Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Analyzing Scope Creep

The agreement was that a case based, hands on solution would be developed in order to have sales teams compete against each other to win a deal over the course of one entire week.  We had the budget, the sponsorship, the instructional designers, developers and case experts.  Designing a one week experiential course was not an easy task; but sounded like a lot of fun.  

Based on the established phases of the sales cycles, we would build a case which comprised a challenge in each of the phases.  Students would be given specific instructions which incorporated new learnings and methods they were to implement in order to compete against the other teams.   The sales model contained eight steps grouped into two different phases.  We had two subject matter/case experts that each concentrated on the activities for one of the phases.  The problem was the level of detail to be included in the challenge exercises.  We had initially agreed on what would be covered in each phase.  None the less, as design started, one case writer would indicate that some important detail had been left out and needed to be included.  As that detail was included, the second case writer would indicate that as phase one had changed, he needed to add on to phase two in order to reflect the changes to phase one.  The scope of the project continued to snowball to the point where the entire definition was changing; however, money, resources and time requirements remained the same.

“The most common result of scope creep is an upset client who was not told how long the change delays the project and how much it changes the project’s cost” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer & Sutton 2008, P. 346).  How true that turned out to be in this case.  I did follow Dr. Stolovich’s advice on communicating regularly with the stake holders and making everyone aware of the effect of changes to the project; however, in one of the meetings, we were actually proposing a three month delay of the project and a 15% increase in the budget.  That did not fly with the upper management audience who was in agreement with the new scope but in total disagreement with the additional time and budget.  The end results were that my manager wanted to keep these stakeholders happy and he pulled money from another project and allocated it to this one.  We worked twelve hours a day for four months and delivered one of the most successful programs the company had ever seen.

In retrospect, there are a couple of things I could have done to better manage the situation.  Had the additional money not been there, we would have been forced to implement a change of scope process in order to reach a compromise as to what would be sacrificed in order to implement new requirements.  I also think I could have done a better job was in the project definition phase.  The way I broke down the course made initial sense, but had I done enough analysis, I would have realized the risk of scope creep once the SMEs dived into the details of the case.  Wieger, 2000 indicates that   scope creep most often occurs when the product scope was not clearly defined.  As well, in my initial SOW, I should have followed Dr. Stolovich’s advice and built at least a 20% cushion for incidentals. 


Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Wiegers, K. E. (2000). Karl Wiegers describes 10 requirements traps to avoid. Software Testing & Quality Engineering, 2(1).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Communication - A Must for the Project Manager

Buzzword Bingo: Communication
You have said it, you have written it down, you have sent it on e-mail and posted it on the team’s web page; but, have you communicated it? Did the receivers perceive the meaning of what you are trying to convey? Were they in a position to understand it? Did it promote an attitude of positive response?  I looked up the word communication in our text’s glossary section and it says: “Sharing the right messages with the right people in a timely manner” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer & Sutton, 2008).

Up until its interpretation, communication is simply information; which according to Gillard and Johansen, 2003, is simply existing, static and lifeless, waiting to be interpreted and for meaning to be added to it.  Technology makes it possible to make information available through multiple means; sometimes leading project managers down equivocated path of thinking that once information has been made available it has been communicated.  Well, think again; we haven’t until the receiver has understood it, interpreted it and acted in a way which supports and advances the project.

The question then becomes, how do we effectively share the right message with the right people at the right time? I am not sure there is a single, all encompassing answer for this question.  The minute you talk about a message being perceived or interpreted you know things are complicated; as each human has the ability to perceive messages according to their own internal processes, experiences and environments in which they exist.  Having said that, here is suggestion number one: As you are communicating, keep in mind the audience, their experiences and the environment within which you are communicating.  “A proactive communicator is cognizant of environmental influences, recognizes each as an enhancer or an inhibitor, and makes proactive decisions that shape the environment impact rather than decisions that are merely reactive” (Gillard & Johansen, 2003 P.26).

The message needs to be transformed into words.  A decision needs to be made on tone, organization, style, medium, purpose and receiver’s possible reaction.  Keeping these in mind, will help the communicator determine the way in which their message will generate the desired result.   The appropriate message will take into account the receiver’s knowledge of the situation, probable attitude, general educational level, job-specific educational level, age and gender (Gillard & Johansen, 2003).

