Friday, December 2, 2011

The ADDIE Framework is Too Generic

I have been seeing an emphasis placed on requiring instructional designers to employ the ADDIE model or process when designing online curriculum. I believe every instructional designer (ID) should have an instructional design methodology for projects, no matter the size, but I feel that the ADDIE framework is too generic.

ADDIE stands for analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate and is supposed to guide ID’s and trainers in a structural way. There are over 100 variations of the ADDIE model and I believe there are three critical elements not addressed in most of these frameworks:

  • Choosing the learning model
  • Including formative, ongoing and summative assessment
  • Support for both instructor/facilitator and learner

Why is the learning model important to incorporate? The learning model or learning styles are important because styles reflect how an individual integrates the information they receive and learning styles vary from person to person. Learning styles such as visual, auditory or kinesthetic, should be considered because each individual learns best in a different way. For example, if learners are more visual, they may prefer ppts, images or graphs versus a kinesthetic learner who would prefer “hands on” activities, group work or labs. If ID’s do not identify the styles of their learners, the online design will not be geared towards the learner preferences and thus learners may not be as motivated to participate. 

Why is incorporating all three assessment strategies throughout the process critical? Because it covers before, during and after the program design process and ensures the final program is a user friendly and accessible program. My two favorites are conducting stakeholder interviews and doing user testing throughout the design process.   If ID’s wait to evaluate the program towards the end of the process, they run the risk of producing a project that does not meet the needs of instructor/facilitator or learner. 

Why be concerned about support? Today, technology plays a major role in online learning and because of this it is continually evolving. The issue of technical support is the number one factor to consider. If instructors and learners have a technology problem and do not have access to tools and support, they will get frustrated and potentially give up. Nothing else matters. It cannot be assumed that the participants even know what they are committing too when they sign up for an online program or even what level of computer competence they possess. As an ID, it may not be your job to provide technical support to the learners but it is the responsibility of the ID to ensure that the project is supported by all of the stakeholders involved, is designed with the W3C guidelines in mind for accessibility, proper resources and directions are included, and giving learners access to the proper technology support. 

I think the question for an ID shouldn’t be “Do you employ the ADDIE framework in your design process?” but be more in line with “How have you individualized the ADDIE framework in your design process?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Consider Adding an Online Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

Why Consider Adding an online PLC to a Professional Association?

 A professional association is an organization formed to unite and inform individuals who work in the same occupation or field. There are many advantages to joining associations. Whatever your discipline or area of interest, professional associations offer a way to keep in touch with policy developments and offer opportunities to  network with others who share your interests through conferences, resources and forums. What many associations don’t do is provide a way to take the new information and connections being made and offer a way for members to apply it to real life. How many times have individuals walked away from a conference or workshop, excited to get started applying the new information and becoming frustrated because they were unsure how to get started? Or gave up after hitting their first obstacle because there was no support? Taking it to the next step and learning how to apply new knowledge can be accomplished within an online professional learning community or PLC.

What is an online Professional Learning Community?

A PLC can be defined as a community of professionals who come together with a shared vision, similar to an association, but collaborate by engaging in activities, discussions and practice online. PLC’s can provide benefits such as opportunities to:

  • Share experiences or personal practice
  • Help each other solve real problems that are relevant to members in the community
  • Learn new skills and increase knowledge base
  • Reflect, interpret and hear other perspectives
  • Develop social experiences and build a sense of community
  • Provide feedback and support

For example, instead of just going to a conference and passively listening, a PLC can provide continuing discussion and evaluation of the content and allow members to discover new ways to apply this information; long after the conference is over. Through the variety of perspectives, community members actively analyze, evaluate and apply knowledge to create new awareness and understandings that are shared with the community and is referred to as “active” learning. Active learning enables members to become “creators of knowledge”, another reason to consider adding an online PLC. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Should Students Opt Out of Face-to-Face Education?

This question was asked recently and can be tricky because there are many variables to take into account when considering opting out of F2F education. I believe these decisions should be individualized. What are the circumstances for the student? What kind of online program is it? Does it incorporate F2F elements or is it completely online? These answers are all part of the decision making but overall it is a viable option.

