Learning outcomes for 261.760 Instructional Design in E-Learning were:
- Demonstrate developing information literacy in locating, evaluating and using relevant information from the internet
- Compare and contrast learning theories
- Identify appropriate information and communication technologies for effective learning
- Apply knowledge of learning theory and instructional design in developing material for E-Learning
I start this narrative by drawing on two observations made in my pre-learning reflection for 261.760; the first was knowing through experience that “effective teaching requires a good understanding of the context that the learners come from, and what is valued as worthwhile learning”, the second was “my awakening to technology and the willingness to use it in my personal and professional life”. These were major motivators behind my decision to further my learning through post graduate studies, hence my engagement with this paper.
Throughout my professional career and studies so far, I have been engaging in critical thought on how teaching in online environments differs from just teaching without the affordances of technology. I came to this paper with the understanding that theories of learning help support pedagogy, which also needs to be guided by knowledge about the learners. What I was not clear about prior to engaging with this paper was how to create a bridge for effective learning. Artefact 1 houses my reflections prior to the start of this paper, outlining my prior knowledge which formed the basis for my initial goals for this course.
Through engaging in Task 1.1, housed in Artefact 2, which required a search for information and web resources, I was able to start meeting the first Learning Outcome and develop information literacy in locating, evaluating and using relevant information from the internet, thereby meeting my first personal goal for this course of coming to an understanding of what instructional design is. In Artefact 2, I express my perception of instructional design as being “a process which focuses on the analysis of the goals and the needs of learning to develop a system for the delivery of instruction that will meet the goals and needs identified”. This leads to the understanding that instructional design starts with people, not tools, so is more about learning than about technology (Sims, 2014).
A question set early on in the course through which I continued to work for Learning Outcome 1 challenged me to reflect on the difference between “instructional design” and “learning design”, and by doing so, place abstract concepts of design within my work context. What I found, as shown in Artefact 3, was that within my primary school context, learning design appears to dominate over instructional design with the latter being mainly represented by programmes that are put together by external designers with little input by practising teachers. The ensuing discussion with peers from this reflection showed me that this trait is not unique within my context, with other practising teachers lamenting the fact that such programmes tend to be boring as they are not conducive to creative thinking and input by students (O’Connor, 2016). In hindsight I can now understand that the lack of engagement by teachers and students alike referred to in this discussion could be rectified by teacher involvement within the design process of programmes being used within my context. As Cober, Tan, Slotta, So and Könings (2015) note, having teachers participate during the design process as participatory or co-designers leads to the production of better quality, usable programmes.
The reflection in Artefact 3 also lead me into thinking about what makes good pedagogical design, a question which started my journey towards Learning Outcome 2 Compare and contrast learning theories. My research lead me to conclude that to answer this question, educators need to be aware of the importance of aligning all of the assumptions that we make during the teaching and learning process, including the curriculum being taught, the methodology behind the teaching, as well as learning and assessment practices (Mayes & de Freitas, 2004). The analysis of my experience within my context as outlined in Artefact 3 showed me that when using pre designed programmes, this alignment is generally not happening, hence the feeling of dissatisfaction. This is where as an educator, it is important for me to understand theories of learning as vehicles to help me judge whether the teaching and learning process being adopted are actually achieving the learning outcomes intended.
At this stage in my learning journey, my research concentrated on learning about learning theories and different views of learning, further developing my learning towards Learning Outcome 2 Compare and contrast learning theories. The first focus was on the associationist/empiricist perspective, the cognitive perspective, and the situative perspective. Through a Learning Theories and Views task incorporated within 261.270, I had the opportunity of developing a deep understanding of the Situated Learning Theory, which appealed to me more than the Behaviourist and Cognitive Learning Theories due to its focus on learner participation and the involvement of a learning community which I consider as being precursory traits to learning with technology. A reflection that stuck with me from this task is shown in Image 1 below
Image 1 An excerpt from my reflection on the Situated Learning Theory (Theuma, 2016)
Through learning about different learning theories, it was interesting to observe how the perspectives developed over time, and how the accumulated understanding eventually lead to the connectivist view as technology permeated most aspects of life. Artefact 4 is being included to show my understanding of views of learning. It was through working towards the creation of the infographic in this artefact, specifically through the implications for teacher roles section, and the examples from my own context, that I really came to understand that within a learning environment there is scope for use of different learning theories, depending on what is being taught, the age of the learners, the context, and what the learning outcomes are. After reading Ertmer and Newby (2013), I came to consider Learning Theories as spread over a continuum as follows:
Image 2 My understanding of Learning Theories as spread over a continuum
Two learning theories that I struggled to distinguish between were Constructivism and Connectivism. Through reading Ravenscroft (2011) I got the impression that within the Constructivist Theory, there is a focus on the learner linking to others through dialogue, a concept that is also important within Connectivism, which additionally advocates for rich dialogue, new connections, as well as social relations that can be globally accessed. Mattar explains this clearly in stating that “Learning is no longer a process that is entirely under the control of the individual, an internal, individualistic activity: it is also outside of ourselves, within other people, an organization or a database, and these external connections, which potentiate what we can learn, are more important than our current state of knowing” (2010, p. 10-11). In trying to condense this learning, I utilised Heick’s (2013) interpretations, also housed in Artefact 4, which further added the view that in Connectivism, learners are learning how to learn independently of having a teacher facilitating their learning.
