Volume 7, Issue 7
July 12, 2006
Focus on key principles: developing your online course
As noted in the June 2002 Educator's Voice article, eLearning specialist Jodi Bollaert suggests that highly usable eLearning materials are a result of combining sound instructional design with equally sound, usable technological courseware design. Course-design techniques must be appropriate to the learner/user and support both content delivery and instructional objectives. In the same vein, internationally known usability expert Jakob Nielsen's comments on web design can be applied to the eLearning context. That is, a usable eLearning course helps learners achieve their educational objectives in the simplest, most user-friendly way possible. In brief, learners want to easily access and navigate smoothly through a course site as they learn within their own context.
Emeritus Professor (Universite de Montreal) Harold Stolovitch calls our attention to maintaining a focus on key learning principles as we design our courses. A key point is that the instructor must be aware of both the learners' abilities and limitations when developing an effective course for online delivery. Based on the work of many experts in the field, there are a series of principles that can be profitably followed in designing and presenting eLearning courses. While we may be aware of these learning principles, it is sometimes useful to remind ourselves of best practices that may be employed to help the institution, instructor and student achieve success.
- Principle 1: Relevant instruction. Develop instruction that is relevant to the learners in your courses. To the degree possible, identify how the knowledge or skill presentation relates directly to the learners' real-world needs, for example, either short-term or long-term and school-based or employment-based needs. Relevant instructional content has a higher probability of passing through the learners' "filters" than content with no apparent or meaningful application. Relevant instruction should assist the learners in linking the material being presented to what they already know and bring to the course with them. To this end, use appropriate analogies and metaphors, present illustrative case studies and stories, deploy descriptive graphics and diagrams/tables, and provide multiple opportunities for application and practice.
- Principle 2: Multi-sensory instruction. Develop online instruction that is multi-sensory to address the needs of multi-modal learners in your courses. Use a balanced mix that employs text bolding and color as well as a font distinction in headings and subheadings to break up the page and maintain visual interest. Use relevant graphics that relate directly to content or pedagogical intent, such as graphic icons. Use links to brief audio or video clips that, for example, illustrate key concepts or skills, introduce or summarize materials, or present opposing or authoritative viewpoints. Use links to external websites that allow for multiple applications, such as enriching the core course content, facilitating discussions and fostering research or team projects. A multi-sensory approach will engage learners and foster their attainment of your educational goals and objectives.
- Principle 3: Focused instruction. Focus the instruction on relevant learner needs and limit the amount of information presented to facilitate learning and retention. Organize the information by "chunking" course materials appropriately. Make use of multiple units, content items, links to materials and websites, page design including headings and subheadings, and other "chunking" techniques that foster usability. As noted above, the focus should include presentation of material combined with a connection to prior knowledge/skill and an opportunity to apply or practice what is being learned.
- Principle 4: Change-oriented instruction. Focus the presentation of course materials on more than a mere transmission of information, though this is certainly a component of instruction. Learning, in its broadest sense, should involve a "transforming experience" that modifies the learners' knowledge and skill base and that also allows them to apply the material to accomplish or do something that could not be done before being exposed to the course materials and activities. The key concept, noted by Stolovitch, is to not confuse "knowing" with "doing." Instruction and training are relatively meaningless for the individual learner if change and growth do not occur as a result and if application, whether short-term or long-term, cannot be achieved. In Donald Kirkpatrick's terms, we are focused here on a Level 3: Transfer assessment of how a course has resulted in transfer and change in the learner. For many, this level is the truest measure of a course's effectiveness.
- Principle 5: Learner-oriented instruction. A key ingredient in designing instruction, to the degree possible, is to know the learner audience and the ability, current knowledge/skill and desire to learn that the learners bring to the educational setting. Once we understand our learners' background we can decide on the degree to which our course needs to provide basic and intermediate information, provide multiple examples and connections to similar or known knowledge and skills, and demonstrate in a meaningful way the value of the knowledge and skills being taught. We can also evaluate their application to success in the course and in future endeavors both in academic and non-academic environments.
So how can we sum it all up? Good course design applies key learning principles to make learning relevant and to ensure that knowledge and/or skills are gained and can be applied as a result of a transforming learning experience.
Bollaert J., January 2002. "10 tips for designing usable eLearning." Compuware Corporation E-Usability News. Retrieved April 3, 2001
—Kenneth Switzer, Ph.D.
http://www.compuware.com/intelligence/articles/e-usability_i2a_v1.htm (no longer available)
Nielsen J., December 2000. "Keep your users in mind." Internet World. Retrieved April 3, 2001
http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m0DXS/24_6/68155735/print.jhtml (no longer available)
Stolovitch H., 2006. "Telling Ain't Training." Workshop handout.
Narrated PowerPoint presentations
Have you thought of narrating your PowerPoint presentations but are unsure of what to do next? There is a good deal of third-party software out there that produces great outcomes and is compatible with the eCollege system.
One example is Camtasia. Camtasia has extensive tutorials, a variety of features for use, and has many exporting file types that can be used in conjunction with our platform. For example, the presentation can be exported as Flash (.swf and .html files are produced) which can then be uploaded directly into the course and linked accordingly.
For additional information about Camtasia Studio please visit http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp.