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).

Winding Down or What’s it All About Ralphie?

Learning has always been something I thought I innately knew but could not really describe very well. How I viewed learning was not unlike how former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart felt about obscenity. In his court opinion on an obscenity case before the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1970s he famously wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced…[b]ut I know it when I see it…”. ] So when learning was the topic of conversation or mentioned in the media, I went along as best I could, but with a less than full comprehension of something that was essential to my career in the e-Learning training and educational field.

I may never fully comprehend, nor may anyone for that matter, the human learning process in its entirety, but I have come much closer over the past eight weeks in understanding the underlying mechanisms and processes that frame the current body of knowledge of the subject of learning. The foundational neurophysiology and psychological sections were for me was a critical component in that much of what I had learned previously on these topics either had changed or was erroneous.

At this point of my journey to become an instructional designer, my inclination is towards the cognitivist and behaviorist theories as being closer to the “ground truth” as to how people learn; however, the theories of constructivism, the concepts multiple intelligences and connectivism have shaped how I view the learning process and from my perspective these all have merit and are relative to the discussion.

It helps me to view the behaviorist and cognivist learning theories as internal or intrinsic processes that occur in the mind and this enables me to have a fairly coherent framework to build upon when it comes to understanding learning processes and individual learning styles and approaches. While connectivism and constructivism present for me an internal and external aspect that oftentimes seem to have blurred boundaries between the mind and external nodes or networks. I also see much promise in connectivism In fact, connectivism may hold the key to linking together the various theories and concepts into a more comprehensive whole as the role of learning technology and networks expands and becomes more and more an essential tool and process in the acquisition and application of knowledge.

From some angles it could be said that I had a fairly in-depth comprehension of much of what was presented in the course from my time working as an e-Learning courseware designer and developer. In this job I interact with official IDs, some with PhD credentials in their name, so through a process of interaction and absorption, I became aware of educational concepts such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, Kilpatrick’s Four Level Evaluation Model and the cognivist approach of Richard Clark’s Guided Experiential Learning (GEL). That being said I have to admit that my understanding of learning was shallow or at least sufficient enough to follow what was being provided by our in-house IDs in terms of lesson and courseware guidance that I was responsible for delivering.

In the beginning of this reflection post I said that I may never fully understand how we learn. That being said at least I can now misunderstand with better clarity. Perhaps of more of along the lines of a personal interest is now I can hold my own a bit better when discussing courseware and curriculum approaches with those at work that are already in the ID guild. This however might be enough.

Coda: Learning Theories and Instruction

The English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), wrote in his 1734 An Essay on Man that, “The Alexander Pope by Michael_Dahlproper study of Mankind is Man.” I like to think that it is with the spirit of this line that learning theorists, instructional designers and others in the field perhaps approach the fundamental questions of how we learn.

For the past six weeks after writing my first post on my journey to become an Instructional Designer I have been introduced to a range of learning theories, concepts and styles that attempt to answer this basic question. Each theory and concept has merit and credibility to one degree or another, and I see my personal learning style or preference reflected in each. I tried with not much success, to firmly establish whether I am predominantly a cognitivist, constructivist or connectivist in my instructional design approach or some collage of them all, but every time I applied the template to myself or the instructional content that I was designing at the time I saw elements of other theories, concepts and styles emerge from the self-imposed framework like the skin of a large balloon being squeezed through a smaller metal grid.

The learning theories and concepts, behaviorist, cognivist, constructionist, connectivist, social learning, and adult learning all advance the discussion and help move us closer to understanding the fundamental question of what is and how we learn, but from my point of view, none of them provide and absolute answer. The half dozen or so learning theories, concepts and styles are for me at times like a nebulous swarming cloud of sub-atomic particles zipping around in a quantum state. They can apply and at the same time not apply depending on ones’ perspective approach and context at a given moment.

Yet, this is not a bad thing for as Pope alludes since we may never truly understand the nature of what it is to be human though the striving to understand the fundamental questions and issues in of itself is a worthy and even noble undertaking.  Thus, to some degree the learning theorists, instructional psychologist’s et al. who pursue this goal share much with the poets and philosophers of our modern era. When I look inward at my use of technology as a learning tool or conduit, I do fall into the connectivist camp given my propensity to create structured networks where I can store, retrieve and assimilate information. The ability to create my own learning personal network (LPN) has been a component of my learning approach long before there were commercially available search engines or even Internet repositories of data and information.

Paper filing systems, card catalogs, Rolodexes and the “bee’s knees” of them all were the compact personal organizers (leather bound of course) that became the signature branding item of the upwardly mobile professional.  Although I have a newer smart phone that rivals the computational capacity of a mainframe computer of the 1980s, and I admittedly cannot function without my mobile, I sometimes get a twinge of nostalgia for the analog systems as there is something a bit more authentic in handling real paper and writing notes in by pen.

