning are antiquated and ineffective. I do think there is truth to that but I also see the amazing work some teachers are doing within their imposed structures.

However, my concern is not that they are exploring new horizons (which I am following with them) but that the slate is being wiped clean in order to make way for another suggested mode of learning. If they can mix in the old by considering other foundational thinking and theory, I can buy in more. It takes time to think through these things and I appreciate how Dave, Stephen and George are being open and sharing in their thought process.

I rarely criticize others in a public venue but Dave has something and has my interest. So, Dave, my criticism is a good thing and I encourage you to keep developing your ideas and I will, too!

Instructional design strategies for blended and online learning

At the link below are slides for a recent workshop at the Community Access Symposium in Edmonton, Alberta.

In the slides, I outline some main theoretical frameworks and approaches I follow to design learning using technology. These frameworks and approaches inform and support the design strategies I use to create engaging blended or online learning. I also provide some basic e-learning tools and instructional design tools courtesy of Grainne Conole.

Workshop Slides


Note: the Excel tool for determining course e-learning elements by Conole and revised by Edmonds is here:  Course Dimensions E-Learning Design Tool