The tyranny of choice! Having so many tools, devices, source of information, open courses, crowd sourced content, authoring tools and more means in many ways we live in a golden age of learning. However, quantity doesn’t always mean quality and one of the biggest challenges facing both designers and learners is delivering a truly impactful learning experience.
The trend for quick performance support, dip in dip out, refreshers, boosters etc in many ways are attractive and in the right context, useful. But in a complex, knowledge driven world, are we helping learners explore more difficult subjects in a way that enables deep reflection and application? In my role as Head of Learning Design, I support a team that are tackling complex subjects all the time, courses that can span weeks, months and beyond.
In this environment, what our learners value in the learning scaffold we create with subject matter experts to facilitate their learning journey. When you are creating that learning scaffold, some structure and signposting can be extremely valuable. So the art is to provide highly credible and relevant formal materials that set the scene and which act as a catalyst for conversation, knowledge creation and further discovery.
To do this, the first stage is keeping an open mind and immersing yourself in the learning and it’s audience, rather than the tools and techniques available. Only when you figure out the learner journey and the experiences, conversations and activities that are likely to take place on that journey can you select the formal and social learning interactions that deliver the best solution.
With this approach, e-learning that acts as a springboard to other intensive learning interactions (such as virtual classrooms, workshops, assignments, discussions, coursework etc) can play a very useful and effective role. This means that the pressure to make e-learning the silver bullet to all learning objectives is removed. In addition, when e learning is a short, focused activity that introduces other intensive learning activities, the need to try and keep the learner hanging on in there with interactions and engagements designed to keep their attention rather than deliver learning is removed.
The subject of structured versus unstructured learning in a wider senses is also hotting up, with more coverage of Higher Education establishments (such as the joint edX venture between Harvard and MIT) exploring different models of distance learning. When recently scanning some comments from students enrolled on MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses – check out Wikipedia’s entry to find out more), one of the criticisms of the approach was the lack of structure and direction.
Now of course, there are students who will welcome the freedom to explore, but the job of sifting, validating and selecting high quality learning resources and understanding the types of online activities that work for a particular learning goal is not an easy one. An entirely unstructured journey may also make the benefits gained from a cohort experience (i.e. sharing the learning journey with others with whom you can share and converse) much more illusive.
It’s a great time to reflection on what great instructional design looks like for your learning context. If your challenge is to deliver complex subjects, academies that develop skills over time, professional accreditation or CPD then great design is likely to:
• focus on the understanding and mapping of the journey
• working effectively with subject matter experts to select the best formal learning materials as a starting point for learner discovery
• understanding the role of that online facilitators, tutors and fellow learners will play in the journey
• creating the right types of formal learning materials and social learning interactions to support this journey.
|Author: Lisa Minogue White is a Director and Head of Product Development at Willlow DNA. She has recently been elected to the Board of the eLearning Network.Website:http://www.willowdna.com/