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

Variety of mobile learning options

I have been following the latest MOOC change11 topic on mobile learning, which intrigues me as a potential learning technology. It seems countries outside of North America are relying more on this technology for education, leaving us well behind. For instance, Africa is seeing an explosion of cell use: Did You Know – Mobile stats for Africa 2011  providing potential to deliver distance education to mass amounts of people.

Yesterday,  Zoraini Wati Abas spoke on a mobile learning project at Open University Malaysia (bless her heart – it was midnight for her). The project consisted of sending text messages (SMS) to students at the university taking blended courses. Below are the different ways SMS was used to motivate and connect students. This is a slide from Zoraini’s presentation at:

Other mobile learning projects are more involved (lots happening ‘down under’), such as using smart phones to collect data by taking pictures or recording short videos. Two projects outlining more involved uses of mobile phones are:

Ethical issues are arising for mobile learning which needs to be considered before implementing. Not unlike other communication technologies, smart phones can be used for the wrong reasons such as bullying, spam, etc. Australia is addressing this issue head on. For instance, UNISA in South Australia has rules on using SMS at their institution:
As well, recently federal ministries in Australia are implementing a ‘digital social contract’ to handle offensive behaviours in cyberspace (Thanks for the link, Tim Winklemans):
I am excited about the potential of mobile learning to reach many willing students globally. I think this trend is going to develop more and more. Following those using this delivery technique outside of North American will be key.

New MOOC –

Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier are at it again – delivering another freely accessible massive open online course about “Being connected changes learning.” This is my third attempt at joining one of their MOOC and have the following comments:

  • I appreciate all the time they have put into creating the MOOCs and developing a large, international learning community
  • as an independent scholar my world can be lonely pursing self-study – accessing this community is very helpful
  • the line up of speakers is impressive focusing on current and emerging topics on connection, networks and e-learning
  • they have refined the delivery of the MOOC, opportunity for participant input, and provide suggestions for following, interacting and reflecting on the copious amounts of information.  See:
Consider joining this ride and take as much or as little from it as you need. Many people are generously giving to this efforts.
The course homepage:

Using technology to assess 21st century skills

Recently the US Department of Education shared their recommendations for improved learning through the use of technology in their report, Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. One section of the report I found interesting was on assessing learning.

Fueled by a statement from President Obama in 2009, the Office of Educational Technology took to task the need to assess 21st century skills in diagnostic and summative ways using technology. Note, they intentionally  moved away from computerized adaptive testing to have students learn, perform and be assessed on more complex skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

Here are some of their suggestions:

  1. Using simulated environments to assess problem solving, understanding sequence of events, and modelling complex reasoning skills (author’s note: while highly desirable, finding copyright-free products is difficult, and creating or buying such simulations is quite expensive; however, more is being developed in this area).
  2. Use virtual environments to present student designs, graphing of results, running of tests, and recording data.
  3. Assess and reward learning outside of class. The report gives an example of a competition where students must collect and synthesize information and apply knowledge all the while assessed through feedback delivered through technology.
  4. Diagnose learning often during a course through survey questions, response devices, and then peer instruction. As well, have groups add handwritten notes or illustrations from tablets to a e-whiteboard and explain about their work. Another interesting technology idea is an assessment tool that provides support through hints and tutoring where the amount of support used shows areas of difficulty for the student. Last collecting student’s results, activities and how they learn can be compiled into a ‘playlist’ of customized learning activities
  5. Valuable feedback on student understanding and ideas can be provided through social networks and online learning communities. Posting their work online, such as poems or videos, could solicit feedback from viewers and experts. A rubric would be needed to outline to reviewers what criteria are important.
  6. Develop an assessment framework that assesses the following learning outcomes across collective work by students: collaboration, critical thinking, oral and written communication, technology use, and citizenship. E-portfolios and self-assessments could provide works to assess on this broader scale.
  7. Last, gather the assessment data into aggregated and accessible forms by all, including the student. As well, link assessment data to needed teaching and learning resources.
Author’s note: this report helped me determine ways to use technology to assess higher learning skills. While some can be performed without technology, using tools can provide more complex learning environments as well as connections to a larger learning community and allow more diverse presentations, thus catering to different learning styles.
I usually develop curriculum to ask students to perform more complex skills. I am known to deter from creating quizzes and tests as I find them less effective to assess learning, but I do see the value of self-assessment of concepts and problem solving.
Rather I develop curriculum to include assignments and projects that show student’s thinking, development and new ideas. However, the marking of  essays, blogs, e-portfolios, presentations etc. is laborious for teachers and instructors. One suggestion given above is to assess 21st century skills across a diversity of student work rather than one piece at a time. This is something to consider.
Any input from my readers would be appreciated. How do you assess higher order thinking skills in efficient and effective ways?

Singing newspapers

Copyright by renjith krishnan

I had the oddest yet most vivid dream the other day. In my dream my husband was reading a novel and he asked me if I heard a noise coming from the speakers in the other room. We both went into the other room and noticed when he opened the book a sound started of birds chirping. It seemed his book gave off sound effects when he opened it. We thought that was neat.

Then, in my dream, the same happened to me when I opened a newspaper. To make hear sound we needed to have our wireless connection active and our stereo speakers on. I decided to patent the idea.
Upon awakening and recalling this episode I began to think this was an interesting concept – to have a multi-sensory experience when reading. Though somewhat like a singing greeting card (the ones that are embarrassing to open in the store) the sound effects when reading would be more subtle – almost out of ear range. For instance, there could be the soft sound of a heartbeat during an exciting excerpt, or the wind rustling when reading about nature, etc.
Technically, it would require inserting a very small microchip-like apparatus into the pages that looped a sound file. The technology is already there – it’s a matter of manufacturing it.
I have decided not to patent it, but if you ever experience a singing newspaper or book in the future, think of me.