Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Rules of e-Learning: If you don’t know what you are doing before you do it…

graph illustrating steps of accurate content, learner's point of view, learner's interest and reflection upon course outcome.
Have a clear idea of what you are doing
…then you will not know what you did when you are done!  This rather confusing phrase sums up the risks that we face when building e-learning, highlighted by the number of times I look at Online Learning and realise that I do not understand the thinking behind the learning.  Why should I want to?  Well, as a quality assurance reviewer, it is the thinking behind the course that guides my judgement of the course; its content, presentation and interactivity.  This is also what guides the interpretation of the epprobate Quality Grid that my review will be based upon, (

But more importantly this is what guides the learner’s journey.  If we are not clear about what we are doing, how can the learner follow our lead?

How does the learner interpret our course? 
We know what the course content is all about.  When we write/ design our content we have in our minds the background to the learning as well as the learning itself.  This leads to an image (hopefully) of what we would like the course to look like and how the learner will proceed to grasp this complex knowledge we wish to impart.  But our image is coloured by our own knowledge, often much greater than the portion needed by the learner, and also by our understanding, often built up over many years of study, development and application – we are after all the ‘experts’ in our subject.

But there are others who write online learning who are not subject matter experts and these people are important for the design and layout of the course.  Often they are trained to construct a course with the learner in mind; and they know how to use the technology to best effect.  I am of course talking about Instructional Designers.

Sometimes the ultimate happens and the subject matter expert has also studied instructional design – a great combination which should lead to the ideal online course.  And again, when subject matter expert match well to the instructional designers the resulting course can be great.

In theory, then, every online course should be a good combination of content and instructional design:
·         Accurate content
o   that is representative of the subject area
o   values important content
o   acknowledges and crosses cultural barriers
o   does not create Intellectual Property issues
·         Designed from the learner’s point of view,
o   for their world, age group,  personalised where possible
o   with due consideration for their skill level
·         With interest for the learner
o   from inquiry, acquisition, construction and communication
o   Matched media, external information, outside input
o   User friendly interface, feedback and progress descriptors

So why isn’t this always the case; it’s not that difficult is it?

Well yes it is, actually; especially if we do not know what we need to do.  As Michael Allen says “Despite the availability of so-called “rapid” authoring systems, developing learning experiences that are meaningful, memorable, and motivational takes hard work. Thinking. Exploration. Revision. Validation. There’s no easy way to create […] impactful instruction. It takes intense focus, a critical mind, a sharp eye, an inventive spirit, and much more.” (Sites R., Green A., 2014, The Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, page vi, ASTD Press, Alexandria VA)

We know what is right; the thinking, exploration, revision, validation required to produce a good course. We often don’t have time to stop and think about what we are doing with our course, the true purpose of the course and what we want the learners to do with their new knowledge once the course is over. 

Rapid prototyping may well be a case-in-point here.  With a trial and error approach comes the risk of losing the purpose and direction of the course, the risk of using the wrong criteria to seek the correct result and the risk that limiting factors may force an earlier outcome than is realistic under true trial and error testing.  Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I am happier if a careful approach, using an analysis phase that pre-determines the many variants and fixes them in our minds, ensures that the learning is constructed from the basis of knowledge and understanding – so we know what we are doing.

·         Knowing what we are doing, for the learner and the learning, is vital if the course is to be as effective as our employers/clients would wish us to make it.
·         We can only judge and prove a successful outcome if the criteria are clearly understood by all stakeholders. 

·         Success (or failure) can only be reflected upon if we have established the criteria to judge by.

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