Optimizing the Learners’ LMS eLearning Experience

The first eLearning course I enrolled in in the year 2000 was a nightmare because I couldn’t find all the required pieces of the course on the website. Granted, LMS (learning management systems) were in their infancy at that point, and I honestly don’t recall which, if any, LMS was use. Nonetheless, the course left such a horrible impression on me that it took many years before I attempted another online course.

I always remember that experience when I design my courses. I’ve worked primarily in Moodle and Blackboard, and each have their pros and cons, but no matter which LMS is used, making the course as learner friendly as possible is always at the forefront of my layout.

In the Blackboard example used here, the site is laid out by module. The Course Documents page contains all documents the learners will use, including the course syllabus and assignments, in addition to links to useful sites. These documents are added to the modules in which the topics are addressed and assignments “handed out.” The multiple postings allow learners to quickly find what they are looking for.

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Assignment Revision

In the last post I described why I revised the course outline because of a problem with the final assignment. This revision has put me a bit behind schedule, but if I run out of time I’ll simply not re-shoot as many videos as I’d hoped.

The revision stemmed from a problem I had with the final assignment. Last semester I noted that students struggled with meeting the expectations of the assignment.  I hadn’t changed the assignment from the previous delivery, so after examining my notes I decided to provide more information about how to create a very basic WPL program.

This simple decision had a domino effect as it may impact other assignments, the content of the modules that I had not scheduled to change, and amount of work required by the learners.

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Continued Changes to the Course Outline

Changes to the Course Outline In the previous post I took a closer look at the syllabus and the course layout. As I mentioned, this was my first draft and I knew there would be a few changes once I started to closely examine the course content and the videos.

The changes add much needed depth to the course but they do not address the problems I see in the final assignment. The more I think about it, the more I am certain that creating a WPL program does not belong in week 7.

The WPL course assignments are all problem-based learning, except for the first assignment, which is a short essay. To keep the spirit of the course intact, I need to engage the leaners by including different elements of a WPL program into the course. Stuffing all the information into one week just won’t work.

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Reviewing the Course Syllabus

Reviewing a Course SyllabusLast week’s blog post looked at my justification for re-designing a synchronous online university course I teach each fall. I’m in a bit of a time crunch because all the videos must be shot and edited no later than mid-April.

In this blog I’m going to describe how I went about adding in three new topics to the 12 week course.

When I began teaching in the early 2000s, it was drilled into my head that I could not deviate from the supplied syllabus. This was reinforced in many of the courses I took in my B.Ed. It was explained in simple terms: The syllabus is a legal contract between the institution, the professor, and the students. Therefore, what I put in the syllabus must be followed, however, an addendum is permissible if the syllabus clearly states which section may be adjusted during the course.

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Why Re-design the Course

Jan 4, 2016 picIn the first post in this series, I provided some background information about the course and the learners. A course re-design must be soundly justified, so in this post I’ll provide further background information about the course and identify what needs to be updated and why.

Facilitators are expected to update one-third of the course every year. The updates should include required readings and videos. The first year I taught WPL I updated about two-thirds of the videos. It just felt wrong to me for learners to see me in class (Adobe Connect) each week, but I was not in the videos.

I had the opportunity to review the course syllabus when I interviewed for the job. The course was well designed. It had a good flow and was very easy to follow. Each weekly topic was tied directly to at least learning outcome (objective). All assignments were tied to at least two learning outcomes. The learning outcomes were reasonable, well worded, measureable, and achievable.

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Course Re-design Project

A few months ago I came to the conclusion it was time re-design an online course I teach. Over the past decade I have created and re-designed a number of courses that were delivered both in the classroom and as eLearning courses. In addition, I have experience as an instructional designer. How I go about re-designing courses has not been at the forefront of my mind in years. I just do it. It’s time to document the journey.

Interestingly, I’m also in the midst of searching for research articles about how professors go about creating and re-designing courses. Some of these articles may find their way in to the forthcoming blog posts, but only if they are open access articles.
About the course

The course I’m re-designing is workplace learning (WPL). The course is part of an undergraduate degree program in education. The age range of the students is 20 to 60 years old. The vast majority have worked, and many of them work full-time. Some students have English as a second language, but of the 60 or so students I taught the course to, only two students had serious writing challenges.

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What is Curriculum?

Source: MS Office.com

Source: MS Office.com

In both my bachelors and masters programs I’ve taken a number of course that focus on designing curriculum, but what struck me is the inconsistency definition of curriculum. I’ve heard some college professors define curriculum as their lesson plans. One of my professors described curriculum as the process of putting together learning outcomes, which is supported by lecture material, readings, and assignments.

These definitions are correct, but they do not capture the essence of what I believe curriculum is, which is the input (process), output (interactions with students) and the objectives (learner success).

The confusion about what curriculum is may be based on different purposes of a course or program. For example, an introductory course may be knowledge based and therefore subject centred. Looking at pedagogical theories, the professor may employ humanistic or behavioural design. Some teachers have told me they teach using problem-based or project-based learning. The popular TRIBES teaching/learning method focuses on cooperative learning lesson plans. All these are examples of teaching practices, but not curriculum design.

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Sequencing Curriculum

Source: MS Office.com

Source: MS Office.com

There are several different approaches one can take to sequencing learning, such as subject expert, general to specific, simple to complex, book, known to unknown, and problem to solution. This post will provide a brief overview of these six sequences

Subject Experts Sequence – Most professors are hired because they are subject matter experts in their field. Whether the subject is history or physics, the subject matter expert has intimate knowledge of the field and thus should instinctively know what should be taught first to provide a foundation for the further learning. The problem that I’ve seen some subject matter experts face is that they know too much and believe everything is important and nearly everything is foundational. Consulting with a curriculum designing can often help the subject matter expert identify levels of learning material.

General to Specific Sequence – I usually recommend this sequence as the introductory lesson to a subject. Provide the learner with an overview of the course or topic and then create lesson plans based on the important components. In each component I believe it is import to provide learners with anchors to the past and lifelines to the future. For example, if the course were in week six, I would introduce the topics and ask students how they believe it relates to the material in the previous five weeks. This may be a brief discussion or you may uncover material that was misunderstood. Next, throw the students a lifeline and let them know how this will relate to the components in the remainder of the course.

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How to Write Learning Objectives Part 2

I hope you’ve had a chance to write down a number of learning objectives since you read my last week’s post. Using Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide you should have easily compile more learning objectives then you need.

Generally, a 12-week college or university course should have three or four learning objectives. These objectives should be broad enough to cover all the topics in the course, including assignments and student presentations. You may have created a list of a dozen or so objectives, but that is too many for the typical. I’m sure there are many good ideas in your list and this post will help you pull out the gems to create three or four powerful, measurable learning objectives.

Take a look at your list and underline or circle the critical elements of the course. Do these elements apply to all or most of the assignments, lectures, readings, and class activities? The purpose of this exercise is to clearly identify the elements that focus on the most important elements of the course. Continue reading

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How to Write Learning Objectives, Part 1

Last week I discussed the differences between learning outcome and learning objectives. That set the stage for creating learning objectives, which takes considerable thought and practice.

I always preface my list of objectives with “Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:” This preface defines my target audience (students), provides a timeframe (completion of the course), and states that the following must be “successfully completed,” which is a measurement.

The preface may be changed depending on the length of learning, such as workshop, or training session, and the word “student” can be replaced with learner, trainee, or employee. Continue reading

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