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:

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!

Multimedia myths

An interesting article that examined whether audio podcasting in higher education was beneficial was written by Hew (2008). In his article, “Use of audio podcast in K-12 and higher education: a review of research topics and methodologies” Hew shared his results from a review of studies on podcast use. In the literature examined, podcasts were used to provide full lectures, supplement lessons, or present student work, and were offered in face-to-face or fully online courses. However, most studies reviewed were descriptive only (not experimental), and took place in higher education and in traditional classrooms.

Hew found the following:

  • while it increased student satisfaction, there was little significant difference in student learning when using podcasts
  • student barriers when using podcasts were unfamiliarity, access, downloading, and relevance
  • preferred length of podcasts were from 5 to 20 minutes
  • students accessed podcasts mostly from their personal computers not mobile devices
  • when listening to podcasts, students did not multitask but focused on the content
  • downloading from a website versus subscribing to a feed (RSS) was preferred
  • short-term use of podcasts (during a few weeks) might increase the novelty of the product but not impact
  • the provision of podcasts affected attendance only by 10% (those how skipped class)
  • students preferred face-to-face lessons because of interaction, structure, and ability to question/discuss

Hew determined that “the prediction that podcasting could result in pervasive mobile learning that truly takes place anywhere, as argued by advocates, did not bear fruit.” (p.341)

He also had suggestions for future research on podcasting effects.:

  1. examine student created podcasts (Jonassen et al., 2008), not only those developed by instructors
  2. conduct studies over a longer period of time
  3. determine the elements or characteristics of a course that might benefit from podcasting (specific content, simulations)
  4. examine the impact of podcasting in online courses
  5. study connections between learner characteristics and using podcasts

While only one source, this article shows that multimedia needs to be critically examined. Though, the potential impact, convenience, and portability of multimedia is widely applauded, it is still questionable on how or whether it impacts learning.

For instance, I am currently teaching a blended course at a vocational college. In this course, I had students post their ideas/responses in online discussion boards and blog their reflections after class. Though of the prime age to embrace technology, the student struggled with these technological-based activities. In turn, I found I needed to guide them more and provide digital literacy lessons to help them engage with these activities. Most were unsure what to do and also felt intimidated to present ideas or permanently post the wrong answers. They also were unsure how to engage in a text-based discussion – what were they to say?

After some hesitation they became more comfortable and  involved with the activities. As well, I recently added an exercise where the students worked in partnerships, analyzed a chosen article on a relevant topic, and posted a few main ideas in the online discussion board, while in class. Their postings, in this case, were superior to those created in isolation.

The point of the article and my teaching experiences is learners may not be completely adept in using learning technologies and might require time to adjust along with guidance. Building learning environments riddled with Web2.0 technologies might not be a quick answer to improved pedagogy, as promised. Starting with smaller technological steps, while considering current research, might be best. This, I am sure, is a relief those who teach.

Yet, I wonder if contradictory ideas presented by pundits like Verganti  are valid. He states that “user-centered innovations are not sustainable” meaning if we continue to build learning environments designed by user preference we will not be innovative or improve. His claims we must look beyond what is currently fashionable, useable and in demand, and build innovations based on newer and sustainable ideas. Sustainability in the educational field would be balancing increased enrolment, reduced budgets, emerging technologies, and limited physical space.

Perhaps, pushing learning technologies, albeit through guided instruction, is a better direction for educational efforts. Thinking outside the box, while insisting on rich learning environments and experiences, might be the key to sustainable and quality education. However, guided instruction will require skilled instructional staff. This is another  potential challenge and worthy of another discussion.