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.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Selecting Distance Learning Technologies

Two thoughts should be kept in mind as we talk about the use of technology in instructional design: “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 pp. 172).  Also, “Distance learning courses will be carefully planned to meet the needs of the students within unique learning contexts and environments (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 pp. 174).    

These two facts help us realize that we need to match the learners and their environment to the objectives of the course.  Then we must identify the best strategy for illustrating the information we want them to learn.  It is at this point when a decision is made on the best medium and technology to help in accomplishing the learning objectives.   In this week’s multimedia program, The Technology of Distance Education, we saw different examples of technologies that may be used as tools in distance education.  These included podcats, discussion technologies, blogs, concept maps and media sharing sites. These technologies should develop reciprocity and cooperation among students, use active learning techniques, give prompt feedback, and respect diverse talents and ways of learning among others (Beldarrain, 2006). 
We are now asked to review an environment and suggest technologies that could provide the best solution to the stated situation.  Based on the scenario presented in Example 3, there is a requirement to produce an asynchronous learning solution to address safety concerns at a manufacturing plant.  The solution should be modular and illustrate best practices on how to operate many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor.  Technology can greatly help with this objective, here is how:
Let’s choose a CMS, say Moodle.  This technology will allow us to load the course, keep track of attendance, keep track of scores obtained and even create a community to continue sharing best practices among employees once the course is completed.  Individual modules should be created containing safety best practices for each of the machines on the floor.  The best way to accomplish this would be with a scripted video indicating the appropriate ways to utilize each of the machines.  This could be followed by a flash based simulation where the student is a character and needs to make choices on which action to take given different scenarios.  Another character would also be created with flash technology to act as a coach.  The coach would congratulate the learner when he/she makes the right choice or provide a full explanation of why the learner has chosen the wrong option.  Utilizing the testing function in Moodle, the learner would take a final exam and a final grade would be recorded.   Anyone achieving a grade below an established goal, would have to repeat the course.   Finally, with the integration of web 2.0 technology, a community would be created where workers can continue to communicate and share safety best best practices. 

Please listen to the podcast below entitled “Instructional Design, Learning Meets Technology” for a great explanation of how instructional designers are utilizing technology to create better solutions.


Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2),139–153.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Distance Learning - What is that???

I've always had a thing for Real Estate.  Back in the 80's, I saw an advertisement of a company offering a correspondence course in real estate investment.  I called, paid my $250.00 and started receiving material which included a book, exercises and a phone number to call if I had any questions.  At the end of each section, I would send back the completed exercises, until the end of the course when I got a certificate of completion.  Was this distant education? 

Let's look at the definition of distance education we learned this week: "Institution based, formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources and instructors" (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek, 2012 pp. 32).  Based on this definition, I may have been exposed to distance learning, not necessarily distance education.  It is my opinion that there is a difference between the institutionalized formal distance education and learning experienced through open systems or e-learning designed to teach a particular skill or even for information purposes. As you can see from the above mind map, the components of what I see as distance education out-rigor those of online-self learning.  This difference is also noted by Dr. Simmonson in this week's video.

As we've seen, distance learning is not new.  In my opinion, the definition will not change; however, the availability of technology and worldwide communications is changing the playing field while bringing about challenges and implications to the overall education system, the instructor and the instructional designer. 

Online learning is in tuned with the any time, any where concept.  Through technology, today's workforce is working more and more on a work any time, any where basis.  As this becomes more the practice than then exception, professionals in need of furthering their education are turning to distance education, as it fits into their lives and working model.  Corporations are turning to online learning, mainly for savings and economic reasons; as they can make education available to employees at any time, save on travel, avoid productivity losses and train many on a single solution (Moller, Foshay & Heuett, 2008).   Distance education is also playing a role in the  K-12 space as instructors and educational institutions try to map the digital world in which students live to what they experience while they learn (Berk, 2010). 

As you can see from the mind map above, there are several advantages and disadvantages to online learning.  None the less, it is important to look at some of the implications this type of learning brings about.  In the K-12 space, students are growing up in the digital age; but does this necessarily mean that they are ready for distance education? Again, if we look at above diagram, under the "learners" category, can we consider K-12 learners ready for distance learning? I'd dare to think that although online programs are emerging for K-12 students, technology should be used as an aid to teach these students, but a full distance education program for K-12 has many implications; including skillset of instructors and instructional designers,  which I don't beleive have been addressed yet.  In the corporate environment, there is major concern in terms of the quality of solutions developed and assessment methods (Moller, Foshay & Heuett, 2008).  Similar implications exist in the higher education arena going from quality, instructor training, program recognition, appropriate utilization of available technology, student interactions, collaboration and more (Moller, Foshay & Heuett, 2008)

So, what is the future of distance learning? I can only assume that it will continue to grow and numerous efforts will continue to be made in order to achieve what I consider to be the most important component of such an environment:  providing a high level of education while maintaining student engagement.  Such can only happen when a system is in place which promotes the success factors listed on above.  Based on my own experience, distance learning and distance education are both possible and giant steps have been taken towards appropriate utilization of technology.  I believe it is evolving and definitely the way of the future. For more on this topic and to gather others' opinions on this matter, have a look at the following video. It takes a bit over an hour to watch, but I feel it is time well spent.



Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: training and development). Tech Trends, 52(3), 70-75.
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). Tech Trends, 52(4), 66-70.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). Tech Trends, 52(5), 63-67.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012).  Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson

Berk, R.A (2010). How do you leverage the latest technologies, including Web 2.0 tools in your classroom? International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 6(1), 1-13