eLearning Quality

written by: Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC ISD Graduate Program Director

LearningWhen I tell people that I am a college professor, they usually ask me what I teach. When I tell them that I teach instructional design and e-learning development, I often get a puzzled look from them. After explaining what instructional design is, the conversation usually turns to eLearning and quality.

Many times people tell me that they think the quality of e-learning is not good. I ask them what their experience is with e-learning. I asked if they have ever taken an e-learning class or have even taught a class, or have been part of an online class. The answer is usually no.

What they usually tell me is that they think that e-learning is simply ”not very effective”. As an educator I am interested in how people form their opinions. When I asked them how they formed their opinion about e-learning, I discover that they have very little first-hand experience with it.

Often times they will say “I heard that it is not very good” or “my friend took a course and didn’t like it”. As a student and working professional, I have literally taken hundreds of in-person courses. Guess what? Some of them weren’t very good either. I don’t think that e-learning has a corner on the market on low-quality courses.

Sound critical thinking tells us to try to get objective information about a topic. It tells us to ask questions to get to the heart of the matter. I find it interesting that in higher education some highly educated professionals who embrace the use of critical thinking, throw it out when it comes to eLearning. For some unknown reason anecdotal information seems to be good enough for some people when it comes to assessing the effectiveness of e-learning.

Let’s face it. eLearning is not for every instructor, nor is it for every student. What I do feel confident about is that e-learning will not be going away anytime soon. At some point the “e” will be dropped from the term “e-learning” and we will simply focus on what is important….the “learning” itself.

The Top Reasons Trainers and Faculty Don’t Like eLearning

eLearning can be intimidating to many because it requires us to adapt and change to a new way of teaching and learning.

Change is tough. We want progress, but not change.

eLearningeLearning requires us to change.

Change often arrives before growth.  While eLearning may be regarded as a positive change, others may dispute that. What is not in dispute is the growth of eLearning.  The Sloan Consortium has reported that over 7.1 million college students took an eLearning class in 2013.  The Association for Talent Development (formerly American Society for Training and Development) indicates that 39% of the all training for employee in 2013 was technology-based delivery.

While the growth of eLearning presents opportunities for some people, it presents many challenges for others.  Most of these challenges center around the concept of change.  As noted by Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, people resist change for a number of reasons.  I have encountered a number of faculty members and trainers that simply hate eLearning.  I believe that most of the issues relate to change.

Why do some learning professionals really dislike eLearning? Here are the top reasons why:

eLearning Is More Work for Me
This may be true, especially at first. It takes time to learn anything.   What many trainers and faculty members realize is that eLearning makes you rethink your whole approach to teaching and learning.  You simply can’t lecture.  Effective eLearning means that you have to redesign your course.  Additionally, it may mean that you will need to learn some new technology tools.

I Might Look Incompetent
Yes, this may be true as well.  Remember the first time you tried to ride a bike?  You probably weren’t very successful.  Now you ride a bike without even thinking about it.  I remember teaching my first online course. It certainly wasn’t the best course I’ve ever taught. What I realized was that investing the time in learning online teaching skills was worth it.

The Quality of eLearning is Poor
There are some bad courses out there.  This includes both eLearning courses, as well as in-person courses.  To generalize that the quality of eLearning is inferior is a false assumption.  Usually when I hear this argument it really is a diversionary tactic.  The real issue is that some people fear they would not be good online teachers.  The “poor quality argument” is an attempt to throw people off track, rather than addressing their real issues.

My Job May Be Threatened
Some faculty and/or trainers feel that they may lose their job if they have to teach or train online.  I think it is rare that organizations force someone to teach online in a “sink or swim” situation. Most organizations offer training and opportunities for trainers/faculty to shadow some classes.  Additionally, they can co-teach with an experienced faculty member before they teach an online class solo.

Technology is Not for Me
This is a legitimate concern. eLearning relies on technology.  Online learning is not for every teacher/trainer, nor is it for every student.  Some people who say this have not given eLearning an honest attempt, or they didn’t receive proper training.  It is amazing that when technology benefits an employee, they can learn it pretty quickly (e.g. telecommuting).  Since minimum levels of technology skills are now required by many employers, I don’t think that it is unreasonable for organizations to ask trainers or faculty to teach online.

eLearning is not going away anytime soon.  Learning professionals can choose to accept it or reject it. Given the growth of eLearning, I believe the wise choice is to embrace it.  Choosing otherwise will limit your career opportunities.

So what will you choose?

eLearning – What I Wish They Told Me…

eLearningWith eLearning being so popular now, many trainers and college faculty are learning to teach their first online class. Read on and hear from Dr. Greg Williams, UMBC ISD Program Director.

eLearning Resources Abound!

