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

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Round 2: Distance Learning

This week we were asked to consider and discuss the merits of learning technology solutions in the context of a corporate training requirement to train employees on a new information system who were in dispersed sites. Training employees on new information systems or applications can is always a daunting task. There will be all sorts of resistance and friction from the employees. Some will complain about the time and energy required to master a new process. Others will moan about how the old system was just fine and why should management change something that was not broken. Even those employees who consider themselves as technology early adopters will gripe about the new system not being the “state of the art” version that only true technocrati know about.

These are all factors that will cause friction during the implementation of training of a new information system in a training environment where the employees are co-located, but imagine these challenges being compounded by having employees who work at geographically dispersed sites. Fortunately, distance education technologies have evolved to the point where effective, symmetrical training is not only possible, it can be the instructional learning mode of choice.

One collaborative learning technology tool that has made great strides over the past few years is Web conferencing. Through this technology business can conduct a range of interactive, collaborative communications. Through proprietary Web-conferencing applications such as Webex®, or GotoMeeting® instructional designers can also develop and implement effective and engaging collaborative training. From, Simonson et al. on the capabilities of this tool as a learning technology:

“Web conferencing, combining telephone and Web technologies, overcome the limitations of voice-only technologies through the provision of “application sharing” of voice-only technologies through the provision of “application sharing,”…Virtual classrooms focus on synchronous teacher-student and student-student interaction through application-sharing and voice over IP. Virtual classrooms have been available for several years, but only recently…has usability advanced to a level considered acceptable by many. (2012).

Key to an effective Web conferencing capability is having the bandwidth required to support streaming video and audio feeds that can facilitate real-time interaction between learners and instructors. This interactive feature enriches the learning experience through discussions, feedback and collaborative dialog. It is not only the applications and the system hardware. Many Web conferencing systems also offer a screen sharing capability where remote users with the proper system credentials can access another users system to demonstrate a technique or process for an application.

Web conferencing can be an effective collaborative learning tool; however, there are some considerations that IDs should factor into their instructional design. A key one, is that the number of students participating at a given time during the training. As noted by In Tony Bates’ 12 ‘‘golden rules’’ for the use of technology in education the eight one discusses student size. From Simonson et al., “…student numbers are critical. Although this observation is made in the context of cost and media selection, student numbers are, indeed, critical in at least two other respects: class and working – (or discussion-) group size…The literature clearly indicates that there are practical limits beyond which the quality of instruction and learning are compromised.” (p. 179, 2012).

Critics of using Web conferencing as a training mode may point out that this method does not provide the personal, face-to-face experience, and that is a valid point. Yet, IDs should ask what better media to conduct information system training then the actual platform device where the system is used in a business context?

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.

Round 1: Distance Learning

My introduction into the modern distance learning field began about seven years ago when I took a position in a training and education company which had a fairly large department that delivered online courseware for mostly Department of Defense (DOD) clients. Our customers, who preferred that we use the term “distributed learning” rather than distance learning and I did not object to this definition at the time and really do not now actually.

One thing though, over the years I have encountered quite a number of what I perceived to be fad driven enthusiasm for the latest technological gimmick or new learning approach only to see it not work as promised or shoved aside by the next “new great thing”. This from the conclusion of the final of the three articles titled The Evolution of Distance Education: Implications for Instructional Design on the Potential of the Web focusing on K-12 education by clearly resonates with me with:

Is e-learning (and the technologies that support it) truly a breakthrough or is it only the latest “miracle” which promises solutions to all the problems associated with education and training? Clearly, our society loves simple answers to complex problems-especially if those answers require little or no effort…Rushing to adopt distance education, or any new technology, to avoid being seen as out of touch or outdated is as ephemeral as any fads.” (Moller et al., p. 66, 2008)…

So, I am a bit world-weary but not cynical about distance learning; however, I still hold out with quixotic fervor for the “grand unifying theory” of distance education.
The desire or impetus to capitalize on new and emerging communications means to expand educational access is a long established practice be it traveling lecturers, postal correspondence courses, classes over the radio or via the Internet.

DL

Still, it is gratifying for me that many of the innovators behind the implementation of a new DL program appear to be motivated by progressive ideals such as to “democratize” education by offering lower cost options to those not born into higher economic strata, or to provide greater opportunities for those who had a predilection for autodidactic learning. Perhaps an unintended consequence of DL was to provide a second or third chance for those who were perhaps intellectual late bloomers. Of course, many early and present day champions of DL were in pursuit of economic gain, but some, the Chautauqua Movement in the late 19th century comes to mind, clearly had more egalitarian or even noble objectives in their distance learning approaches. I see some of that noble spirit in some of the DL innovators of today and that is a good thing.

To define DL, beyond that it involves technology, geographic separation and an institutional proponent as related by Leslie Moller, et al. in is beyond my grasp at this stage. The future of DL is in a state of flux or creative chaos perhaps, but that maybe is a normal consequence of its evolution. Perhaps the by the next decade or so the distinction of DL from what is or was mainstream education may wane, and what we now think of as DL could be assimilated into the collective conscience as a seamless component of the holistic concept of learning. Drivers for this assimilation are visible now as technology platforms for DL become increasingly ubiquitous. Perhaps the tipping point for this will be when wearable technology such as Google Glass ™ becomes as common as mobile smartphones.

References:

Leslie Moller, Wellesley R Foshay, and Jason Huett. The Evolution of Distance Education: Implications for Instructional Design on the Potential of the Web. (Part 1 -3:Tech Trends, 52(3).