Why should students consider online programs? With districts around the country cutting budgets, many of the specialized programs are being cut and online learning (OL) provides an alternative solution. For example, there are students who want to take accelerated classes that may not be offered or students who have a disability or medical issue and can access OL easier than a traditional classroom. OL environments are no longer a one-way portal of learning but have evolved into multidimensional, interactive environments which are engaging more and more students. 21st Century OL can reflect the real world more than traditional F2F learning by allowing students opportunities to work collaboratively with others from various backgrounds exposing them to a variety of perspectives and opinions that reflect the workplace environment. Some other advantages to take into consideration are:
  •  OL provides accessibility 24/7
  •  OL provides a cost-effective option
  • OL provides an abundance of quality resources on the web
  • OL provides a constructivist environment where students learn not only from their instructor but also from their peers
  • OL provides a democratic environment where race, gender and appearance do not come into play
  • OL can engage millennial's, students born between 1977-1997, who have grown up with technology and online social networking
When considering opting out, one needs to consider that quality, in-depth learning will not occur without a few key elements in place. 
  • First, the online program needs to meet best practices for online content development established by WASC or NETS and be user friendly and accessible as established by the W3C standards
  • Second, teachers need to accept their new role as facilitator. Online learning supports a more constructivist environment and teachers need to act more as a guide on the side. 
  • Lastly, it is critical that the student embody characteristics of a successful online learner such as being motivated, self-directed, and having a positive attitude and they need to be supported by the school, mentor or parent.
There are studies supporting OL. iNACOL states that OL provides socialization opportunities that go beyond traditional schools and that these interactions help to reduce social friction that is prevalent in traditional school environments. Another study by the US Department of Education states that on average, students in online learning perform better than those in F2F instruction.  Technology is a driving force in the workplace and traditional schools are slow in providing education using technology tools. More in-depth studies need to occur but OL should be considered. OL can meet the technology need, produce quality learning, and produce students who are well prepared for the 21st Century workplace.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Top 10 Tips for Successful Online Learning Community (OLC) Facilitation

A lot of people have asked how they can build vibrant online learning communities (OLC) and keep them going. Facilitating an OLC is not easy. Most people believe that if “they build it, they will come” but it’s not that simple. Successful OLC’s require a lot of time and attention to build to a point where it becomes a thriving community. 

I believe successful facilitation is a critical factor for success. Facilitating is not about taking on the role of expert but is more positioning as “guide on the side”. Facilitators are responsible for managing the process of the community and information exchange, not lecturing. They work with the community and culture that already exists to enhance it by making it more meaningful, productive and satisfying.  

Top 10 tips I suggest for being a successful facilitator:
1.       Provide Guidance- Guide users on how to use the community and how to interact with other members. In the online world this interaction is known as “netiquette”. Establish clear policies and community standards from the very beginning.
2.       Provide Assistance- Assist or refer users to someone who can help if they run into technical problems.
3.       Create and Maintain a Productive and Safe Environment- Monitor the forums for inappropriate or off-topic comments and effectively guide users through conflicts. Stay impartial.
4.       Stimulate Discussions- Ask open-ended questions that are designed to encourage a full, meaningful response vs. a question that can be answered with just a “yes” or “no” answer.
5.       Provide Timely Feedback- Make sure users are getting answers to questions on a timely basis and if appropriate, assisting to make sure the right people are being pulled into conversations.
6.       Create an Essence of Community- Be welcoming and greet new members, provide positive or constructive feedback, and help provide summaries of content to allow the users to see developing patterns and common threads in discussions.
7.       Be Active in the Community- Engage with the people you are trying to reach by participating in discussions. Lead by example.
8.       Shift Ownership to the Community- For the community to succeed, users need to be empowered and the facilitator can do this by highlighting the contributors who are interacting with content, writing posts or commenting the most.
9.       Encourage Feedback- Give opportunities for feedback and then show the community that someone is listening by acting on it. Let them know their voices are heard.
10.   Keep Content Fresh- Feature industry or topic related content in the community as often as possible. The more up-to-date and relevant the content, the more possibility of triggering a reaction with users and stimulating discussions. 