Communication throughout a project is not a onetime event. Would you agree that communication effectiveness can be measured based on the feedback it receives? I think that the wise PM, constantly gages feedback; verbal, non-verbal, attitudinal or written in order to measure the effectiveness of his/her communication and how it needs to be adjusted going forward.  

Going back to perception and interpretation, Gillard and Jhansen, 2003, mention the following barriers to be kept in mind as we embark in the communication process:

·         Word interpretation

·         Perceptions of reality

·         Attitudes and opinions

·         Nervousness

·         Emotional distractions

·         Fatigue or Illness

·         Cultural and Social Backgrounds

·         Education level

·         Gender Related

·         Leadership style and personality

 The effective communicator will recognize the above barriers and be on a constant quest to break through them.  In his video, Dr. Stolovish says that Project Managers are diplomats, not technicians.  I particularly like this thought, as it denotes the fact that not everything about the pm’s job can be learned from a project management system.  The human element; particularly along the lines of communications can make or break the career of such individual.

Now, let’s talk about my perception of the message in this week’s exercise.  I would categorize the overall message as a polite, direct request; s it has elements of both.  I think that the e-mail was perfect.  It started with empathy for the receiver’s lack of compliance, it went on to clearly state what was required and the consequences for non-compliance, asked for specific compliance date, offered an alternative solution which might make it easier for the receiver to comply and ended with an appreciation statement. 

The voicemail message, while containing the same information, was not as positively received.  Voicemail is a bit more personal than e-mail; meaning that I expected a friendlier voice and salutation: Hi Mark, this is Jane.  I know you’ve been busy ……...  Just the fact that she did not introduce herself gave me a more negative impression in this communication. 

The personal communication was the worst.  I pictured myself coming out of an all day meeting, trying to prioritize what I am going to do first, answering voicemails, e-mail, etc. and this person standing over my cubicle rambling on about how it is my fault that she is going to be late submitting her report.  There was no two way interaction; which I would expect in a face to face conversation.  My perception of that message was: I know you are busy, but I really don’t care and you better get to my stuff first.

Yes, it is all in the interpretation.  PM’s are diplomats who make their living convincing others, who have no direct reporting relationships to them, to do what they want them to do.  Methodology and reports provide the framework for doing that; but, at the end of the day communication abilities will dictate their success.


Gillard, S., & Johansen, J. (2004). Project management communication: a systems approach. Journal of Information Science, 30(1), 23-29.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Stolovich, H. (2012). Project Management Concerns: Communication Strategies and Organizational Culture. Retrieved on January 21, 2013 from tab group id = 2 18;url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_2097260_1%26url%3D

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Qualifying the Opportunity - Post Mortem

A Project Management Dashboard
A year before the start of this project, this major player in the computer industry had entered into a brand new business space; providing outsourcing of technical services.  In other words, the sales force would walk in and convince corporations that they could save money by having all their IT services outsourced.  From their computer mainframes, to their personal computers and technical support; for a fixed monthly fee representing less than what they were currently spending, companies could bring in a group of experts who would run their IT operations.  At a time when savings was in the mind of every corporation, this sounded like a very promising proposition.  In fact, market share grew impressively within the first year of business; however, profit margins were so low that the outsourcing sector was operating at a loss. 

Following several studies, it became obvious where the problem was.  The sales force was promising anything the customer wanted to buy, cheaper than the competition and promising a higher level of service; this, without looking at profit margins or the company’s capability to improve the customer’s current IT environment for a lower cost.  This process of looking at a prospective business opportunity from a feasibility and profitability perspective is called opportunity qualification.  Following the opportunity qualification process yielded a decision on whether or not a particular opportunity was worth pursuing.

 It became obvious that a worldwide sales force of 3500 employees needed to be trained in opportunity qualification.  Face to face training was off the table because of the amount of students and their geographical location.  Hence, a project was launched to develop a CBT where the sales team would learn and demonstrate their ability to qualify opportunities. 