For anyone who would like to read the full stanza from Pope’s  An Essay on Man which contains the famous line quoted above, here it is:

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan

The proper study of Mankind is Man.  Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,  A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:  With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,  With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,  He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;  In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;  In doubt his mind or body to prefer;  Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;  Alike in ignorance, his reason such,  Whether he thinks too little, or too much;  Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus’d;  Still by himself, abus’d or disabus’d;  Created half to rise and half to fall;  Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all,  Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d;

The glory, jest and riddle of the world.

Connectivism and Me

Image

That famous line from the English poet John Donne (1572-1631) that starts with “No Man is an Island” would be certainly hard to disprove in today’s ever connected world. Above is a brief depiction of my own network connectivity. If given more time, I would suspect that I could treble the number of nodes, connections and links which envelope me and connect me with so many co-workers, colleagues, family and friends but for the sake of brevity and clarity I focused on my personal learning network’s node structure.

How much is revealed by my network connections mind map? For instance, could someone accurately discern my profession, hobbies, interests or previous careers from a brief analysis of the mind map? Even if the node and link tags were removed, does a certain type of nodal structure imply indications of one’s educational level, economic status or social level? Will our network connections mind map become another thumbprint identifier, and what are the implications in regards to personal privacy and corporate targeted marketing?

So when did this online link and node structure start for me? My first encounter with the Lexus search engines in the mid-1990s, I believe it was Lycos, was almost an epiphany and I probably spent three days learning how to navigate and use this new and powerful tool and during this time I bookmarked useful and informative sites for future reference. Today, search engines are still an indispensable component of my profession when it comes to finding answers or doing research, but my content aggregators and feeds along with personalized homepage and social network deliveries of tailored content has greatly reduced the time I spend on search engines. Still, the search engine remains an essential tool that allows me to pinpoint key information and ideally allows me to download content in a form that is convenient for me to review at the office or off a mobile device.

The distributed nature of online content for me is its greatest feature. The data or information conveniently comes to me instead of vice versa. Finding or being lead to new online nodes or online communities of interest where I can find relevant information for my career or do discovery learning is also a pleasurable and often worthy pursuit. I also like to believe that I have developed my online search skills to a high level, but I am not sure if that is true and even if it was, how would this be objectively measured? Maybe there is an online scavenger hunt test that one could take?

The principles of connectivism such as learning is a process of connecting information nodes, and recognizing that understanding the connections between nodes, ideas and concepts apply to my every evolving knowledge and learning matrix. Each new node or connection online provides a potential place where I can through self-directed learning create my own Lev Vygotsky’s ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD) experience using online mentor and tutors to expand my comprehension.

The downside of this is that I am all too easily and frequently distracted and have to use a lot of self-discipline to focus on the matter at hand. This tendency to wander aimlessly through web-surfing is a habit I can do without on most occasions. At its basic level information is the true “coin of the realm” and one of George Siemens tenets of connectivism which states, “Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.” captures the criticality of having the skill to discern and decide how to construct and critically review one’s own personal learning network.

Learning Theories and Brain Development

While searching for sites that discuss information processing theory, I came across Instructional Design.org. Here was a section on learning theories which had a page describing George Miller’s well known information processing theory known as “Chunking” (1956) and another concept proposed by Miller, Galanter & Pribram (1960) known as TOTE or (Test-Operate-Test-Exit).

The article stated that these were, “two theoretical ideas that are fundamental to cognitive psychology and the information processing framework”. I was familiar with chunking, or the concept that, “short-term memory could only hold 5-9 chunks of information (seven plus or minus two) where a chunk is any meaningful unit.” However, the TOTE concept was new to me and I spent some time reviewing this theory but not sure if it is as “fundamental” a concept as chunking.

As for the value of this website to Instructional Designers, at first I was a bit skeptical. For one the site had advertisements and a job board with the most current listing dated September 2011 so it may have been a while since the content was updated. Also, I could not ascertain who was hosting the site at first but later found that Richard Culleta, who is described as an educational innovator, was behind this site. I also found that he has another site of interest to “IDers” called Innovative Learning which is probably a younger sister site to Instructional Design.org.

The content on Innovative Learning was clearly newer and was well stocked and organized by Mr. Culleta in terms of  content useful for those in the ID field. Still, Instructional Design  had much to offer in the way of information and resources presented in a well-organized fashion. It might be a place where one could spend some focused time and leave with a broad if not deep understanding of many aspects and facets of Instructional Design, so I will give this one thumbs up though I would start first with Innovative Learning since the content is “fresher”.

My next search objective was to locate a site addressing the brain and learning and it was no surprise where this hunt led. Most of us are already familiar with the American Psychological Association (APA) if only because it provides the “go to” citation and style guide for scholarly papers, but the APA is obviously much more than a reference source. According to its homepage banner:

“The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA is the world’s largest association of psychologists, with more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members.”APA-logo

The APA’s website is a vast resource trove for a wide range of topics relating to the psychological field, and of note for Instructional Design is its section on Education and Psychology.

An informative article about learning and the brain was posted here titled, Research in Brain Function and Learning by Margaret Semrud-Clikeman, PhD. This article provides a solid overview of brain physiology and development from prenatal to late adolescence in an easy to digest format. She also describes some general and practical approaches to optimizing instructional delivery during the different stages of brain development and learner maturity levels.