I believe that by comparing and contrasting learning theories for Learning Outcome 2 I have not only extended my understanding of individual theories of learning, but have also strengthened my understanding that knowledge of the learners for who learning is being designed is of utmost importance. As a teacher I feel that none of the learning theories can solely address all kinds of learning, especially within my primary school context. There are definitely situations in which particular theories are more applicable than others as exemplified in Artefact 4. Learner knowledge is not static, it changes, as do contexts and what is deemed as being valuable information at the time of learning. A further perception that Learning Outcome 2 has further clarified for me is that there is a disconnect between things we, as educators, know about learning that is deep and powerful, which requires a personal interest from the learners in what is being learnt, and the practices which we actually have about learning. What we know to be effective does not always align with our practices (Richardson, 2015) which ties in with my reflection in Artefact 3, that student voice and agency are to be heeded and aligned to curriculum, methodology, learning practices and assessment for effective learning.
Learning Outcome 3 in this paper required me to identify appropriate information and communication technologies for effective learning. The first step was to look for such information and communication technologies within my context, with the ten most used being shown in Artefact 5. As I was working through Artefact 5, it was interesting to follow the discussion forum on STREAM and note how other students who teach also place high value on Google Drive and Apps in general. A feeling that also permeated this discussion was that everyone is at different stages in their technological learning journey, and whilst it was interesting to learn and share information, it was also a good opportunity to share views on what works, and what is less effective. It was at this stage in my learning that I was experimenting with use of Popplet for learning. Within my class, my primary students were loving the creativity and autonomously experimenting with its use, whilst I was busily trying to stay one step ahead in my exploration of this new tool. In the enthusiasm that ensued, I decided to organise my top ten technological tools for my context as required in Task 2.4 in a graphic organiser using Popplet, which I could then export as a pdf or an image. What I had not forseen was the fact that in order to use this artefact within my portfolio, the most visually appealing export option from Popplet was as an image, which, as I discovered later, is not a good idea when the graphic organiser includes hyperlinks as these will not work if the graphic organiser is exported as an image. This was a really valuable, albeit time consuming lesson, which forms a very significant learning step in my journey toward achieving Learning Outcome 3. Within my assessment of a good learning technology being determined by “ease of use, time required to explore, usefulness and set up requirements” (Theuma, 2016), I should also have added the realisation that the word ‘good’ preceding learning technologies is qualified by the context in which that particular technology is to be used in, and what the user needs it to do. Within this train of thought, I can also refer to the creation of a podcast which I completed as part of this paper: whilst a lot of fun to complete, mingled with hints of frustration at the start, I found the usefulness of the tool limited within my working context, although there is definite scope for its use with older students. My top ten tools housed within Artefact 5 also give me an indication that I value technological tools that allow me to: collaborate and share learning, as indicated by Google Drive and Apps; access and retrieve information through a number of devices anywhere, at any time, as revealed by my preference for Dropbox and Pinterest; and, tools that allow me to store, categorize or show my learning in ways that I consider visually engaging and appealing, as indicated by the preference for WordPress, easel.ly, weebly and Popplet.
A valuable opportunity that helped me develop not just learning to meet Learning Outcome 3 in widening my knowledge about technology tools, but also gave me a second opportunity in this paper to work with a group and develop collaborative skills, was Task 2.3 and the creation of a Technology Tools Organiser, the final product of which is housed in Artefact 6. In this task, the group had to classify technologies within different categories through their defining characteristics, the most significant of which I found to be whether they are presentation or production tools, and whether they are interactive or collaborative tools. A further activity in this task was that of thinking of ways that the tool could be applied in learning design. A very useful additional resource which supported me during this task was an e-book by Bonk and Khoo (2014) which I had come across while working on another paper, but which is applicable across the areas of teaching for as well as designing for e-learning. Having technological tools classified in this way is a useful visual categorisation that can be used for reference during the design of a project, as designers can refer directly to the tool according to what it is required to do, rather than having to go through the attribute selection process every time a technological tool is required. The resource can also be useful in helping the designer check that a spread of resources has been utilised in a project to cater for diversity, rather than just a concentration of tools that share the same attributes.
Included within Artefact 6 is an image showing the results of the Best Technology Tools organiser survey that participants in 261.270 were encouraged to engage in. The reason for the inclusion of this image is a personal reminder of the importance of being assertive when working with a group, and taking a leading initiative when needed, as it was mainly through my input that the organiser came to be constructed as a Weebly the way it was. Although naturally not worried about having leadership roles when working with people I can interact face to face with, I find that the same does not come as easily when working in an online environment where not only I have not known my colleagues for a long time, but I also cannot read facial expressions or gestures as we work to give me an indication of how others are feeling. As Kehrwald (2008, p. 91) states, “the communication and interaction in online environments is a potentially very different experience than face-to-face interaction”. The usefulness of Skype, Google Hangouts or Messenger Video Chat in these instances cannot be underestimated.