I will always be proud of this development.  As the company needed to become profitable in this new business, all the stars were aligned for a successful project.  Sponsorship was as high as it could be, resources were committed immediately, there were designers, case experts, technical writers, application development personnel, subject matter experts and of course, an excellent project manager; me!!.  The development utilized the latest available technology to create an experiential, real life, case based experience.  The learner was a character who was placed in a situation to qualify a deal and make a final decision on whether or not to move forward in pursuing it.  The training consisted of 5 modules that utilized flash for animation and character creation, real voices to simulate conversations and an electronic coach that would evaluate progress, provide feedback and analyze decisions made by the student.  The students’ progress throughout the module was evaluated and by the end of each module, the student would have to make the right decisions at least 80% of the times in order to be allowed to move to the next module.  This was definitely one of two training programs that top the list of projects I have ever managed. 

If we look at the four phases described by Greer, 2010, the four initial phases:  determining need and feasibility, creating a project plan, creating specifications for deliverables and creating deliverables, went very smooth.  None the less,  trusting the degree of sponsorship, I made a huge mistake:  I did not consider that the audience; all sales people, would be more interested in going out to sell than spending a total of at least six hours sitting in front of the computer.  Hence, the test and implement deliverables phase did not go as well as anticipated.  In fact, it put in grave danger the results of the entire project.  In this phase, we missed the mark on the accuracy and effectiveness of our implementation strategy, on the hand off of deliverables to the audience and on our ability to obtain high quality feedback on how to improve deliverables.

Ensuring that stakeholders, including learners, are ready, willing and able to receive and implement the learning solution is an important part of the success of the project.  Consulting with the project’s audience and stakeholders is recommended by Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer and Sutton, 2008 as a way of identifying and overcoming related project limitations.  If given the opportunity to do it again, I would have placed communication steps in the plan that included regular communication with the audience about the intent of the program and progress being made as well as ensuring that sponsors were advertising and promoting the training during sales, team, staff and management meetings. I would have also proposed that management provide learners adequate time off the field in order to complete the training.

The end result to this project was a management directive where all sales employees were given 30 days to complete the training or else.  Moral of the story; don’t get so excited about the development that you forget about communicating with the audience you are developing for.   
Greer, M. (2010). The project managemeent Minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Guide to Reflection - RWU“As a matter of fact, it is very clear that instruction delivered to distant learners is effective and that learning outcomes can be successfully attained when offered to students at a distance” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012).  That being said, why isn’t distance learning the preferred method of learning?  Sho & Berge, 2002 speak of categorizing barriers to distance learning into 10 categories:
 1.       Technical expertise, support and infrastructure
 2.       Administrative structure
       3.       Evaluation/effectiveness

4.       Organizational change

5.       Social interaction and quality

6.       Student Support Services

7.       Threatened by technology

8.       Access

9.       Faculty compensation and time

10.   Legal issues

     If I had to prioritize these barriers, I would say number one would be Social Interaction and quality.  I feel that this is the category which mostly influences perception of distance learning.  What will happen over the next 5 to ten years?  According to George Siemen’s video, technology is becoming more reliable and continues to provide a channel for establishing meaningful relationships online; making distance education more and more acceptable each day.  As distance education, through technology, could still be considered a young concept, I think it is during the next 10 to 20 years that the foundation will be set for it to take off.  Namely, the social interaction barrier will be next to nonexistent, given people’s total acceptance of meaningful online relationships.   At that point, the existing generation of technically savvy learners will demand the type of learning experience which can best be achieved through online learning.  That being said, I feel that over the next 10 to 20 years, given  learner’s technological expertise, reliability of technology and learners’ acceptance of online relationships, online learning will become a leading if not the leading method of choice for education.  Given their characteristics, as explained by the principle of Andragogy within Adult Learning Theory (Conlan, Grbowski & Smith, 2003), adult learners will remain the largest consumers of distance education. 

     Societal perception of distance learning will only improve as people try it and find it to be a meaningful experience.  Instructional designers play a key role in both of those aspects.  Part of our jobs entails suggesting the best delivery method for solutions we are asked to develop.  This is our opportunity to suggest online or distance learning and make it visible as a viable and beneficial option.  Once we have the buy in, then we have to develop good solutions, founded on appropriate learning theories which are engaging and meaningful to the audience.  Just talking about it and selling the concept is not enough.