These recommendations are of great benefit for anyone in the instructional or curriculum development craft. Her article also touches on many aspects of learning theory, models, and functions and addresses differences in development by gender as well as instructional considerations for children with learning issues such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism.

Given the gravitas of the APA in the scientific, medical and academic domains, its section on Education and Psychology is a good candidate for favorite bookmarks for anyone in the Instructional Design field.

The Doorway to Professional Learning Communities

This not my first blog, in fact, I may have even been an early adopter since I built a personal blog in 2005 chronicling my experiences as an overseas contractor for family and friends. Compared to the current state of the art, my humble blog was rudimentary with simple text and basic images; however, I discontinued the blog when I began a new job which did not entail much in the way of interesting travel. Besides, who wants to see pictures of my gray cubicle space when a year before I was posting wildlife images from East Africa.

Since then my interest and participation in the “blogosphere” has been passive consisting mainly reading interesting posts that colleagues or friends have randomly passed my way. Thus, in my first foray into instructional design blogs and websites, I was very impressed with quantity and in most cases, the quality of content available.

I began my reintroduction into the blogosphere by examining the Blogs about: Instructional Design hosted on WorldPress.com. Quite a number of the blog posting titles piqued my interest, and here are some examples:

  • MOOCs are here- let’s leverage them thoughtfully!
  • PowerPoint vs. Storyline (aka: Telling vs. Experiencing)
  • Connections between Higher Education and Gaming: Motivation and Rewards
  • My Case For Powerpoint continues…

Going down the list of recent postings, I came across a blog posting which appeared to be suited for me in my quest to become an ISD titled More Essential and Helpful Resources for Online Instructors – online learning insights A Blog about Open and Online Education. Based on the About description of the blog site below this may be one to add to the Favorites list.

“This site features a collection of carefully selected resources specific to teaching online; geared to educators seeking skill development for creating meaningful online discussions, communicating effectively with students, and providing constructive feedback.”

Another ID blog post title that caught my eye was, Articulate – Excitement from a Design Junkie which was on the Love Thy Introvert blog site. Byt itself the title of the blog site is intriguing, and perhaps revealing of the author, but the posting mainly was a fan letter instead of having much substantive information for Articulate®, a suite of commercial design and development applications and tools for eLearning. This blog, however, provided a link from a commenter to an Articulate focused website community called eLearning Heroes that I will follow-up when time permits  as we are considering incorporating Articulate applications in our production process.

Returning to the World Press Instructional Design site, I came across a blog posting titled An Instructional Designer’s Philosophy posted on Tausend Talks EdTec  an EdTech & Instructional Design Professional. What caught my was not thThe Thinker, Auguste Rodin, (1840 - 1917)e posting title as much as that the poster used an image of the classic statue of Rodin’s, The Thinker, as a graphic metaphor for this post on her ID philosophy. I gained anew an appreciation of the use of a powerful image to engage and to frame the discussion.Also the poster’s blog site was well done with a good blend of multimedia content and interesting facts and anecdotes of her experience as an ID in academia and industry. From a business perspective, she has done a good job in personal branding in this blog site that will make her more enticing to career recruiters. Something I may need to emulate someday.

Another ID/eLearning site which I have used recently at work in the last six months or so is eLearning Industry which touts itself as, “The Leading source in the eLearning Industry” on its home banner page, and this might be an accurate claim. This site has a large presence on the career and professional oriented social media site LinkedIn which is how I became aware of its presence and became a group member – one of around 53,000. I have found elearning.com to be an informative site when it comes to general trends in the industry as well as a good launch point to explore other areas in the ever evolving ID/eLearning realm. However, it is a commercial site with advertisements and solicitations for seminars, etc., so one has to be aware of this when reviewing posted content.

This was my first foray into ID blogs and I was somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of content from IDs and eLearning students, academics and professionals. I do not know at this point if I will find more utility from the theoretical academic leanings blogs or from the more technically oriented e-Learning application sites that I initially gravitated to on this go around. Perhaps my objective should focus on integrating both types.

The amount and range of information in the ID blogosphere is daunting and even a bit intimidating to me right now. There is so much out there that I encountered during this initial foray that I wish that my schedule would allow me to delve into and explore this new terrain more thoroughly. Hopefully, at the end of this course I will have better situational awareness of the “best of breed” ID and eLearning blogs and sites as a practical takeaway.

References

Note: The sites referenced in this post are hyperlinked in their respective titles, and are also available on DIIGO.com with the tag “Designing Instruction for Distance Learning”. Additionally, the full web address for each are here:

Blogs about: Instructional Design

http://en.wordpress.com/tag/instructional-design/

More Essential and Helpful Resources for Online Instructors – online learning insights A Blog about Open and Online Education

http://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/essential-and-helpful-resources-for-online-instructors/

eLearning Heroes

http://community.articulate.com/

Tausend Talks Edtech

http://julietausend.com/2013/08/21/an-instructional-designers-philosophy/

eLearning Industry

http://elearningindustry.com