Today a number of great resources are available to beginning online teachers. These eLearning resources range from blogs and websites dedicated to this to entire books on the subject. Additionally, there are numerous great courses now that help you learn how to teach online. I taught my first online graduate level course over ten years ago. eLearning resources were not as plentiful as they are now. I was given a syllabus and an empty course shell in Blackboard. I think someone wished me good luck. That was about it.

Looking back, there are a number of things that I wish someone told me before I taught my first online class.

8 eLearning Things I Wish I Learned Ahead of Time:

Know Your Students – It is important that you get to know your eLearning students (and their motivations). For example, do they need your course to graduate this semester? Are they working three jobs and taking care of kids? Are students taking your course because they love the topic? Or did they register because all their other class choices were filled? Have they taken online classes before? Beware the students taking your class because they think that online classes are “easier”.

Be Deliberate About Communication – Have a plan about how and when you communicate with your eLearning students. For example, I tell my students to expect a response from me in 24-48 hours when they post a question or send me a direct email. Don’t leave them guessing. Over the years I have received numerous VERY long emails from students. They have dozens of questions and concerns about their performance in the course. Rather than respond via email, I usually ask them to talk on the phone with me. It gets to the point quicker and helps to deal with any issues directly. Additionally, it may be a good idea to have an eLearning course FAQ.

All Students Will Not Read the Syllabus – As teachers we are very proud of our course syllabi. Be prepared that a number of students will not read it. How do you deal with this? You can structure an assignment that forces them to read the syllabus (scavenger hunt). Or you can award bonus points if students can answer questions about your syllabus. Remember that the syllabus is the contractual document between the students and the college. When there are issues over grades, the courts always refer back to the syllabus.

Technology Will Fail You and Your Students – No matter what you do, technology will not work at times for you and your eLearning students. Murphy’s law mandates that this failure will happen at the worst possible moment. Encourage (require?) your students to have access to a backup computer. Additionally, have them save everything in MS Word first before they post it. It’s also a good idea to have them save files online using tools such as Google Drive and others. This will minimize issues such as “my hard drive died and my assignment is gone”.

Check Your Course Every Day – I originally thought that checking my eLearning course every few days would be more than enough. Wrong! What I discovered was that it makes much more sense to check in online every day, even if it is only for 20 minutes or so. Students constantly want feedback in a timely matter. Additionally, questions may pop up that are time sensitive and need to be addressed quickly.

eLearning2Simple Is Good – My original eLearning course design was much more complicated than it is now. I used to think that “more was better”.  What I discovered over the years was that I sometimes confused students by giving them too much information. They didn’t know what to do or where to go on the course site. Now I’ve really scaled my course design back. The lesson I learned was “it’s not about the technology”.

Students Know How to Take An Online Course – Even though the first online course I taught was in 2004, I really thought that students knew how to take an online course.  Boy, was I wrong! Taking a course online is a completely different experience than taking a face-to-face course. What I’ve learned is that just because I have a lot of experience teaching and taking online courses, it doesn’t mean that my students do. We sometimes forget that everybody does not use a computer every day.

Students Will “Disappear” – I was surprised to learn that a handful of students simply “disappeared” from my course. What I discovered was students simply stopped showing up or stopped participating in the class. Even worse, they never even told me why. I had to seek them out myself. What I found out was they had work issues, personal issues, medical issues, etc. Some stopped participating just because learning online wasn’t for them.

eLearning is Not for Everyone

Over the years, I’ve learned that online courses are not for every student, nor are they for every instructor. As an instructor, it is helpful to keep an open mind and realize that you can always learn and get better. Ten years from now, who knows what I’ll write about this topic.

For more info, check out my video on this topic.

Always in Learning Mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

Join us for a Complimentary Webinar on September 24, 2013

UMBC’s ISD Now Webinar Series is holding its next complimentary webinar, “Top 10 Blunders in Developing eLearning… And How to Avoid Them”, on September 24, 2013.

This webinar will be held from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EDT.

This complimentary webinar will touch on the challenges of Interactive Multimedia and eLearning. Joe Ganci of Dazzle Technologies will discuss how preparation is the key to avoiding common mistakes. If you have developed eLearning, you will recognize some or all of these mistakes. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will walk out of this session resolute in creating better eLearning with fewer headaches.

rsvp-isdforum2

Always in learning mode,

Your friends at ISDNow

Scenario-Based eLearning: What it Is and Why it’s Important

Connie Malamed, blogger at the eLearning Coach, recently interviewed Ruth Colvin Clark, PhD, for a podcast that explored topics related to scenario-based e-learning.