     As instructional designers, not only are we chartered with selling the distance learning concept and producing good solutions, but we also play a major role in the continuous improvement of distance education.  We have to continue to look for ways to break down the barriers mentioned before.  We need to develop solutions which utilize technology as a resource and exemplify the value of online learning, we have to constantly develop evaluation strategies; both formative and summative, in order to improve quality, we have to pay special attention to the organizational changes within our work settings and become change agents through our trainings and we need to work with those who feel threatened by a new technology driven learning environment.  Most of all, we need to ground our work on solid distance learning theory.  To me, it is all about engaging the learner through communication and interaction.  I am a fan of The Theory of Interaction and Communication (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012), as it is based on “feelings of belonging and cooperation as well as to the actual exchange of questions, answers and arguments in mediated communication” Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 p. 48).  Think about it; isn’t that the foundation for success of distance learning?


Cho, S. K., & Berge, Z. L. (2002). Overcoming barriers to distance training and education. USDLA Journal, 16(1), 16-34.

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects. coe. uga. edu/epltt.

Laureate Education Inc. (Producer). (2012) The Future of Online Learning [Video]. George Siemens

Locke, L. F., Silverman, S. J., & Spirduso, W. W. (2010). Reading and understanding research (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

From Face to Face to Blended Learning - Best Practices

Best Practice #1 – Do not implement a “Craft Approach”
A blended learning approach may not be a natural fit for all face to face instructors.  Therefore, the instructor may have the tendency to take what has worked for him/her in the face to face environment and develop the course and materials based on that experience.  However, models for traditional delivery and models for online delivery are different and should not be seen as one of the same (Moller, Foshay and Huett, 2008).  According to Moller, Foshay and Huett, 2008, utilizing this approach leads to the following pitfalls: 
·         May prevent the utilization of a wealth of available technology in order to help with student interaction, multiple levels of communication, definition of new types of engaging assignments and implementation of appropriate evaluation techniques. 
·         Conversion efforts may be very time consuming to the instructor; leading to a feeling of non-accomplishment and isolation
·         Approach is not rooted in solid learning theories
·         Approach may continue to be teacher centered as opposed to learner centered
Best Practice # 2 – Success is in ADDIE  
So you’ve successfully gone through all steps in ADDIE and designed your face to face course.  As you are now converting to a blended environment, you must go back through the steps in ADDIE; this time with a blended learning mentality.  Here are a few specific things to keep in mind as you work your way through the ADDIE model with blended learning in mind:
·         Find out more about your learners and assess their characteristics and attitudes; including attitude towards technology and the online learning environment (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012).
·         Revisit learning objectives for the course (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011)
·         Take the opportunity to reaffirm learning objectives by sharing them with other subject matter experts and gathering their feedback (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011)
·         Utilize previous qualitative and quantitative research results in order to identify ways you will use the blended approach to enhance the learning experience (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012).
·         Assess what is to be improved or what is not working in the face to face environment (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Assess the type of available technology, skills support structure and budget within your environment
·         Based on objectives, determine amount of face to face vs. online learning distribution for the course (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Develop instructional strategies that will enhance student learning and interaction within the course utilizing available technology
·         Look for opportunities of broadening learning outcomes through the blended approach; to include the areas of critical thinking, team work and logical analysis (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Design strategies to create a collaborative learning environment
·         Design strategy and techniques to help students learn online; including orientations, scaffolding and motivational techniques (Lim, 2004)
·         Based on analysis and design specification, develop all instruments specific to your blended training.  These may include a class guide, syllabus, student resources, online resources, tutorials, podcasts, etc.  (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Ensure that all developed material specifically addresses the learning goals (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Ensure appropriate linkages, leveraging and support between online and face to face portions of the course (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Establish grading criteria for online as well as face to face sections of the course (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Evaluate and implement appropriate CMS (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012).
·         Begin student collaboration as soon as course begins through the use of icebreakers, setting students up in teams, etc. ( Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Communicate equipment and technical requirements ahead of course start
·         Provide student with appropriate resources to address technical difficulties
·         Implement strategy to communicate course expectations, learner responsibilities, methods for communicating with instructor, grading mechanism, etc. (Shibley, Amaral, Shank & Shibley, 2011).
