Saturday, December 22, 2012

Reflecting Upon the Future of Online Learning and the Role of the Instructional Designer

Online and distance learning has long fit a niche for particular educational needs (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek, 2012).  In the past, correspondence, radio, and television have all been used to conduct learning at a distance.  And, with each new technology, the audience and influence of learning at a distance grew (Huett, Moller, Foshay, & Coleman, 2008).   The onset of the Internet for the transmission of information and multimedia across vast distances with virtually no delay, has revolutionized the industry (Simonson, et al, 2012). 
            With the increasing popularity and variety of online learning programs, a new methodology for instruction has evolved to include hybrid or blended models (Horn, & Staker, 2011).  Through reports such as Speak Up Now, learning has gone from industrialized to personalized (Project Tomorrow, 2012).  The current generation of students have never known life without the convenience of instant access to information, and the use of distance education can greatly assist students in the acquisition of valuable skills they will need to be successful in their future (P21, 2011).  Within the next decade, more personalization of learning will occur, primarily within the confines of the traditional classroom as hybrid, blended, and fles models of learning become the norm (Horn, & Staker, 2011).  Once the personalization has hit a critical mass, the future of distance learning could likely move into students learning skills and content at their own pace, place, and time, in a location of their choice (Project Tomorrow, 2012). 
            While many adults are drawn to online learning due to the need to fit learning within their ever-shrinking free time; not all courses are created equal (Beaudoin, Kurtz, & Eden, 2009).  Beyond poorly designed courses, and less reputable institutions looking to cash in on the online learning trend; the role of an instructional designer remains the same regardless of the medium of instruction (Simonson, et al, 2012).  By being a proponent of the principles guiding quality instructional design and informing and guiding others through quality online experiences, the designer is best able to positively influence how distance learning is perceived.  Staying current in research and the data concerning efficacy of online versus traditional learning also helps to steer conversations towards the great benefits the online student-centered environment gives (Dabbagh, 2007). 

            Through my current work in a large, urban, public school system in the United States; I will continue to work with teachers in our high schools to design blended courses in the district course management system (CMS).  As this shift in delivery of instruction continues, there are various opportunities to implement the A.D.D.I.E model of instructional design, as well as providing comfort, knowledge, advice, and support to teachers throughout the process.  Beyond the copying of old and outdated worksheets into the CMS, the blended learning orientation and training models best practices for designing and delivering instruction in multiple formats to engage and instruct the learner.  Through modeling in the online environment and face-to-face trainings, teachers have the opportunity to design and build a course that will enhance instruction and place students in the role of being responsible for their learning (P21, 2011).  An review process involving executive staff, curriculum coordinators, and instructional designers, lends legitimacy to the finished courses (Horn, & Staker, 2011).
 BlackboardTV (2011). Bb World 2011:  A quick chat with Sir Ken Robinson - green room.  Retrieved from:

Allen, E. & Seaman, J. (2011).  Going the distance: Online education in the United
States, 2011.  Retrieved from:
Beaudoin, M. F., Kurtz, G., & Eden, S. (2009). Experiences and Opinions of E-learners:
What Works, What are the Challenges, and What Competencies Ensure Successful Online Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal Of E-Learning & Learning Objects, 5275-289.
Dabbagh, N. (2007). The online learner: Characteristics and pedagogical
implications.  Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 217- 226.
Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2011).  The rise of K-12 blended learning. Innosight
Institute. Retrieved from:
Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance
education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5), 63–67.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), (2011).  Framework for 21st century
Project Tomorrow.  (2012).  Mapping a personalized learning journey – K-12
Simonson, M. Smaldino, S. Albright, M. & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and
learning at a distance: Foundationsof distance education (5th Ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Converting to Distance or Blended Learning


When making the shift from synchronous, face-to-face instruction, to that of blended online instruction, several considerations must be addressed.  Using the tried and true A.D.D.I.E. model, here are some basics that should be considered first.


·      Characteristics of the learner.
·      Goals of the program.
·      Outcomes of communication among participants.
·      Technology available to the trainer and participants.


