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.


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

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).

Design learning for new skills

In a critical response to 1:1 laptop initiatives Weston and Bain (2010) pointed out that the use of technology in education has focused more on replacing existing modes of learning versus transforming them. For instance, they state  “books [are] replaced by webpages… [and] chalkboards by interactive whiteboard”. (p. 10).  As a response,  reports on emerging technologies, participatory cultures, and media education provide insight into the use of  technology to enhance and improve education.

The 2010 Horizon Report on emerging technologies that might potentially affect education promotes the idea that it is “incumbent upon the academy to adapt teaching and learning practices to meet the needs of today’s learners” (p. 4). The report stated digital media literacy is a key skill in many areas of a student’s life. For instance, engaging in mobile learning and using open content require both technology and information literacy skills.

Additionally, the MacArthur Foundation supported a paper on the movement of participatory cultures; namely, people who create and share content through digital means, as seen with social networks, self-publishing tools, and online circulation. Students create and share their school and personal work through Facebook, slideshare and blogs, as an example.  The authors claimed teaching students how to develop such literacies would shift the focus from individual to community. New skills could include performance, collective intelligence, networking, transmedia navigation, and appropriating media.

Grainne Conole provides a way to develop curriculum that incorporates technology and new literacy skills. Through an online design community in Cloudworks, Conole posted a paper on learning design. Her notion of learning design (her version of instructional design) moves from a traditional approach to one that is explicit and holistic. Learning design uses a design-based approach to create and support learning and teaching supported by technology.  Conole suggested to balance student activities and include the following tasks:

  • understand content (assimilative)
  • gather and manipulate resources (information handling)
  • use simulation software (adaptive)
  • engage in dialogue (communicative)
  • construct artefacts (productive)
  • practice skills (experiential)
  • assess appropriately

She created a tool using Excel to configure the design of a course and its dimensions. A visual representation is then provided to help create a balance of activities across a course or module. Notice the shift from instructor focus to student-centered learning over the length of a unit of learning.

Whereas, many elements of this design approach draws on traditional learning theories and design approaches, Conole systematically combines important elements that focus on the student, rich learning experiences, technology use, and 21st century literacy skills.

Key to a successful PLE

I compare two sets of findings on constructing a PLE that support and enhance learning. One if from an article by Dr. Wendy Drexler, and the other is on my reflections of the PLE-based course recently launched by George Siemens, David Cormier, Stephen Downes and Rita Kop – PLENK10. I was a lurcher in the course only for the purpose of examining how they constructed a MOOC (massive open online course). I was curious enough to join and skim the readings and postings as I find PLE’s are essential for rich learning.

First, Wendy Drexler shares her findings from a study on engaging students in a PLE in her article, The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy. She outlines the construction of a PLE using various communication, information and networked technologies, and provides a good description and listing of the tools used in the study for others to replicate.

Her message was PLE’s can be successful if they consider and manage the following:

  • balance structure with learner autonomy: the balance between course structure as well as instructor leadership and intervention and student freedom to read, construct and manage their own learning was considered an important element to facilitating PLE-based learning
  • when, where and how  to gauge learner understanding: each student learned, struggled, explored and constructed knowledge at different paces; knowing how and when to gauge this in order to support and guide them is a challenge. It most certainly affects balancing structure and student freedom. Drexler stated, ” Most students expressed comfort assuming greater control of the learning process over time, though how much control and how much time would differ by individual” (2010, p. 382).
  • develop digital and information literacy skills (both learner and instructor): students needed time to learn how to use the technologies as well as evaluate sources they found online; most of the information they were asked to explore was web-based (blogs, websites, expert pages). Drexler suggested instructors and teachers need time to explore and use new technologies, as well.
  • entice student motivation: without motivation to learn at such an independent  level students found the exercise laborious and time consuming. In regards to this, the PLE project outlined in this study was based on students’ picking topics of high and personal interest. This seemed to help.

Second, the PLENK10 course is purely experiential and created as a PLE (and network) that talks about the structure and usefulness of a PLE ( I think assessment will be the largest hurdle to tackle with this format). The creators are a collection of pundits (Siemens, Downes, Cormier and Kop) who are notorious for being cutting edge thinkers on using technology with learning that is based on alternative ways to learn. Some dabble in theories of chaos, social learning, and connectivism – not that I find these the only reality. I have followed their thinking for years and applaud them for continuing their thinking through direct study and experimentation. They are putting their money where their mouths are and the research world might take note.