Ruth Colvin Clark, Scenario-Based eLearning, Instructional Design, ISD, learning, elearning

Dr. Clark presenting during an ISD Now Forum event.

What is scenario-based learning?

In the podcast, Dr. Clark started off with providing a definition of what exactly a scenario is. While she said scenario-based learning has several names and definitions, she defined it as:

A pre-planned, guided inductive learning environment designed to accelerate expertise in which the learner assumes the role of an actor responding to a realistic assignment or challenge.

How can instructional designers improve scenraio-based e-learning?

During the discussion, Dr. Clark discussed the role of guidance in scenrio-based e-learning, saying that a common mistake designers make is to create scenarios that either lack guidance, or which provide too much guidance. She said one way to get started with scenario-based e-learning is to start with simple scenarios and go from there.

In the podcast, Dr. Clark shares examples and tips to help instructional designers start implementing scenario-based e-learning, or improve what they’re already doing with scenarios. Check out the full podcast below, and for a more in-depth view, read Dr. Clark’s book, Scenario-Based e-Learning.
https://isdnow.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/elc003.mp3

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISD Now

6 Ways to Design Effective eLearning Courses

To design effective eLearning courses, one must pay special attention to the nuances that can make or break a learning environment.

A critical component to a successful course is one that is well-designed in terms of being engaging, practical and easy to navigate. For a course to be effective, students must be interested and motivated to learn the material. With so much vying for their attention, how can we better design courses that engage and motivate our audiences?

effective-elearning

SHIFT’s eLearning Blog talks about 6 ways to design effective eLearning courses.

Effective eLearning element 1: The importance of how adults learn

The brain works hard to learn, digest, and retain information. When a student is engaged in learning, the brain steps into action and fires off all kinds of responses. A well-designed course will cater to the brain’s high functions and allow the learner to walk away with a solid bank of new information.

Effective eLearning element 2: Adding graphics to improve learning

People judge a course by how it looks. Does it appeal to their senses? Does it make them want to learn? Does it flow? Graphics should lift a course to higher learning ground by being relevant.

Effective eLearning element 3: Aligning text near relevant graphics

Seems simple, and it is! It’s also critical in helping students retain information. When appropriately displayed, the brain registers the graphic with the text and implants it in memory.

Effective eLearning element 4: Using audio to explain graphics

According to SHIFT’s blog, including audio to your courses may increase the effectiveness of the learning experience up to 80%.

Effective eLearning element 5: Keeping it real (human)

Students are human beings, not robots, so be sure you’re tapping into their emotions. Technology is great with all of its useful bells and whistles, but at the end of the day, students relate to new information best when it also taps into their senses.

Effective eLearning element 6: Avoiding distractive visuals, audio and text

Nothing spells disaster to a learning environment than distraction. Be sure the right things are standing out to students by eliminating the clutter of unnecessary visuals, audio and text.

Always in learning mode,
Your friends at ISDNow

p.s. Do you have additional elements to add? Please feel free to chime in by leaving a comment. To learn more about how to design effective eLearning Courses, read SHIFT’s eLearning Blog.

End of The Year Evaluation: How’d Your Training Programs do in 2012?

There are only a few weeks left in 2012. Things are about to slow down in advance of the holiday season, so hopefully you can take advantage of this time and reflect upon the learning programs you implemented over the past year. Check out David Vance’s article on Chief Learning Officer’s website on why you should measure and evaluate.

For eLearning programs specifically, Marc Rosenberg recently wrote an insightful piece on “Testing Your eLearning Strategy” on Learning Solutions Magazine’s website.  Marc points out eight questions that instructional designers can ask themselves to help determine whether or not their eLearning strategy is solid.

One of key points Marc makes is that strategy should put you ahead of trends.  In an era where technology develops at a rapid pace, waiting until everyone else is on-board is simply too late. The key, Marc says, is to “jump in, get started, and prepare for continuous improvement.”

In other words, it’s important to remain flexible. That flexibility, however, must be balanced with commitment. He says trainers must remember to also balance expectations with resources and time.

If you run eLearning programs, check out Marc’s post, and run his eight-questions past your strategy. If you’re not confident in how your strategy stands up against his test, get started on revamping things. With a fresh year on the horizon, there’s no better time to start.

Keep learning,
Your friends at ISDNow

If you’re not already following us on twitter, please do! www.twitter.com/isdnow

Join us for UMBC’s ISD Now Webinar – November 7

allison-rossettMark your calendar for November 7, 2012 at 2 p.m. EST for UMBC’s ISD Now Webinar: Mobile Devices for Learning and Performance Support

REGISTER TODAY!