·      Asynchronous discussions and activities
·      Synchronous lessons and discussions for face-to-face
·      Assessments to determine whether participants have met the intended goals


·      Online components
·      Face-to-face components
·      Supporting materials for the facilitator and the participants such as a syllabus, orientation to the online environment, and a guide to the requirements and expectations of the course
·      Assessments for the evaluation of project success


·      Train the facilitator
·      Train the participants
·      Pilot the blended course with a group


·      Did the outcomes match the goals of the course?
·      What benefits did teacher and students state of the online component?
·      What obstacles did the online component create?
·      What improvements should be made?  (Morrison, Ross, Kalman, & Kemp, 2011).

Enhancements Afforded by the Shift:

Discussions and review materials would be enhanced in the online environment because all students could share their views, as well as affording the teacher the ability to hold students accountable for meeting specific criteria for quality discussion posts (Stacey, & Wiesenberg, 2007).   

Adjustments to Present Instructional Practices:

Rather than lecturing or presenting information, the trainer can moderate and facilitate the online discussions; this will create a richer community allowing for greater understanding of students and material when the face-to-face sessions occur.  The instructor can bring out the best from the asynchronous communication to go deeper into the content or allow time for participants to collaborate on projects (Gedik, Kiraz, & Özden, 2012).

How to Encourage Online Participation When Students are Online:

By addressing material from the online communication in the face-to-face course, as well as providing meaningful discussions and skillful facilitation of the online component, students will be more motivated to complete the online component of the training.  Additionally, the instructor can share information concerning the importance of online discussions and the benefits students will receive from their active participation (So, & Bush, 2008).

Sample Guide for Making the Shift


Gedik, N., Kiraz, E., & Özden, M. Y. (2012).  The optimum blend: Affordances and
challenges of blended learning for students.  Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry, July 2012, 3(3), 102-117.
Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H.K., & Kemp, J.E. (2011).  Designing effective
instruction. (6th ed.).  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
So, H., & Bush, T. A. (2008).  Student perceptions of collaborative learning, social
presence and satisfaction in a blended learning environment: Relationships and critical factors.  Computers & Education, 51, 318-336.
Stacey, E. & Wiesenberg, F. (2007).  A study of face-to-face and online teaching
philosophies in Canada and Australia.  Journal of Distance Education, 22(1), 19-40.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

NROC's Algebra 1 Open Course

NROC website banner
National Repository of Online Courses (NROC), Algebra 1—An Open Course.

 To register for a guest log-in go to:

This course is offered freely through NROC as an open course for anyone to take.  The advantage of open enrollment courses is that learners are able to explore a topic in an independent study method, as suggested by Michael Moore’s theory of distance education (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 44).  Open courses have become increasingly popular as a means of content dissemination and in the spirit of the Creative Commons legal code.  However, a free course may not contain quality of content.  So knowing what to look for in an online course is important when judging open courses. 
Microsoft Office for Mac clip art gallery

The NROC Algebra course is a highly engaging environment, complete with interactive videos that include some high quality video effects.  Does the flash of the course hide a faulty structure?  Let’s look at the evidence of design and pre-planning that can be seen for the course.

·      Audience – the course is strategically designed toward a middle-high school aged audience.  The writing, design, and layout along with the explanations of the lessons use vocabulary and principals attractive and easily understood by this age audience.
·      Ability of the group – as the target audience falls in the neo-millennial aged learner, much use has been made of interactive elements and instructive video to complement the less exciting content.

Microsoft Office for Mac clip art gallery
According to Schlosser & Burmeister, all online learners require:
·      Relevant content
·      Clarity of expectations
·      Control of pacing
·      Available help
·      A method for determining progress
·      Content that is helpful and engaging  (Smaldino, et al, 2012, p. 176).

The NROC course elevates a subject that has become dulled by the repetition of completing endless problem sets into an engaging and fanciful journey into the logic behind the math. 

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Distance Learning Scenario


Distance Learning Technologies

Instructional designers in the K-12 arena must possess the ability to assist teachers in the effective design of instruction in distance learning.  According to Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Avacek (2012), it is not about what technology is used but how it is used and the content it conveys (p. 115). 

National Portrait Gallery
This post will take into consideration the following factors: 

·      High school history classroom
·      View collections in museums too far away to visit
·      Interact with curators
·      Group critique of student-chosen works

There are multiple means to accomplish this task, however, certain considerations are essential in the K-12 public education sector.  Distance learning technologies such as synchronous audio and video communication can be blocked on district networks, or requires the need to coordinate the lesson with technical support staff. 

