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


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

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:

Researching learning with technology, Part 3

Graham Attwell (ed.) (2006) offered a comprehensive paper on various types of evaluation methods for e-learning. With a focus on European educational institutions, he and his collaborators discussed principles, methods and history of evaluation in the educational field. Methods and models ranged from evaluating policies, learning, and program impact with focuses on management, consumer, pedagogy etc. The paper provides a good shopping list for evaluators and researchers.

One particular model they provided was for the evaluation of  learning and teaching processes in virtual environments. This model was developed and tested as part of an EU project, E-VAL3.  On page 35 of the document, they offered a working table that combined two established aspects of e-learning. One segment draws on the work of Jonassen, Peck, and Wilson (1999) and their principles for learning with technology (ICT). For instance, learning with ICT should include activities that are active, constructive, reflective, intentional, authentic conversational, and interactive. The other segment they use is from the work of Paulsen (1995) and the essentials of effective computer mediated communication, such as organizational, social and intellectual functions.

Here is the combined evaluation table/chart to be used while observing or assessing teaching and learning in a virtual environment:

I believe this evaluation tool has some promise and focuses on key elements to be included in e-learning experiences. However, it doesn’t seem to evaluate more elementary components of learning such as knowledge acquisition, as described by Bloom, or student perception.

As well, there was little explanation on how to use the tool or analyze the results. The paper implied input into the tool would be based on high inferences by the evaluator, but did not offer ways to overcome bias. It seems the model was tested further and refined.

However, looking for further documentation on this evaluation tool, I found the main project has been dispensed and little writing on the method was found after 2006. As well, the main website ( no longer functions.  A deeper search might be needed.

Grading blogs

I listened to a short but informative talk (recording link at bottom) on developing blog activities by a

m_Learning Menu

A recent article on the trials of using mobile learning technologies by Cochrane and Bateman in a New Zealand postsecondary institute provides a menu for educational use. While the study focuses on using m-learning applications in design programs (architectural, landscaping) and the use of imagery and videos, it also provides ideas for more traditional and static programs such as business, English, etc.

The article offers ideas for using technology to add mobility, social networking and visuals to a number of  disciplines, regardless if smart phones, laptops, or other mobile device are used. Learning can take place anywhere and at any time. More important, it allows students to create when ready, in the moment, and with less borders. Creativity requires freedom and support (Herbert Read, 1963).

For instance, the following could be used to connect students whether f2f or online:

  • text messaging announcements and current events (Twitter)
  • capturing images or videos for class projects (smart/cell phones)
  • blogging or video blogging (vlogging) (WordPress)
  • emailing message and resources (lms/institutional email, gmail)
  • data sharing (delicious bookmark tagging)
  • resources sharing (wiki list)
  • voice messages and presentations (smart/cell phones)
  • sharing with collective (linking blogs, slide share, wiki, flickr images, etc. in learning management system)

The Web2.0 tools that are used outside the classroom and online learning management system (LMS) can support the learning and building of a personal learning environments. Bringing the various tools and productions/creations (via uploads or external links) created outside the LMS back into it creates a central repository and meeting place.

It won’t be long before the use of smart phones in learning situations become the norm. Many of the tools mentioned above have applications that work on smart phones. However, as a cautionary note the article suggests learning institutions take steps. First, they suggest to start working with these newer technologies, provide training and support for faculty, and take steps to integrate them into classroom (whether physical or virtual). As well, though younger generations are quite adept to emerging technologies, they need guidance on using them in constructive ways. Taking steps on using these tools with students is necessary as well.

The potential for creative, interactive and innovative types of learning activities and environments is encouraging, and in my experience, refreshing for students. There is a little something for every topic and discipline, thus creating a learning technology menu. Think outside the box, think creatively. Most important, have fun with learning.

Researching learning with technology, Part 2

I am still exploring ways to better study the impact of technology on learning, as with online and blended learning. A few weeks ago I presented some of my ideas and queries through a CIDER presentation.  In that session I shared that I was not completely satisfied with my doctoral study methodology or much that I have seen presented in the literature. There needs to be a stronger mix of qual and quant methods that can capture the impact of learning with technology, such as the study of:

  • human-computer interaction
  • the brain (cognitive learning)
  • the senses (visual, design)
  • system and social dynamics

EDUCAUSE has recently created a initiative to find ways to explore the ‘evidence’ that would reveal the impact of technology as they, too, are unsatisfied with current research methods.  They state:

” With many options and constrained budgets, faculty and administrators must make careful decisions about what practices to adopt and about where to invest their time, effort, and fiscal resources. As critical as these decisions are, the information available about the impact of these innovations is often scarce, uneven, or both. What evidence do we have that these changes and innovation are having the impact we hope for?”

Some of their preliminary readings/lit focuses on developed learning theories and the use of technology. I think this is a good start and feel we must not through out the baby with the bath water. Regardless of our intent to claim something new and innovative we need some established framework from which to work. People are people and they behave and learn in certain ways; albeit, they are shaped and affected by the evolving environment and technology.

Back to my notion to get more technical with research data. A new discussion is emerging  about creating systems the collect and interpret data on the resources used and activities performed by learners/users, whether informally or formally. The point is to help mine data for users due to the overwhelming amount of information and resources available on the net. Even the most information literate person struggles to bring together, peruse, and decipher the multitude of info. I can hardly keep up!

Creating a data collection and interpretive system would hone information and provide recommenders (i.e. what to read or explore next based on past activities). The group at Athabasca/TEKRI with George Siemens (sense making and learning analytics) and the group at NRCC with Stephen Downes (Web X) are exploring this concept.

I am excited about the possibility to use honed and interpreted data to study the processes and needs of learners who use technology. Learners are no longer in a bubble but have extended learning environments (PLE), social networks, and vast amounts of web-based resources. How are they using these artefacts and systems? How can we help them use it to learn? How is their learning developed with them, or not developed? Such questions are taking on new meaning compared to olden days due to advanced information, communication and networked technologies.

I hope to attend the learning analytics conference  to learn more about this research method. Until then, I’ll keep exploring potential methodologies to study the impact of technology on learning.