Artefact 7 comprises a reflection that I made about my learning which reveals a continuing journey towards meeting Learning Objective 3. Observations are made about the limitations and affordances of two technological tools: wiki, and Weebly. My appreciation for the sharing and collaborative channels a wiki makes possible is expressed, as is my belief that a limitation of this tool is that it is not visually appealing for presentation to an audience, which is where a Weebly is preferable. The distinction between production and presentation tools was remembered, and acted upon.
Further learning that falls out of Artefact 7 which links to Learning Outcome 4 Apply knowledge of learning theory and instructional design in developing material for E-Learning is twofold. First is the experience of working online to meet a deadline with a group. As Connectivism suggests, in an online environment ongoing interaction and dialogue are necessary for the construction of knowledge. The difficulty is that group projects and deadlines often require group participants to be available as scheduled. This reduces the flexibility and convenience that are significant reasons that attract adults to online study, and can result in possible anxiety, resentment or disconnection with the group (Brindley, Walti, & Blaschke, 2009). So the importance of group members establishing positive contact and showing empathy through challenging situations for the benefit of the whole group cannot be underestimated. The second learning element linking to Learning Outcome 4 that impacted my thinking is the importance of reflecting on a project even after it is completed to evaluate processes and procedures that can be improved in future work. I learnt that 51 messages in one discussion thread can be a nightmare to filter through when looking for specific information, so next time communication needs to be better organised. I also learnt to evaluate contributions as ones that are just indicative of visible presence, and ones that indicate visible activity and participation which are the ones that affect the strength of relations in a group (Kehrwald, 2008). This learning is going to be useful in the upcoming peer assessment required for Assignment 3, and is a reminder of what to be expected when collaborating with a group.
Artefact 8 houses an attempt at creating a simple online learning activity that I engaged in during the year with my Year 3/4 class. One of the challenges I face within the primary environment that I work in is to balance how much guidance to give without constraining student creativity. As Goodyear and Ellis (2010, p. 108) state, ” When teachers are designing, they need to balance tensions between scaffolding and autonomy. The activity systems they help create and manage must scaffold but not stifle students’ improving abilities to manage their own learning and shape their own learning environment”. Experience has taught me that staring small is always good when introducing new learning with primary school students, so in this case my attempt was at allowing students choice of using different publishing tools to show their learning. Having joint planning with my students allowed me the luxury of hearing what students wanted to do with their published work, as well as what they wanted to engage in. It also meant that the project had buy in from students who felt like they were part of the decision making process. My role in this task was to facilitate and link the students and their ideas to the technological tool they wanted to use. It was a small way of working towards Learning Outcome 4 Apply knowledge of learning theory and instructional design in developing material for E-Learning, but it was also very satisfying, especially when feedback was received from the students.
The culmination of 261.760 is certainly going to be the group Design Project which is currently a work in progress, as this project will require us to put into use all that we have learnt during the course of this paper. My reflections on this project so far are housed in Artefact 9. In this artefact, my experience of engaging in front end analysis at the inception of the project idea is outlined, as well as the need for the whole group to go back over what we have done up to now to engage in the analysis again just to make sure that we have a thorough frame of instructional goals for our project that will help us identify what exactly is to be learnt by the end of the cycle of instruction. If the instructional goals that we have identified so far align with the performance objectives that have also been identified and submitted in our project brief, then we can get on with developing assessment instruments and instructional strategy and materials as in the Dick, Carey, & Carey model (2009).
Image 3 The Dick, Carey, & Carey model (2009)
A definite implication that the reflection in Artefact 9 has lead me to consider is that when designing a project that requires collaboration from group members, ample provision has to be made for close monitoring by the teacher/facilitator, especially if the project is designed for young adults or students who are new to online learning. A definite danger when linking collaborative learning to assessment is that some group members might feel that they are shouldering more responsibilities than they should, or that some group members might think they can have a free ride ( Roberts & McInnerney, 2007).
As I reflect on my learning journey and engagement so far with 261.760 I acknowledge that the learning experience is a culmination of readings and activities that as I participant I have been engaging in, as well as the thoughtful design and delivery that have gone into it by our facilitators. In fact, the way Instructional Design in e-Learning paper is designed is in itself an example of what our group Design Project should probably aspire to emulate. The learning and activities completed in this paper so far also tie in with prior knowledge and working context, reinforcing the reality that whilst it is important to analyse individual aspects of learning for understanding, meaningful learning does not happen in isolation. There is certainly no conclusion to this learning journey- my challenge is to continue on the learning path, utilising what I have learnt to connect to new knowledge, as well as improving my on practices to provide more meaningful learning experiences for my students.
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