Round 4: Distance Learning

Consider the following scenario from our Distance Learning course, EDUC 6135-2: A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face (f2f) training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.

Based on the above, here is how I would approach this course conversion as an ID in training.

In the pre-planning phase the trainer needs to gather a great deal of information, determine some baseline structures and devise some initial design strategies. Some basic instructional design (ID) processes using an ADDIE model other approach is a first step. This could include a task analysis, confirmation of existing or development of new learning objectives or goals, an analysis of the target audience context and a wire frame product outlining an instructional flow, and evaluation strategies. Even if these were done for the previous f2f course, there may have been flaws in the original analysis and design that contributed to the communication issues. A critical undertaking is the determination which topics are best for the distance learning modules and the f2f portion.

An assessment of the scope of the project, the schedule, and the resources required are also key considerations during pre-planning. A comparison of available instructional delivery modes and resources for both online and face-to-face  instruction is needed to make decisions regarding course resources and infrastructure. An example of this is the process of selecting a course management system (CMS) including weighing the options between “free” and proprietary vendor supplied versions.

If the original f2f instructional content consists of MS PowerPoint slides or even analog training aids, e.g. overhead slides, posters, etc., the trainer has an excellent opportunity to enhance learner engagement and interaction in the online distance learning (DL) mode. Designing and developing engaging interactive multimedia content built with proprietary vendor tools and applications such as Adode’s e-Learning Suite and Creative Suite™, or Articulate Storyline™ is one approach.  Another is to use “free” multimedia applications such as Audacity for audio, Gimp for graphics and even free course authoring tools such as myUduto™ for SCORM conformant content. These multimedia objects can also enhance the f2f instruction. The trainers should avoid creating what Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, term as “shovelware”. Shovelware refers to the practice of “doing little more than transfer course handouts and selected discussion topics to the courseware management system (CMS).”  (p. 134, 2012).

The trainer’s role will change considerably as the program transitions into a blended format. For one, the overhead and level of complexity associated with the online instruction is far greater than that typically found in a f2f classroom environment. Rolling out the the online portion of the blended training will consume much of his time and may require augmentation from experts in the technology associated with online learning environments For the instructional delivery, the trainer may require supporting instructional facilitators to manage activities on the CMS. After the online training is deployed, there are follow-on maintenance and associated tasks incumbent with keeping the CMS up-to-date with instructional content. The trainer may also need to assume the role of technical facilitator to deal with issues confronting the learners with the CMS.

To encourage trainee participation and discussion, the trainer should engage early on with the learners via e-mails or other messaging formats and continue to engage them in a group or individual contacts. Virtual collaboration tools such discussion boards, wikis, and blogs tailored for learner discussion and exchange are some of the methods that will foster communication in the online learning environment. A solid syllabus will provide a framework for the learner and as part of the syllabus, the trainer should establish expectations up front regarding online communication and discussions. If the training cohort is co-located, then the trainers can hold f2f meetings or virtual meetings to help form relationships between trainers and learners as well as between learners to learners. The trainer should be an active participant in all sessions either online synchronous or asynchronous and during f2f sessions.

From Simonson et al. are some best practice considerations that the trainers can consider when converting the f2f modules to a distance-learning format.

  • Determine the module outcomes in terms of the learner gaining the knowledge, skills and attitudes actually needed
  • Avoid the Shovelware approach
  • Organize the modules and provide clear guidance for all the requirements to the learners
  • Keep the learners constantly informed through CMS announcements, direct and group e-mails,
  • Develop assessments that reflect the behaviors defined in the module objectives through application level of learning rather than at the knowledge (recall) or comprehension levels.
  • Use Web 2.0 resources to enhance the content, collaboration and interaction through student engagement and higher-order learning.
  • Use adult learning principles for the target audience.
  • Ensure the learners to use the distance learning applications and tools and have opportunities for training embedded in the distance learning course. (2012).

Another checklist of sorts from Christopher Pappas in an online article from eLearning Industry appropriately titled 5 Tips to Convert your Traditional Course into an eLearning format for converting traditional modules to a distance learning format:

  1.  Identify the eLearning Course Format – 1) Asynchronous, 2) Synchronous Learning and 3) Hybrid / Blended Learning
  2.  Research the Instructional Design Models – ADDIE, Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction
  3.  Determine use of Interaction: 1) Learner to Content (L2C), 2) Learner to Instructor (L2I), 3) Learner to Learner (L2L)
  4.  Choose the right educational technology.
  5.  Revision Procedure. Revise your eLearning course before you offer it to your learners. The following revisions procedures worked for me and I highly encourage you to follow them. (eLearning Industry, 2012).

The eLearning Industry Web site is sponsored by private commercial vendors of online education products and many of the articles steer readers to vendor offerings so I take these suggestions with a grain of salt.

References:

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

Pappas, C. (2012). 5 tips to Convert your Traditional Course into an eLearning format. eLearning Industry. Retrieved http://elearningindustry.com/top-5-tips-to-convert-your-traditional-course-into-an-elearning-format