Finding the Right Tool
The Christmas season is at hand, my daughter, a dancer, is preparing for the annual production of The Nutcracker. One of her key tools, of course, is her shoes. I have learned how tricky getting the right pointe shoe is, how a bad fit can be disastrous, and how a good fit enables her to fly. I see a clear parallel to designing good online instruction. It’s complicated to put together, but the right tools, the proper fit with the design, sets the learner soaring. One of the reports I enjoy checking out each year is the Horizon Report for Higher Education. I find it interesting to see how technology will advance in education in the foreseeable future. One article this year discusses advances in online learning influenced by rapidly developing improvements in multimedia technology (“Evolution of online learning,” 2014). These advances, (largely voice and video tools), have improved the quality of interactive activities which, in turn, play a part in the increased the popularity of online classes. Beyond convenience, well-designed online education’s focus on student interactivity with the content and with each other, creates a successful learning experience. Roblyer and Wiencke, (2003) comment that distance learning theory and research indicate that successful online course designs include multiple opportunities for interaction as an important part of the course. In an online environment, technology is critical for creating activities that are interactive and engaging. The challenge becomes choosing the appropriate tools for the activity.
The issue with technology is it keeps evolving and new options are always on the horizon. However, the focus for every designer has to be the goals and objectives of the course, not some new tech wonder just for the sake of novelty. Purloff and Pratt, (2010) stress that the outcomes and objectives should always be at the forefront. If the designer decides that technology will help the learner engage with the content better, then the fit works. Roblyer and Wiencke, (2003) observe that technology should permeate the learner’s ability to interact within the course. The technology should bridge the connections and blend within the structure of the course as the proper support for student engagement with the content.
Access that Works for All
Another consideration the designer must keep in mind is whether or not the technology used is “usable and accessible” for all students. Cooper, Colwell, and Jelfs, (2007) describe usability as “being synonymous with ‘ease of use’” (p. 232) and accessibility as “. . .the ability of the learning environment to adjust to the needs of all learners. . .thus determined by the flexibility of the e-learning system or learning resource to meet the needs and preferences of all users” (p. 232). The authors note the goal is a challenging one as the needs of users with disabilities vary greatly and their choices of how they interact with a computer vary as well. They recommend that designers include accessibility and usability experts as early as possible in the planning.
As I develop my skills as an instructional designer, I am finding how much I enjoy working with multimedia: video, animation, Storyline®, and audio. When I am developing these projects, I am able to let my intuition drive more. As an academic writer, so much of the work is “in my head” but when I work in multimedia, I have discovered the creative side gets to stretch itself, which has been fun and new for me.
It’s like a dance, really.
Online learning is not new, but its face is changing as technology develops how it functions. As Boettcher and Conrad, (2010) state, the best way to start a course is to focus on social presence activities for the learners and the instructor. Today’s technology provides a variety of tools to choose from for the best fit. Palloff and Pratt (2010) discussed a variety of Web 2.0 tools that offer students and instructors additional methods for interaction. Even though the list of options continues to grow, the instructional designer should always assess how the technology will support the learning process. Designing a course that delivers content with sound pedagogy, engaging, and interactive materials, within a strengthening community of learners is a daunting endeavor. From my previous experience designing an online orientation course, and as I work through this course, I am constantly reminded how important the right activity at the right time with the right tool is. With the many issues to consider, appropriate fit, accessibility and usability, skillful analysis and selection of the right tool will take some time and experience. The resources have helped me see how many options there are and that a good course uses tools that fit well. When it all fits together, the learning experience can be very like a good dance.
Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. Association for Learning Technology, 15(3), 231–245.
Evolution of online learning. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, 18–19. Retrieved from: http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2014-nmc-horizon-report-he-EN-SC.pdf
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Enhancing the online experience [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.walden.edu
Roblyer, M. D., & Wiencke, W. R. (2003). Design and use of a rubric to assess and encourage interactive qualities in distance courses. American Journal of Distance Education, 17(2), 77–98. doi:10.1207/S15389286AJDE1702_2