Merely transitioning traditional instructional materials to a digital format is likely to be a costly move that will yield little benefit. The decision to augment a curriculum with eLearning technologies is something that must be given careful consideration. Below are ten interdependent factors to consider during the analysis phase of instructional design- before transitioning to eLearning. Technologies used should be:
- Understood. Despite having all the best features and a sound pedagogical framework, eLearning tools will fail if they are not understood by the facilitators and learners.
Is technology training (and time) available to verify readiness to use the eLearning tool?
- Accessible. Within the expected educational environments, technological infrastructure (bandwidth, etc.) must be available that allows participation and prevents disengagement from learning.
Will the technology demands require additional infrastructure?
- Responsive. Today’s learners, especially millennials, want a flexible education schedule while on-the-go. Content and activities should have a responsive web design that allows for mobile access.
Does the technology offer responsive content on multiple devices and browsers?
- Customizable. Various learning styles and preferences exist, along with multiple learning disabilities. eLearning tools should permit impromptu modification of content to best connect with each learner.
Can content be modified in a timely manner to provide alternatives for struggling learners?
- Synchronous. Learners prefer that instructors have a daily online presence (Boettcher, 2011). Live, two-way communication, especially during instruction, has been found to create a more “immersive experience” (INTX, 2013) that engages learners better than recorded media.
Does the technology allow for interactive, synchronous online instruction?
- Asynchronous. Asynchronous activities and discussions using Socratic questioning promote higher order thinking when students reflect on and research topics. This is a great opportunity to obtain formative feedback on the learners’ comprehension of a topic.
Are activities and time available to promote learner reflection and research?
- Automated. Automation improves efficiency. This allows educators to reallocate time to analysis of formative feedback, personalizing lessons, and more actively participating in the course.
Are mandatory processes (grading, rubric application, etc.) automated by the technology?
- Enabling. Carleton College (2013) defines Process-Oriented Guided Learning Inquiry (POGIL) as any “research based learning environment where students are actively engaged in mastering course content and in developing essential skills by working in self-managed teams on guided inquiry activities.” Similar approaches put learners in the driver’s seat of their education, thus developing professionals who are better poised to be lifelong learners.
Will the technology allow facilitation of learning in groups by guiding, instead of telling?
- Collaborative. Collaborative problem solving is one identified form of participatory culture (Jenkins et al, 2007) and peer led team learning is a type of social constructivism that promotes self-awareness.
Do outlets exist to allow learners to communicate with other learners and create a community?
10. Measurable. Affiliation is another form of participatory culture (Jenkins et al, 2007). Evaluation should be possible since opinions- from both educators and peers- matter to today’s learners.
Do means exist for receiving peer and instructor feedback on learners’ contributions?
A Hypothetical Curriculum
As a means to apply the potential benefits and limitations of eLearning, I provide the following hypothetical course with a goal and specific learning objectives program.
Course: Paramedic Field Training
Course Goal: Prepare probationary paramedics to function in a lead role without direct supervision.
Course Objectives: At the end of this course, the paramedic candidate will be able to independently:
- Demonstrate familiarity with the Treatment Guidelines (TG).
- Summarize policies and procedures from both the EMS SOP and County Policies & Procedures manual which are applicable to the candidate’s desired position.
- Demonstrate an ability to plan a standard workday for crew and perform operational duties.
- Recognize and mitigate situations that may compromise safety of the crew.
- Apply the TG to verbal and simulation scenarios with a minimum average accuracy of 90%.
- Formulate treatment plans for patients based on chief complaint, history of present illness, and physical examination.
- Direct team members as necessary to ensure efficiency in the delivery of patient care.
- Display and recognize proper psychomotor skill for procedures required during simulation within defined acceptable timeframes.
- Report the prehospital patient care encounter, verbally, to receiving medical personnel and professionally justify treatment decisions.
- Report the prehospital patient care encounter in writing with narrative contributions at a minimum Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 9.0 (as assessed at https://readability-score.com/), using the standard department reporting system.
- Critique written reports, professionally, to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement.
- Discuss how conflicts within the workplace can be mitigated if encountered.
Transition to a hybrid or completely online format may be beneficial for many of the objectives, while creating limitations for others. Cumulatively, consideration of the ten factors result in a professional learning community with multiple communication channels that stimulate frequent interaction with the facilitator. For this particular course, eLearning negates time restrictions on communication that would be recognized if attempting to meet these objectives solely within a physical location.
Benefits and Limitations of an eLearning Transition
While arguably more arduous, automation integrated into eLearning technologies can reduce the workload. This allows for reallocation of time to activities that create social presence. This is imperative since 2010 research by Baker determined that,
the linear combination of instructor immediacy and presence is a statistically significant predictor of student affective learning, cognition, and motivation. However, it did not find instructor immediacy to be a significant individual predictor of the aforementioned variables, whereas it did find instructor presence to be a significant individual predictor. The study also showed that students in synchronous online courses reported significantly higher instructor immediacy and presence.
Baker’s findings emphasize the importance of including synchronous activities in the instructional design. While this may be best accomplished in a face to face environment, research by UCF and Cobham has found that virtual environments that permit two-way communication can also be very engaging (INTX, 2013).
Asynchronous eLearning is also important since it allows the learner to enter a metacognitive state prior to submitting their work for review and feedback. An instructor presence is established via timely, individualized feedback and content modification to reach struggling learners. For cognitive objectives, this may be difficult for in a physical environment since learning does not occur at a precise time for everyone despite a fixed time for completion. This time allotment may be better utilized by allowing learning of psychomotor objectives via constructivism.
In both synchronous and asynchronous activities, the instructor presence serves to motivate and enhance the eLearning experience, while ensuring that a physical distance is not interpreted as an absence of instruction in a virtual environment.
Shifting from teaching (telling) to facilitation (guiding) enables learners to take control of their own education, but success within a participatory culture depends largely on collaboration and feedback between peers. Implemented and facilitated well, this establishes a community of self-guided learners who challenge each other and actively engage in their education. This may not be conceivable in a traditional setting with time and resource constraints. A virtual setting creates an opportunity for scheduling flexibility and numerous resources requiring only a click.
Accessibility and responsiveness ensure that everyone in the professional learning community can remain active in the learning process, despite elastic scheduling and potential appliance inequality of everyone involved.
Thus, the benefits of eLearning implementation must be considered with regard to the learning objectives identified in the curriculum design process. Weighed against time, space, and resource limitations that may exist within the physical learning environment, the decision to utilize or forego eLearning may be deemed prudent for various components of a particular course.
Baker, C. (2010). The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning, cognition, and motivation. The Journal of Educators Online, 7(1), 1-30. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ904072.pdf
Boettcher, J.W. (2011). Ten best practices for teaching online: Quick guide for new online faculty. Retrieved from http://www.designingforlearning.info/services/writing/ecoach/tenbest.html
Carleton College. (2013). Process-oriented guided inquiry learning. Project Kaleidoscope: Pedagogies of Engagement. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from http://serc.carleton.edu/sp/pkal/pogil/index.html
Cobb, S. (2009). Social presence and online learning: A current view from a research perspective. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 8(3), 241-254, Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://rkenny.org/shared_media/social_online_learning.pdf&chrome=true
INTX. (2013). The value of collaborative on-location learning. INTX Collaborative Learning Network. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from http://interactiveexpeditions.com/about.html
Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A.J., & Weigel, M. (2007). Confronting the challenges of a participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF
Curious how we can integrate the advantages while overcoming the disadvantages of eLearning in this hypothetical face-to-face course?
In my next reflection, I will suggest ideas of how eLearning can be applied.