The following is a blog post written by our Lead Instructional Designer Sylvia Eastman. This post was originally posted on our eThink partner site.
If you are new to eLearning or looking to improve learner engagement, these 4 traits are critical to effective eLearning design…
Whether your course is on gluten-free cooking, global economics, or forklift operation, it came into being for a reason – to teach people specific knowledge, skills, or abilities. During the initial phases of your course design, it’s critical to define these outcomes. For example, an outcome for your gluten-free cooking course might be: “Create a gluten-free version of a favorite recipe.” Notice that the outcome is concrete and measurable. Even academic subjects, such as our course on global economics, can (and should) have demonstrable outcomes. Envision, for example, how you could meet this outcome: Create a presentation for your local business community on the impact of a global trade policy. Now try to envision how you would demonstrate meeting this one: Understand the impact of global trade policies on local businesses.
Once you have defined your outcomes, use them as your guidepost for creating content, activities, and assessments. Everything in the course should connect back – or in instructional-design speak – be “aligned to” the outcomes. This ensures that your course is focused and consistent, that you don’t waste time and money creating or gathering tangential resources, and that your learners aren’t working through a series of unrelated tasks that don’t add up to meaningful learning.
Now, let’s go back to the opening sentence under Aligned. I wrote that your course came into being “to teach people specific knowledge, etc.” I didn’t write “to teach specific knowledge, etc.”
Do not leave people – your learners – out of the equation. That might sound crazy, but how many times have you read a course description that went something like this: “The course will address some of the main economic theories, or “This course will introduce the principles of nutritional theory…” etc. At its root, this approach positions the learner as a passive recipient of information. Think back to the worst day of the worst class you’ve ever taken. What were you doing? What were the other students doing? What was the teacher doing? Now, think about the best day of the best class you’ve ever taken. Ask yourself those same questions. I’m going to bet that in the best class, you and the other students were actively engaged – making observations, asking questions, exploring ideas, doing things. True learning requires active engagement.
Wherever possible, design your learning to promote active engagement. Moodle offers many suitable tools, such as Chat for small group work, Forums for discussions and online debates, and Workshop for peer review activities.
But engagement isn’t just about tool choice, it’s how you guide your learners toward developing connections and constructing knowledge. This can be done with even seemingly passive assignments, such as a reading or video-watching activity. For example, devise a series of questions that the student should focus on as they read/watch the material. As you do this, remember the first “A” that we discussed. Your instructions – or prompts in eLearning design lingo – should be in alignment with your course outcomes. Going back to our gluten-free cooking class, you might ask a learner to watch a video about macronutrients. Help your learners actively connect this to gluten-free cooking. “As you watch the video, consider your macronutrient requirements. What percentage of your meals consist of grains and starches that contain gluten?” “How do you see this impacting your meal preparation time?” By asking learners to connect new material to prior knowledge, you provide a foundation and a context for learning.
Which leads me to the last “A” of our article: Authentic.
Authentic, from an eLearning design perspective, speaks to the practical application of learning – taking it beyond the context of the course and making it real. Scenarios and case studies can enliven activities – and the onus is not just on you to create them. You can ask your students to develop them too – helping them connect the theoretical to the practical. Other methods for adding authentic learning to your course is by asking students to develop projects that mirror real-world tasks or to create portfolios of authentic artifacts, such as a recipe, a budget spreadsheet, or a how-to video.
Although we are on our third “A” – let’s not forget about our first one – Aligned. As you create activities or assessments, always go back to your outcomes and check for alignment. Is there a clear path from the activity to the outcome? If it seems to meander a bit, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you toss it out. Maybe you need to add or refine an outcome.
And that leads us to our last letter for the day: “I” for iterative.
Developing eLearning is a process. Even seasoned instructional designers don’t open up a Moodle course shell and start typing perfectly formed course outcomes. It’s a process to develop the learning, and there are always further iterations once the course has run. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Ask your students for feedback. Have a fellow instructor or subject matter expert review your material. Ask them to provide feedback based on the 3 A’s and go from there. You’re learning too! It’s a process. Enjoy!