Jump Outside of the Box


After eight weeks of studying the theory, the issues, and the features of developing a distance education course, I can say that this has been one wild ride! My area of expertise is in the classroom, so this has been a field that has taken me out of my comfort zone. However, that is not to say I haven’t enjoyed it, (even as I have been tearing my hair out.) As Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, (2012) state the planning always starts with the learner. I think one of the best lessons I have learned is no matter how well-designed or planned a course is, the learner determines how the course flows by whether or not the his/her learning is progressing, so starting with the learner in mind is particularly important. I believe my learning situation was a good example of Wedemeyer’s Theory of Independent Study, (Simonson, et al., 2012). I had taken responsibility for my learning, but more importantly, the interaction between teacher and students was well designed to break the space-time barrier.

As I attempted to design the orientation course, I struggled as I was just not “getting it”. Our professor carefully explained, provided numerous examples and supportive feedback, but I couldn’t see what I was supposed to even though I had plenty of support. Each week I struggled with assignments, researched online, looked at the samples again and again, but I was still unclear about what I needed to do. It was like looking at one of those pictures where after a minute or so, it becomes a 3-D image. You have to look at it just right and wait until you see the 3-D picture “pop out”. The image just wasn’t popping for me. By week five, I was seriously considering that I was just too dense to continue in a solely asynchronous environment for this. The priority for me wasn’t that I would get a low grade, but rather, I wouldn’t learn what I needed to; when I leave school, the grades aren’t going to matter, whether I learned the theory and skills will. The worst part was I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I was unable to even ask a question. For some reason, after continued feedback from Dr. Paige and looking again at the examples, during week six I could finally see the image. All the pieces fell into place after that.

This anxiety laden experience taught me an invaluable lesson, though. Aside from the “perseverance pays off” insight, the more important lesson is that all the extra support features that get built into a course design are critical; also needed are Moore’s three levels of interaction, student-content, student-teacher, and student-student: I used them all (Chou, 2003). The presence of the instructor is key; the constant feedback and support guided me even when I thought I was walking into a wall. Having the opportunity to interact with my fellow students also was a tremendous support as I didn’t feel isolated; so many of my classmates felt the same way and they also had great ideas for how to proceed. The student-content, student-teacher and student-student interaction proved to be crucial elements in this class, not just theory that designers need to consider.

This week Dr. Paige posted a job description for an instructional designer. He asked if we felt ready to apply for the job. I would love to say I am fully prepared to apply, but that would not be an honest assessment of my skills thus far. Before I started this master’s program, I looked at some ID job openings. I didn’t understand most of the vocabulary and I could say I only had experience with about half the software. Some of the software I had never heard of before. Now, I understand all of the vocabulary, (unless it is specific to a site,) and I recognize the software and have learned to use most of it. So that is real progress. However, in order for me to apply for any ID job, I recognize I still have a ways to go. I need experience. In fact all of the job descriptions I look at, including the one Dr. Paige posted, want designers with at least three years of experience. I would like to begin getting experience in a position where I would be able to learn the ropes. I have much of the theoretical background, and will continue to gain that as I progress through the program, but I won’t be up to speed until I can see how it all fits together in an organizational environment.

As I assess the field of instructional design, its very nature indicates that the practitioner will always have to keep up. This is a developing field; technology continues to evolve and as it does, methods will progress and theory will refine the field. Osborne (2013) predicts mobile computers, hybrid learning, and open learning resources will all influence distance education. Siemens, also sees the influence of mobile devices and how the growing access to multimedia and gaming will impact the tools we use in distance education. He also notes that experts from around the world will be contributing to the practice and theory of distance education.

