Course Redesign, eLearning, Instructional Design

Creating Measurable & Motivational Learning Objectives

graphic by Stefano Bertolo

graphic by Stefano Bertolo

From a student perspective, clear learning objectives help to set expectations. From an instructor perspective, learning objectives help guide course activity to a measureable outcome. So, it is important that educator’s take the time to develop clear and meaningful learning objectives for course modules.

As a general rule, learning objectives should be specific and observable; there should be a few objectives per module – no less than three, no more than six.

There is a lot available about the art of developing well thought-out learning objectives, including:

However, I found Cathy Moore’s piece, “Makeover: Turn objectives into motivators” to add a different and interesting perspective on the task. Although her piece is geared toward training, rather than higher education, she shares specific examples about how to write learning objectives that are powerful and relevant to the learner.

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eLearning

Stop Blaming Technology for a Lack of Personal Connection

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graphic by zen Sutherland

When I came across Matt Miller’s blog “What Online Learning Can’t Do: Why Face-to-Face Reigns” I was expecting the usual sentiments about elearning failing to measure up to traditional classrooms when it comes to interaction and engagement, or maybe even the age-old “quality of education” argument. Instead, I was surprised to read the heart of Matt’s sentiment was based upon personal connection, noticing a new haircut, high-fiving student after an achievement, etc.

It is true that these connections can be lost in the online environment. But, if we’re honest, we would have to admit that these connections could also be absent from face-to-face learning environments as well. The idea that there is no possible way that human connections – personal, meaningful, and valuable connections – can be established, fostered, and grown online is shortsighted.

If this were an impossibility TV shows like MTV’s Catfish wouldn’t exist and online dating sites wouldn’t be cropping up everywhere. It is possible to make very personal connections online; it just takes a different kind of effort.

The challenge of online learning is that too many instructors believe that their face-to-face instructional approaches are sufficient for the online environment. To be an effective online instructor – to foster student-student, student-content, and student-instructor relationships – one must toss out old instructional approaches.

Technology is simply a tool, not the replacement for the instructor. Every instructor is a subject matter expert – online or on-campus. If you expect technology to replace the facilitation, sharing, exchange that takes place in a learning environment, then you’re mistaken. If a car crashes, do you blame the car if the driver falls asleep at the wheel?

Technology is a tool and, when used by a skilled instructor, it can help to facilitate effective learning outcomes and personal relationships.

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Course Redesign, eLearning, Instructional Design

Discussion Boards: A Place Where Open-ended Questions Go to Die

graphic by Giulia Forsythe

graphic by Giulia Forsythe

Discussion boards are a critical tool for online learning environments. Often times, they are the only tool that faculty use to facilitate student-student interaction, and even faculty-student interactions. In asynchronous courses especially, this tools plays a significant role in building a sense of community.

Unfortunately, more often than not, discussion boards, or blogs, fall short of engaging students in the kind of interaction they would experience in a face-to-face setting. Not because it’s not possible, but because the discussion prompts are boring or poorly designed.

In order for online course discussion boards to be successful, a few factors come into play:  1) the question prompt is ho-hum (a regurgitation of the readings), 2) the willingness of the student to participate and connect with others through the discussion board 3) the discussion timeline. If any of these factors are amiss, student participation may seem rather drab.

So, this back to school season, revise your plan for discussion prompts. Think well beyond open-ended questions.  Purposefully design discussion assignments with the learner experience at the center and as a result you, and your students, will experience the benefits of a growing course community.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Challenge your students to do something new, as Jill Rooney suggests: require students to respond to a prompt about the material from a different point of view – a character in the story, the author, an onlooker, etc.
  • Ask them to argue the opposite side, as is done in debate courses. You may even consider dividing the students into groups (or teams) representing either side of the debated topic.
  • Could you incorporate a game into the discussion board assignment? For example, Rooney also suggests designing a “telephone” style discussion board prompt that enables students to add-on the storyboard of another student.
  • Use a real life scenario from the news and ask students to apply course concepts to the real life scenario.
  • For courses that involved projects, require peer critiques. This will force student-student interaction that both engages critical thinking skills and fosters personal relationships among students.
  • For a more advanced course, consider making students a part of the discussion board prompt. On a rotating basis, designate a student facilitator who is charged with leading the discussion that week. Dr. Sarah Eaton has shared a very helpful 1-page document on tips for facilitating online discussions.

Finally, to help build community further, consider designing social presence activities as well as curriculum/learning focused activities. Give students an opportunity to interact with each other without the formal framework of an assignment. Allow them to get to know each other and you. FacultyFocus’ article, “Tips for Building Social Presence in Your Online Class” is a good place to start.

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Course Redesign, eLearning, Instructional Design

Back to School: How to Revamp an Online Course

photo by Dvortygirl

photo by Dvortygirl

As an instructional designer, you may be working with educators who have taught the same course for several semesters or years, but that doesn’t mean the course can’t be improved! Here are my suggestions for instructional designers working hand-in hand with the instructor to analyze what they know, identify how they can improve, and finally implement those improvements.

Analyze
It is important to collate the information you already have about the learning experience of students. This information will provide the basis for strategic revisions for upcoming semesters. To analyze the course, answer the following questions:

  • Which activities did students struggle with last semester? What were their struggles?
  • What activities/assignments did not generate the student engagement the instructor had hoped/planned for?
  • Did the instructor receive a flurry emails from students regarding a specific question, topic, or activity?
  • What did you learn from student course evaluations from the last several semesters? Is there a trend?

Identify
After analyzing some of the ways the course can be improved, identify strategies to address those needs:

  • Do you need to revise or add additional instructions to more clearly communicate expectations about the course,  assignment, or activity?
  • Do prompts need to be reworked to better align with the objectives and expected outcomes?
  • Would an instructor led screencast aid in the learning process? Explain a difficult concept?
  • Could learning activities and lessons be enhanced by multimedia– videos, simulations, podcasts, etc.?

Implement
Once you’ve analyzed the data and identified how to enhance the course, strategically and methodically implement these changes. One of the advantages of online instruction is that modules and lesson plans can be fully developed weeks in advance. However, I recommend holding off on planning too far ahead.

At the time of implementation, you should also establish benchmarks for determining the impact or success of these changes. This will allow you to make revisions module by module, if necessary, so that students get the most out of the course and the leaner experience reaches is maximum potential.

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