Online Tours

A simple way to handle viewing far away collections is to use Google Art Project or to go to the website for the museum.  Take a look for yourself at these specific examples:

·      Online virtual tour of Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
·      Google Art Project:  Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Distance Communication

Once students have time to explore the online collections, several options are possible for students to interact with curators. 
·      Synchronous two-way audio and video could be done via Skype or Apple’s Facetime
·      Synchronous one-way audio and video could be done via Blackboard Collaborate or Oovoo
·      Synchronous two-way chat could be done via Gmail chat, or a simple site such as Today’s Meet (
·      Asynchronous communication could also be done via Google Sites, Edmodo, or even the school CMS. 

Group Critique

After viewing the online virtual tours and communicating with the curators, students will need to choose two works and participate in a group critique.  This requires a place for students to link to the images and to participate in a dialogue critique.  A group critique could happen in the classroom via presentations and face-to-face discussions, however, if the teacher would also like to handle this portion of the lesson with distance learning tools multiple options are again available.  A great wrap-up, asynchronous tool for the group critique would be VoiceThread ( ), which would allow students to upload the two images they selected.  Students could then choose text or voice along with drawing tools to hold a meaningful critique of the artwork.


Simonson, M. Smaldino, S. Albright, M. & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundationsof distance education (5th Ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Distance Learning from my perspective

Distance learning continues to adapt to the advances of distance communications (Tracey, & Richey, 2005).  From the early years of correspondence courses, through telegrams, to radio broadcasts, then television courses, and onto VHS video, the time lapse between student and instructor has decreased (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  In the current age of the Internet, distance learning has seen exponential growth due to the rapid rise of global communication and the mobile industry.  As the author of “The World is Flat,” Thomas Friedman dared to open our minds to how the instant information age has created a level playing field upon which anyone with access to information can now be a contender (2007).

This rapid growth in the industry has much to do with telecommunications growth.  However the growth of students taking distance courses has as much to do with the need for a highly skilled, technologically rich workforce as it does with the dynamics of the modern family where parents work to support and improve the status and earnings of the family unit.  A handful of years ago, several of my closest teacher friends embarked on a journey to earn a Master’s degree for art education.  Three of my friends enrolled in the same university, which was just beginning their first online program.  The other teacher-friend began taking courses via correspondence.  The process fascinated me in the aspect of time.  The correspondence course offered little feedback or formative assessment, however the teacher had complete flexibility in how quickly the work was completed and submitted.  At the same time, my three friends taking the new online course encountered bumps along the road as professors learned and adapted to the new style for sharing information.

While distance learning can mean multiple things, to me the definition is simple.  Distance learning is a formalized process that guides the student through the discovery of and synthesizing of new information without the immediate and direct guidance of the instructor (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  While my view of distance education has been shaped by multiple experiences, the idea of synchronous versus asynchronous plays a major role in my view of distance education.  When comparing mail-in correspondence courses to Skyped lessons in real time, the idea of time becomes a greater limiting factor than geographic distance.

Through my work with high school teachers building online courses to supplement their face-to-face classes I have needed to consider time in a completely new manner.  Conversations with students that formerly were constrained to a one-hour class period, can now take place over the course of an entire week.  This flexibility offers students the chance to truly reflect upon their learning and offer richer opinions online than they are able or willing to contribute during the synchronous class-time allotted by the school (Bergmann, & Sams, 2012).  Similarly, students are able to access digital content to supplement or review information supplied in class.

While there is much debate concerning the effectiveness of online courses, their popularity continues to rise.  Fully online programs are currently hampered by a lack of technological skill on the part of the participant.  However, as the technology skills held by the majority population continues to grow, combined with the increasing availability of low-cost Internet and Internet capable devices, distance-learning courses will increase in popularity.  Although, as a teacher, I must state that online courses will never fully replace the need for teachers as mentors, models, and guides for the learning process.

My mindmap for distance learning, pictured above can be found at:


Bergmann, J. & Sams, A. (2012, April).  How the flipped classroom is radically transforming learning.   Learning, Innovation & Tech Bombs & Breakthroughs.  Retrieved from:

Friedman, T. L. (2007).  The world is flat: A brief history of the 21st century.  Picador Publishing, New York, NY.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Tracey, M., & Richey, R. (2005). The evolution of distance education. Distance Learning, 2(6), 17–21.