Looking farther down the road, Bates, (2014) sees the bigger changes on college campuses. He predicts that courses based on three lectures a week over thirteen weeks will disappear, instead courses will be multi-purposed customized to the individual learner’s goals. He sees the learner having more opportunities for courses with a blend of asynchronous and hybrid classes. He states that the future will be about choices. What is crucial about this observation is that as participants in the design of distance education, we will need to be dedicated to advancing what we know. Instructional designers need to be vocal in ensuring that courses are designed with rigor and outcomes that are applicable to the real world. In their discussion of academic fidelity, Gambescia & Paolucci, (2009) caution that institutions need to focus on creating equivalent programs designed with quality and integrity. As instructional designers we need to make sure our voices are heard in that debate as well. Huett, Moller, Forshay, & Coleman, (2008) conclude their three-part series on the evolution of distance education by commenting that professionals need to commit to the “the potential of technology in education and training, no matter what their theoretical or ideological bent, to think outside the box, to collaborate and to advance the common vision” (p. 66). As I continue my education and, with luck, begin my career, I will want to continue learning and developing my skills, and to the best of my abilities, think outside the box.


Bates, T. (2014). 2020 vision. Online Learning and Distance Education Resources. Retrieved from http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/01/12/2020-vision-outlook-for-online-learning-in-2014-and-way-beyond/

Chou, C. (2003). Interactivity and interactive functions in web-based learning systems: a technical framework for designers. British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, 34(3), 265–279.

Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/gambescia121.html

Huett, J., Moller, L., Forshay, W. R., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 52(5), 70–75.

Osborne, C. (2013). Top ten predictions for online learning in 2013. Smart Planet. Retrieved from http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/top-ten-predictions-for-online-learning-in-2013/?tag=content%3Bsiu-container#.UUCUKgTXh5o

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed., pp. 2–31). Boston: Pearson.


What’s a facilitator to do?


A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.

The training manager’s observation that the quality of communication among his trainees is lacking indicates that he is evaluating whether his sessions succeed or not, and he has noticed a weakness in the design of his face to face class. This is a good sign! Discussing a process that the trainer, I’ll call him Ernest, should follow will help ensure that all parties end up with a product that meets the objective of delivering training that encourages authentic interaction among the trainees, but that also achieves the training goals and objectives as well.

Ernest needs to start his planning with the student in mind at the very beginning of any distance education design (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). A helpful tool for determining how to proceed would be to use a Needs Analysis of the training to clarify what the objectives are, what will translate well into a blended environment, and which objectives will need to be redesigned to include tools that will better convey the content in an online environment.  As part of the Facilitator’s Guide I developed, I included a table so Ernest can list his activities and tools and determine what needs to be included in the training and how it will need to be adapted.

The next step would be to make sure the sequence of the class would make sense in an online environment; which activities need to be done in a synchronous setting and which would work well in an asynchronous setting. Just using the original activities may not work as they might not be designed for the online environment. Simonson and Schlosser (1999) use the Equivalency Theory which indicates that if the distance course is carefully designed and the activities are equivalent to the face to face course, than the learners reach the course objectives (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  If the activities are inappropriate and boring, the results of superficial interaction will be no different than what Ernest is experiencing in his current training. Dr. Piskurich comments that the emphasis should be on the activity not on the content. If Ernest takes time to talk to an SME on the matter, it could help save time as he/she may know an activity that Ernest might not have thought of before (Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer), n.d.). Once Ernest has planned the activities he will adapt and use, he will also have to prepare himself to facilitate in an online setting. It will not require the same technique as a face to face classroom, and he will need to learn how to keep in constant contact with the learners in an online setting (Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer), n.d.). I also included a facilitator’s checklist for what needs to be done, so Ernest can keep track of time.

Once Ernest is prepared, another important concern will be technical support and technical considerations. The students will need to be equipped to use the technology and as a facilitator, not only will Ernest have to learn to use the tech tools, but he will need to be able to have some backup plans if the technology fails. Ernest will need time to practice using the synchronous software and managing a CMS if he hasn’t before.  Ernest needs to keep so many aspects of the changing training in mind so it works the way he wants. A facilitator’s guide may be just the thing he needs to keep himself organized.