The feedback by participants on the MOOC (massive open online course) is similar to my experience with an open online forum I participated in a few years ago that was delivered by a team working with Etienne Wenger. We assembled online to work as a community of practice (CoP) to talk about the building and maintaining of a CoP using technology. The organization hosting this forum is called CPsquare. I can’t remember the platform but it was similar to Moodle with various communication devices and interactive features.

I clearly remember being overwhelmed by the emerging dialogue of the many participants and the various sessions (synch and asynch). I came away realizing that people and experts have a lot to say and that there is potential for a number of simultaneous dialogues. I think it is essential to grasp the immediate and important dialogues and redirect energy towards those letting the more minor threads dissipate. And the grasping of the immediate discourse is done by the people, the participants (in this case, members of the community of practice). That is, the individuals of the group/network/community determine important topics, need for action/reflection/consideration, etc. This is the crux of a working thinking group – unfolding the essential topic at the moment. Of course, it helps to have an expert in the bunch to share needed directions or topics as knowledge is built on knowledge. That’s why theory is important to consider.

I believe PLEs are the future of education and that they need to be dynamic and focused at the same time. Its place in academic settings will take some time. We have to remember that we are used to learning formally in a certain way and the shift to a more loosely connected experiential learning format will take some time. However, creating one or two learning activities in this manner would be a breath of fresh air for students who sit hour after hour ingesting other’s words.

Best research methods when using tech_part 1

I am on a quest to find valid, rigorous and sophisticated research methods to explore the impact of using technology in learning. Many research studies in education lean towards case studies and qualitative methods. I think we need something more robust with informative constructs in order to examine any shift in learning when using technology, such as with blended learning formats. I want to examine cognitive changes versus personal experiences with participants. As Dr. Martha Cleveland-Innes of Athabasca University recently suggested at this year’s CSSHE conference in Montreal, we need more research that focuses on causation, not explanation.

 My blog will become my learning diary as I unfold some stones and consider different methods.

A couple of years ago I reviewed and wrote about a book on researching technology education, edited by Middleton (2008 ). One particular research method that struck me was by Lars Bjorklund. He used a repertory grid technique to chart and analyze the “elicit underlying, often tacit criteria that professional teachers use when they assess creative work” (p.46). Using polarized criteria or design elements, such as ugly and beautiful, he uncovered through interviews essential criteria for design work as seen by experts. I would think something of this accord could be used to examine the thinking of students and then compare this to their thinking and constructive building of knowledge after using technology.

In a recent ALT-J issue,  Nie et al. shared their experience with a research study on the role of podcasting in a graduate program. They were interested in how uploaded podcasts would benefit campus-based students. Their method was similar to design-based research, though they called it action research. After collecting data through surveys, student blog entries and discussion board postings, curriculum meetings, pre- and post-interviews, and eventual analysis, changes were made to curriculum and the use of podcasts. This research was spread over 3 terms of the course that used podcasts giving it the rigor of a longitudinal study.

Terry Anderson of Athabasca University also supports design-based research,  a method advocated by Thomas Reeves of the University of Georgia. Design-based research is quite pragmatic focusing on real world problems and directly impacting the researched phenomenon. It blends learning and design principles with innovative learning environments to improve learning. In short, it relies on theory and a variety of research methods to improve a way students learn with and are supported by technology.

Problems with open learning

I appreciate David Wiley and Jon Mott’s comments on open learning networks (OLN). They attempt to take what is not working with formal education, and create a model to design structures that enhance learning – with a Web2.0 flavour. I have to agree that CMS structures are limited. Designing course curriculum for these platforms limits selection of communication and information tools. For the most part, I use the discussion board feature, but tend to use external tools 90% of the time such as wikis, blogs, slideshare etc.

However, my biggest concern with using external tools that host work is copyright and privacy issues. What information do students have to give to create a ‘free’ account, and what happens to their work? In the last 2 months I have reviewed many freeware sites, and most state they will use information and posted work within their sites to promote their product. Does this mean we need to hide behind secured virtual walls in order to protect our students from potential harm in open spaces?

As well, using the plethora of resources and information online is like going shopping. The variety and quality is impressive. However, what about infringing on the copyrights of authors/producers? To avoid this, and to alleviate lengthy wait times to gain rights to use the content, I tend to link to the information. However, this will become problematic as information moves and links become broken. As well, on some of these sites students are exposed to flaky advertising and inappropriate information or comments.

In a perfect virtual world, information would be at our finger tips, online environments would be manageable, significant networks would be developed, meaningful boundaries would appear, and our identity and work would be safely handled. I appreciate those that continue to examine ways to create good learning environments, and the software developers would attempt to build them.