·         Ensure there is a summative evaluation process in order to possibly correct course issues prior to future implementations (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012).
·         Establish success criteria specific to the blended course  (Morrison, Ross, Kalman & Kemp, 2011)
·         Ensure implementation of Kirkpatrick’s Evaluation approach or AEIOU approach in order to measure success of the program (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012)
·         Particularly in a business environment, establish measurements for ROI (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012)
Best Practice # 3: Stop Teaching and FACILITATE
Newsflash!!!! Once you decided to implement blended learning, your role as an instructor drastically changed.  It is no longer about what you have to say; but how you lead learners in the path to acquiring the knowledge they need to obtain.  Not only are you now responsible for ensuring your students learn, but also for keeping them engaged and learning in a collaborative environment.  The instructor should take a back seat and skillfully guide the learners in their process by monitoring online discussion and encouraging participants to look at the material in the right perspective; while skillfully steering and guiding conversations in the right direction (Easton, 2000).  Here are a few tips from Lim, 2004 on how to do that:
·         Participate actively in discussions by answering questions and providing feedback
·         Pose conflicting questions that elicit reflection and critical thinking
·         Keep discussions focused
·         Draw conclusions while contributing advanced content knowledge and insight
·         Recommend resources for extension of learning while responding to learner questions and providing feedback.
·         Set meaningful tasks that are meaningful to learners and promote active participation in discussions
Best Practice # 4 - No Success Without Engagement
Your good looks, charming personality and excellent spoken communication abilities will no longer maintain your students engaged in the online environment.  Success of your course will be contingent upon your ability to maintain your learners engaged during the online section of the course.  Lim, 2004, recommends the following in order to maintain your learners engaged in the course:
·         Accommodate the learning process to the targeted learner
·         Ensure that activities are relevant to the learner through contextualization of such activities
·         Ensure that learners have the knowledge to learn from the learning environment
·         Ensure learners have access to technology, resources and  supporting tools 
·         Avoid cognitive overload by not overwhelming the learner
·         Ensure online discussion and the overall online environment is appropriately facilitated
·         Where possible, utilize authentic activities based on life events the learner can relate to which focus on applying new knowledge and skills
·         Provide students with timely performance feedback
Best Practice #5 – Organization Counts  
The way you organize your learning site content will have an impact on student perception and engagement.  Here are five strategies you may use in order to create a positive perception on the student as shown on:
1.    Upload a syllabus as the first module of the course
2.       Lay out the expectations for students as to how they will communicate with the instructor and with other students
3.       Use the calendar feature to show assignment due dates and other important dates
4.       Use Modules to organize course materials and activities
5.       Properly utilize grade book features in order to give students
Best Practice # 6 – Use Technology Wisely 
Technology will play a big part in the successful implementation of your blended learning solution.  However, “Technology is not the issue.  How and what we want the learners to learn is the issue and technology is the tool (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 p. 172).  As such, here are a few tips as recommended by (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012):
·         Quality design of learning activities is important and technology should be used to support it.
·         Each technology has its own strength and weakness. There is no super technology and a combination of technologies may be required.
·         Usage of technology may be expensive.  Ensure appropriate balance between required use and available budget.
·         Keep in mind student numbers.  It may affect your choice of technology usage
·         Keep in mind that teachers may need training in technologies used
·         Teamwork is important.  More than likely, you will not be able to handle all aspect of technology on your own.  Reach out to technology specialists for help.
Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects. coe. uga. edu/epltt.
Easton, S. S. (2003). Clarifying the instructor's role in online distance learning. Communication Education, 52(2), 87-105.
Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. TechTrends, 48(4), 16-23.
Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.
Mortera-GutiƩrrez, F. (2006). Faculty best practices using blended learning in e-learning and face-to-face instruction. International Journal on E-learning, 5(3), 313-337.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson. 
University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence. (2012, Dec16). Great teaching by Design. Retrieved from:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Impact of Open Source

At times, it seems like comparing apples to oranges.  Other times they are right in line with one another.  The biggest commonality is the fact that they are both on line, they both use technology, there is learning involved, learning styles play an important role in student success and it would seem as if adult learners would be most successful  with the model.  We are talking about Distance Education vs. Open Courses.  When we define distance education as “institution based formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive communication systems are used to connect learners, resources and instructors”, (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 pp. 32), we start seeing differences.   Although one could argue they are institution based, the open courses reviewed were not interactive nor was there a connection to the instructor or other learners.