We all worry about the influence of our learning programs when our participants move out of sight and into the workplace. Mobile devices help to extend the arms and voice of the instructor into the field of play. They deliver at the moment of need, or pretty darn close to it.

Join Us and Learn:

  • What are the sweet spots for mobile learning and mobile support?
  • What is the difference between mobile learning and mobile support?
  • What are planners and sidekicks and how can they address the transfer problem?
  • Can apps help with soft skills, such as leader development?

PRESENTERS
Allison Rossett, Professor of Educational Technology at San Diego State University and in the Training magazine HRD Hall of Fame.

Dr. Greg Williams, Moderator Director and Clinical Associate Professor of Instructional Systems Development Graduate Programs, UMBC

COST:
Complimentary

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 ~ 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST

Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now.

Viewpoint: mLearning and Today’s Schooling

Image

Written by: Zane L. Berge, Ph.D.

Over the past two decades, mobile devices have transformed not only the way we communicate, but also the social and business landscapes generally. It is difficult to pick up an educational journal or read a blog on education without reading something about mobile devices. There are many case studies described mobile technology used for educational purposes. From elementary grades to graduate school, these cases strike a similar note: they demonstrate a possible transformation in education compared with the business-as-usual-schooling experience. Let me hasten to add that many educational technology projects have been tried over the past three-quarters of a century, but very few have shown the systematic or cultural changes necessary to be considered sustained efforts.

Shifting gears for a moment, historically, one of the roots of the current mobile learning phenomenon, in its broadest sense, is distance education. In their book, Moore and Kearsley (2012) define distance education and go on to point out a problem with the terminology commonly used in the field. Many people use the term distance learning or now elearning,synonymously with the term distance education. But there is a clear distinction: what students do at a distance is distance learning; distance education is the context provided to them by their teachers within many different flavors of educational establishments. The terms are not synonymous.

I contend there is a disconnection with the potential of using mobile devices for schooling. In the case of mlearning, the common usage is probably much more accurate than if we were to say mobile education. The use of mobile devices that is so prevalent in transforming communication, business, and society is also transforming everyone’s learning, but not schooling. Why? Mobile devices are most useful for performance support or for solving just-in-time problems, in context, that are driven by personal curiosity or need. Does that sound much like schooling?  Education is, for the most part, built on the notions of just-in-case knowledge acquisition, that is driven by standardized curriculum for a classroom full of students (i.e., not individualized situations nor motivated tasks driven by personal curiosity).

My sense is that, as time moves on, the mobile devices we have (phones and tablets of all shapes and sizes) and that will be developed will become more widespread throughout the world, so affecting everyone’s learning very significantly. Yet, unless the core structures and philosophies driving schooling change, mlearning will be just one more of the long list of educational, technological innovation that failed to help our schools. Formal schooling will continue on its path to total irrelevancy with regard to learning; while actual learning will take place more and more in the world outside of school.

Dr. Berge is a Professor of Education at UMBC. His chief research interests are related to distance education and online learning. He is a prolific and widely published author of books and journal articles on these topics.

How do you Incorporate Social Learning? (Do You?)

Earlier this summer, Jane Hart wrote about the “Social Workplace Learning Continuum” on her blog Learning in the Social Workplace. She proposes that the learning and development community stop thinking of formal and informal learning as complete opposites, and instead, apply the Social Workplace Learning Continuum thinking. Jane shared the following five ideologies for achieving this hybrid approach to formal and informal learning:

  1. Think “learning spaces/places,” not “training rooms”
  2. Think “social technologies” not “teaching/learning technologies”
  3. Think “activities” not “courses”
  4. Think “lite design” not “instructional design” -for organized activities
  5. Think “continuous flow of activities” not just “response to need”

Following these points will challenge instructional designers to always be thinking of ways to foster a collaborative and social learning environment, ultimately meeting the needs of  end-users whose skills with community and collaboration tools continuously evolves.

But it’s not just solely about training users to use social software or introducing them to a new community, as Jane says. Encouraging self-organization and collaboration is a critical component to truly embracing social/collaborative learning in the workplace.

To get a sense of how professionals are already integrating the Social Workplace Learning Continuum, and to gauge interest and willingness to apply this approach, Jane has launched a new survey. Head over to her blog to check it out (click “take our survey” at the bottom).

We want to know, too. How, specifically, are YOU making social collaboration part of your learning strategy? We’d love to highlight some innovative approaches in an upcoming blog post!