Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Building Interactivity Into E-Learning

Bill Bruck points out that
the e-learning industry today has a problem. Specifically, Most e-learning replicates the worst practices of education electronically

and very much in line with my complaint of the limited "choice space":
Even when the courses are not mere page-turners, “interactive” is defined as choice points in the software, with pre-defined answers provided for pre-defined choices. “Evaluation” most often consists of is simple recall/recognition quizzes - the lowest skills in the learning hierarchy

He continues to elaborate on a "Five-Step Model for High Impact Learning":
1 Content

2 Q&A: Adult learners need to map conceptual content to their own frameworks and understand how it works in their situations.

3 Practice: Many skills are best learned when they can be practiced a safe training environment. If a skill involves critical thinking or written documentation, it can be effectively practiced in small groups within discussion forums that are optimized for learning, and coaching can be provided in this same manner. ...

4 Apprenticing: Many skills benefit from ongoing coaching over time, ...

5 Teaching: All of these techniques and technologies lend themselves to graduates serving as coaches and mentors of successive cohorts of learners, to hone their own skills and prepare for career advancement where coaching others is a critical skill, ...
[underline are mine]

I have underlined a few points which I would like to elaborate on.

I have noted here1 and elsewhere that the concept of a cohort of learners have been missing in learning technology community. Without the ability to identify a group of learners who have similar needs and willing to learn at approximately the same pace, there is little opportunity of collaborative learning. Ad hoc formation of learning group is fine, but for the complete duration of a task, the group has to work together in an agreed time frame.

Another point I noted in Bill's article is the returning to human mentor and/or teacher. This is a good point, but not very scalable for large scale implementation. While running parallel small groups is prefectly scalable both technically and pedagogically, engaging a large number of mentors, or a single human mentor to look after a large number of groups is not scalable.

In our role play simulation, while we acknowledge the need of moderator, however, the main "mentoring" does not fall squarely on the moderator's shoulder. Moderator should act and intervene at slightly as possible. The learning process is activated via team playing a single role. As a team playing a role, the team needs to maintain a consistent role personality, tones, tactics and strategy. Such a requirement will force the team member to articulate their ideas among the team member critically. Team members will also review each proposed eaction critically in order to achieve the best outcome for the role.

By removing this additional mentor, our design is more scalable than what is proposed by Bill.

1My other papers on SCORM implementation can be found at

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Setting limits on the number of posts by students in discussion forum

When online courses are taught using discussion forums, it is common for teachers to set minimum number of posts requirement.

In a discussion forum (ITForm), I suggested, instead, set a maximum on the number of posts by the learners.

My reasoning goes something like this.

1. Obligation of participation is implicit. As participants for a credit-earning course, they have their own motivation and reason to take a particular course. The students know that to get the credit, they need to participate. No need for the teacher to play around with this one.
2. Part of the participation is that there will be work required. One common mistake in setting tasks is setting tasks that serve no purpose to the learner, appear to be a task for the task's sake, or even worse, the task is for the sake of the teacher. In other words, the task does not make sense for the learners in turns of promoting learning.
3. An artificial lower limit on the number of posts in a discussion forum is completely arbitrary. Why 3, or 5 or whatever number you set? What we should be looking for is "quality" in the posts, not quantity! Setting a lower limit as a hurdle requirement does not promote quality and may be viewed as a requirement for the sake of a requirement.
4. Setting an upper limit, on the other hand, serve a REAL purpose. Reduce the workload of the teacher. If every students make 10 posts per day, in a class of 20, that would be 200 posts per day. How can a human cope with that volume?
5. As a rule of thumb, online post should only deal with a single issue each. Setting an upper limit also forces the learners to prioritise the issues at any time and put in effort, thinking and reflection, to create quality posts on the issue at hand.

What about if there is no post in the discussion forum? Is that a problem?

Yes, it is a BIG problem if there is no participation.

If the learners are there, waiting for the teacher to initiate and only response to the teacher's question, of course, it is very likely that there will be no discussion at all.

If we subscribe to a constructivitic approach to learning, we understand that the ownership of the learning process belongs to the learner. We need to "seed" the forum with issues, step aside as a facilitator and let the learners take initiatives. It may seem difficult. One easy way to start is to delegate different issue to different students and ask them to be discussion leader for the controversial issue. Another way is to start with concrete scenario where the learners can bring in their previous experience and start from there.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

cheap film and sneaky teaching

By using free software and inexpensive digital camera, Steve Brooks shows us how to ask the students to produce a video. That would be great fun and LOTS of things to learn. The technology is the minor objective here. As Steve correctly points out,
Students frequently know how to do the tasks, they just lack the ability to take a big problem (or opportunity) and break it down into its piece parts (lifecycle phases). By giving them a fun but challenging project and a methodology or “tool” to complete it, you will help them learn how to manage other challenging parts of their lives.

Want to post your students' final production for public viewing, consider some free media hosting such as Internet Archive or OurMedia. Freevlog has a step by step tutorial to show you how (or show your students how).

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ideas on asynchronous pull technologies in course design

Eric Tremblay in his e-Learning Acupuncture blog posted a list of very interesting and useful ideas of asynchronous learning activities which are basically ACOLLA (asynchronous collaborative learning activities). Instead of repeating all his wonderful ideas here, please go and visit his page.

I totally agree with him that
So the permutations and combinations of asynchronous learning activities and resource presentations are almost endless. Some work better than others. Simple designs work best and up-front grading rubrics guide the DE students in a clear fashion.
[my emphasis]

Students giving feedback to each other, guided by check lists and criteria (as rubrics perhaps), can serve two purposes:
1. another opportunity for students to reflect on the subject matter (in an objective role of providing positive and constructive ideas),
2. provide a pointer for the teachers to grade the work. (Well, you may choose to aggregate the grades provided by the students to be the final grade of the work, why not?)

The responsibility of maintaining the dialogue is now shifted into the activities themselves. You may also reduce your continuous solicitation of contributions to the forum.

Isn't this a wonderful idea? Brilliant!