If it seems an unfair comparison is being made of these two different learning mechanisms, you are probably right.  Distance education has emerged as a valid alternative to learners requiring a formal education; who have particular limitations preventing them from regularly scheduled participation in face to face programs.  On the other hand, open courses are meant to provide “access to knowledge for the global public, including underprivileged and isolated students   in developed and developing countries who are excluded from higher educational opportunities” (Morgan & Carey, 2009 pp. 3).  As such, these courses may not be as structured, from an instructional design perspective, as courses designed for distance learning with a particular audience in mind.  By its nature, self directed learners, defined as “individuals who take on the responsibility for their own learning process by diagnosing their personal learning needs, setting goals, identifying resources, implementing strategies and evaluating outcomes” (Conlan, Grabowski & Smith, pp. 10), would be ideal learners for this type of experience.

There should be no arguments that a design process, of which ADDIE seems to be most popular, should be followed in order to appropriately design instruction.  According to Morrison, Ross, Kalman & Kemp, 2011, such process should take into account: 

·         Who is the program developed for (learners and their characteristics)

·         What do we want the learner to learn (Learning objectives)

·         How is the subject best learned (methodology, learning theories, strategies)

·         How will the extent to which learning is achieved by determined (Evaluation Strategy)

Per Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012, a successful learning solution should comprise a system made up of learners, content, methodology, materials and the environment.  Keeping these components balanced while maintaining interaction is essential for success.  In his video, Dr. Piskurich also explained the importance of appropriate planning throughout the process regardless of whether a distance learning, blended or face to face solution is to be developed.   Of course appropriate planning starts with a solid foundation built on distance education theories which emphasize independence and autonomy of the learner, industrialization of teaching and interaction and communication (Simonson, Schlosser & Hanson, 1999).    

Another factor that plays a major role in the success of an online learning course is the ability to maintain learner engagement.  Failure to accommodate the learning process to the targeted learners is one of the major pitfalls in online learning; leading to cognitive overload and student disengagement (Lim, 2004).  The instructor him/her self plays an important role in facilitating relevant discussions, facilitating online activities, answering questions, providing feedback, recommending resources, etc; all important elements of maintaining learning engagement. 

In summary, an appropriate distance learning solution will have the following major qualities:

·         Built with the learner in mind
            ·          Follows appropriate design process built on solid learning theory
            ·         Appropriately balances learners, content, methodology, materials and environment
            ·         Maintains interaction
            ·         Integrates technology in order to increase student interaction and collaboration
            ·         Maintains learner engagement
            ·         Relies on the instructor for facilitation of discussions, feedback, answering questions, etc

Keeping the above in mind, here are a few thoughts after reviewing the Yale and Harvard open course sites.    We need to go back to the apples to oranges comparison.  These sites do a great job at sharing knowledge based on courses that were designed for a face to face university audience.  As such, they were not specifically designed for the online audience that reviews the solution as an open course.  They are recorded lectures and in some cases, additional materials like a syllabus, course notes and exams may be provided.  Having said that, if we looked at it from a distance learning design perspective, they fail in the following:

             ·         There is no interaction built into the course
            ·         There is no instructor to provide support or feedback
            ·         The course was created for a totally different type audience
            ·         There are no strategies to maintain the student engaged
            ·         Technology use is limited to video
            ·         There is no mechanism to evaluate student progress

Unfortunately, it cannot be said that these courses appear to be carefully preplanned for distance learning or that textbook recommendations were followed or activities implemented to maximize learning.  None the less; that does not constitute a failure of the open course sites or of the open course strategy.  Open courses remain a viable resource for those who do not have educational systems available to them.  In fact, open course models are emerging and being applied in different contexts; including disciplines where global perspectives are important, in applied professional programs and as resources for distance or face to face programs (Morgan & Carey, 2009). 


Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K. (2003). Adult learning. Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects. coe. uga. edu/epltt.

Laureate Education Inc. (2012) (Producer).  Planning and designing Online Courses (Video). Dr. George Piskurich and Jacqueline Chauser

Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. TechTrends, 48(4), 16-23.

Morgan, T., & Carey, S. (2009). From open content to open course models: increasing access and enabling global participation in higher education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(5).

Simonson, M., Schlosser, C., & Hanson, D. (1999). Theory and distance education: A new discussion. American Journal of Distance Education, 13(1), 60-75.