Facilitator’s Guide


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Facilitating online learning. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Marsh, G., McFadden, A., & Price, B. (2003). Blended instruction: Adapting conventional instruction for large classes. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 6(4). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/winter64/marsh64.htm

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Definitions, history, and theories of distance education. In Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed., pp. 32–62). Boston: Pearson.

Another Chink in the Wall: Open Courses

ImageOnline options for education can take many different forms. Therefore, a designer needs to understand who the audience is, why they might be taking such a course, and what the outcome of the course will be. Free open courses are an opportunity for students to study at top institutions, an option Kolowich, (2011) remarks which knocks out some bricks in the walls of elite education.  For many of these open courses, there are no prerequisites, content is the same as what is offered in the physical institution, and it is all free. Do you get what you pay for, or is the open course the opportunity to learn from the finest? How can the course’s quality be measured?

In an effort to take a closer look at an open course, I looked at Yale’s offerings under its Open Yale Courses options. The classes are distributed among twenty-three departments with about twenty-eight courses in all. Since I received my BA in English literature, I decided to check out more detail by looking at what was available in a Milton course (“ENGL 220: Milton,” 2014).

This class appears to be a “craft” course in that it is simply the physical class edition posted online. There are no areas for interaction or collaboration. The student can simply access the lectures, handouts, tests, and audio and “attend” class; beyond that, there is no other interactive options for the online student. As I researched this class, I realized I had a hard time defining what differentiated an open course, a MOOC, an xMOOC from a cMOOC so I researched how to tell them apart. I found the definitions are still vague and still developing. Kernohan, (2013) uses the open course term as an umbrella containing all the different MOOCs; with xMOOC being an open online course that has students correcting each other’s work and offering the possibility of purchasing a certificate, (this is similar to the Stanford course that Kolowich (2011) describes in his article). A cMOOC has more association with the Connectivism theory of learning and is centered on building a social learning community using social media to mimic that classroom environment. The definition of the different types of open courses is important because what the course is offering will determine how it is designed. The Milton course seems to be the more general open course as there is no interaction or collaboration for the class.

As I reviewed the Milton course offered through Open Yale, at first look, it might appear that this course is simply what Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, (2012) refer to as “shovelware”.  All the course pieces were there, but no other avenue for interaction or collaboration were offered in the free version. Open Yale does offer the Milton course as a synchronous, online study option and the student can be awarded a certificate of completion, but the student needs to meet some minor prerequisites and pay a tuition fee.  Assessing how well the open course meets the best practices of an online course design: the student, the appropriateness of the media used, interaction, and some form of evaluation at the end is all missing (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). However, as this course is designed to provide the learner with an opportunity to audit a Yale course, assessing it with that context in mind makes more sense. The Open Yale course modifies Charles Wedemeyer’s Independent Learning theory: the students can work through the course at their own pace, and they have access to excellent media and handouts; the same the in-class students have. Therefore, the student is an individual leaner and free from the “system” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).

Open Yale is designed for independent learners who are interested in expanding their horizons. “The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn” (“Open Yale courses,” 2014). Even though the course is not designed to offer interaction among the learners, Yale’s open courses are another way to remove the bricks from the walls around the ivory tower of elite education. In that context, they succeed in giving everyone who may be interested a way to peek through and learn.



ENGL 220: Milton. (2014). Open Yale courses. [Open Course]. Retrieved from http://oyc.yale.edu/english/engl-220

Kernohan, D. (2013, March 13). MOOCs and open courses: What’s the difference? Jisc. Retrieved from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/moocs-and-open-courses-whats-the-difference-13-mar-2013

Kolowich, S. (2011). Open CourseWare 2.0. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/12/13/stanfords-open-courses-raise-questions-about-true-value-elite-education#sthash.jMPplldT.dpbs

Open Yale courses. (2014). Retrieved from http://oyc.yale.edu/Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012).

Technologies, the internet, and distance education. In Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed., pp. 89–147). Boston: Pearson.