After coming to the US for higher education, I have taken several online courses toward completion of my Masters Degree, and I am taking some as I pursue my doctoral degree. I also design online courses for faculty members, and I think I have an insight of judging an online/web based course from three different perspectives – a student, faculty, and designer.
Though there are many things that I question when designing web based instruction, below are three areas which I think require attention.
The learning environment in WBI should be carefully designed. Andrew Houle, in his blog, 4 Principles Good Design discusses the application of principles of proximity, contrast, repetition and alignment in context of building cleaner and attractive websites. I think these principles are equally relevant when designing web-based instruction/Online learning/elearning. Applications of these principles become limited under a course management system. But still, for example, by using lowercase and uppercase letters we can create contrast which can distinguish one section from its subsection and thus create a visual hierarchy. Again, by grouping reading/assignments/PowerPoints or additional materials related to an objective together we can chunk content for better understanding and thus create a visual unit. Following a certain pattern (repetition) to organize content will provide consistency. A consistent layout, easy and clear navigation, logically chunked information can reduce the extraneous cognitive load in web based instruction. Concise but clear instructions on the policies and procedures and schedule of the course help the students to focus on the more important aspect of the course – the learning content.
Anderson (2003) has mentioned 6 forms of interactions of which “teacher-student, student-student, and student-content interactions” are important to me. Kristy in her blog post in points 2, 3 and 4 has appropriately described the importance of teacher-student, student-student, and student-content interactions respectively. I also came across this video on “The visions of students today” in Dr. Grant’s tweets. Students of this digital age are no more satisfied with passive learning and prefer to learn by exploring. If the students being amidst hundreds of other students feel the way they do in the video, then it is high time that we think of the students who take courses detached from rest of the live world, sitting in front of a computer screen. Based on the nature of the content and the vast availability of technology/multimedia, there is a need to create unique ways to present the information that would help grab the attention of the learners, instead of just asking the students to go through a bunch of bulleted PowerPoints notes. Tom Kuhlmann, in his rapid e-learning blog, discusses ten rules to create engaging elearning. Also, as learning comes from experience, practice, conversations and reflection; creating authentic, engaging and interactive assessments, keeping in perspective how adults learn would help the learners to demonstrate their learning. Stan, in his blog what motivates adults to learn aptly mentions success, volition, value, and enjoyment as four key conditions of learning activities to keep adults motivated to learn. Seven principles for technology supported learning can be followed when designing instruction for undergraduate students.
Technical Requirements & Support
Amidst all the available sophisticated educational software and the wish to make our instruction engaging and attractive, we often tend to get distracted from our original goals and objectives of instruction. Instruction should be designed keeping in mind the audience’s technical accessibility and adeptness. In the debate of pros and cons of web based instruction where I found constant access of the online courses as an advantage, undependable technology or technological failures is reported as a disadvantage. It is also mentioned that not all students have access to computers or high speed internet at home and may have to rely on technology at school or other public places. Hence, care should be taken that the instruction is such designed that it loads quickly, is compatible with different browsers and all the links work. If any assignment requires the use of advanced technology (for example, podcasts or exercises using software’s not ordinarily used), then appropriate support for technological help must be provided (may be via help desk or tutorials). If any part of the course requires authorizations or logins, accurate access information must be provided. Back up plans should be arranged in event of technological failures. Though technology is inevitable and is an important part of our education, it is not about technology, it is about learning. Keeping it simple is the charm for good web based instruction.
Anderson, T. (2003). Modes of interaction in distance education: Recent developments and research questions. Handbook of distance education, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers, New Jersey.
Conger, K. (2011). If you are creating instruction for the web, you better be doing these 4 things. Retrieved from http://viral-notebook.com/blog/2010/02/26/if-you%E2%80%99re-creating-instruction-for-the-web-you-better-be-doing-these-4-things/
Gaytan. J (2007). Visions shaping the future of online education: Understanding its Historical Evolution, Implications, and Assumptions. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, X (II). Retrieved from: http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer102/gaytan102.htm
Houle, A. (2010). Four principles of good design for websites. Retrieved from http://www.myinkblog.com/2009/03/21/4-principles-of-good-design-for-websites/
Jennings, C. (2011). ID- Instructional Design or Interactivity Design in interconnected world? Retrieved from http://charles-jennings.blogspot.com/2010/05/id-instructional-design-or.html
Kulhmann, T. (2/2/2011). Here are ten rules to create engaging elearning. Retrieved from: http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/here-are-ten-rules-to-create-engaging-elearning/
Pros and cons of web based instruction. Retrieved from http://www.createdebate.com/debate/show/Pros_and_Cons_of_Web_Based_Instruction
Skrabut, S. (2011). What motivates adults to learn? Retrieved from http://tubarks.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/what-motivates-adults-to-learn/
Technology supported learning. Retrieved from http://wikieducator.org/Technology_Supported_Learning
Smita Jain is a doctoral student in the department of Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Memphis. She assists faculty in designing online courses for the department of Health and Sport Sciences. She enjoys her work very much as it is also her area of interest- Online/Web based teaching and learning. She has tutored middle school children and helped preservice teachers to prepare them to integrate technology in their classrooms. After completing her degree she wants to become a faculty, researcher, and consultant in the field of Instructional Design and Technology.
Image courtesy of Lars Plougmann at http://www.flickr.com/photos/criminalintent/5403052781/sizes/l/in/photostream/