There are many online learning communities users can join. Be passionate, patient and stay focused and your community will succeed!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Real-Life Collaboration Skills are Essential in Today’s Workplace

Real life collaboration and knowledge management skills are essential in today’s modern workplace where much of professional work is now done in groups or teams and done via the internet. Often the members of these groups are separated by time and space and success often requires online collaboration and knowledge sharing. I believe schools are responsible for preparing students for the realities of these.
I was shocked during a meeting with a school earlier this year when they revealed that the content of their online degree program consisted of a PowerPoint and an email address of the professor.  Really?
A PowerPoint represents the traditional learning model of the top down approach. It is a one dimensional learning tool where information flows from instructor to participant, requiring the participant to memorize and possibly demonstrate their learning in a form of a test or paper.  Instructors cannot just translate their face-to-face teaching into an online program but must modify their teaching to the online environment. If the program only offers a static PowerPoint and no discussion, in-depth learning may not happen. My question then is why are a majority of our schools in higher education not including online learning communities, which are shown to improve socialization, critical thinking and retention, in their online classroom framework?
One way that schools and professionals can increase learning, retention and motivation is by utilizing communities of practice (COP) or online learning communities (OLC) to accomplish this. There are benefits of OLC’s and COP’s that need to be considered:
  • OLC’s allow participants to construct new knowledge by interacting and building on each others ideas, allowing content to be better understood and retained longer.
  • OLC’s improve teamwork skills by offering a collaborative environment to learn how to work in a group setting.
  • OLC’s assist in developing critical thinking skills.
  • OLC’s can increase interaction over face-to-face learning.
  • OLC’s offer a connection to practice by connecting content to real-life situations.
  • OLC’s offers peer-to-peer learning opportunities.
The learning that evolves from these communities is a collaborative effort which is often greater than any knowledge gained individually.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Online Learning is so much more than a PowerPoint with Audio!

Part II

PowerPoint with audio represents the traditional learning model of the top down approach. It is a one dimensional learning tool where information flows from instructor to participant, requiring the participant to memorize and possibly demonstrate their learning in a form of a test or paper.  How can we ensure that online students are motivated to learn? The benefit of a face-to-face environment is that instructors can physically see if a participant does not show up or is distracted or disinterested.  I believe to retain online students, we need to consider motivation.  

Yes, we can have excellent course content and visual presentation but that doesn’t ensure that an instructor is engaging and motivating participants. We must also include a cooperative format to increase motivation and retention. Collaborating on assignments, peer reviewing and discussion forums are just a few ideas that instructors can incorporate into their programs to increase motivation.

1.       Collaborating on assignments is a great method to enhance learning because it offers opportunities for participants to hear other points-of-view and to learn how to combine these into a final product. Working together with people who have different perspectives is a real-life skill, adding value for participants. One of the keys to success of this activity would be to discuss methods and problems of collaboration beforehand.
2.       Peer reviewing provides an additional technique for hearing diverse perspectives and can stimulate new ideas. This allows participants to gain new information, enhancing their own work. They will also learn the valuable skill of giving and receiving constructive feedback before editing and turning in their assignments. Peer review improves communication skills and increases motivation to learn.
3.       Discussion forums are excellent places for allowing participants to demonstrate critical thinking skills and to develop relationships with fellow members. They get the opportunity to be reflective by reading other perspectives and carefully considering a response. It gives a tool for active participation in the program without having to feel the overwhelming anxiety of everyone’s “eyes on them”. Participants can have more conversations in discussion forums than they can have in a large lecture hall thereby increasing in-depth learning.

Incorporating these three elements can create positive growth. A sense of community is established through a sense of cohesion, trust is built, critical thinking skills are enhanced through questioning and a general sense that the program is valuable an applicable is created. Continuing to use a PowerPoint only ensures a one dimensional and isolated learning experience and will most likely not encourage in-depth learning.