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By Mark Steiner
Today’s wide blend of technologies enables an extraordinary range of cognitive, affective, and social enhancements of learning capabilities. Advances in collaborative learning and experiential simulation enable a variety of guided and inquiry-based learning that cross the barriers of distance and time. Through a mixture of instructional media, learners and educators can experience synchronous and asynchronous interactions.
This article focuses primarily on asynchronous learning, specifically constructing self-paced e-learning courses, though these strategies could be applied to a variety of learning design and development situations. Designing and developing robust, effective e-learning is not easy. Many tasks, roles, and tools are required to complete the process successfully. Here are 10 of the fundamentals critical to success.
- Educate the client on the fundamentals of e-learning. Regardless of a client’s level of e-learning awareness or sophistication, an educational process must occur. This is true whether it is an internal or external client. Even among experienced professionals within this industry, individuals undoubtedly have varying nomenclature regarding roles, processes, and tools. It is essential to educate your client on roles, processes, tools, options, costs, feasibility, and consequences to ensure all parties are operating on similar assumptions and guidelines. You and your client should approach the endeavor as a partnership. Assist your client in realizing what an integral part it is to the process. Build trust with your client by providing it with sensible, honest, pragmatic expertise. However, don’t be afraid to exert control and don’t be afraid to say no. Remember it’s your responsibility to set and control the client’s expectations.
- Determine the actualtraining need or gap. If training is not the solution to the problem, you are guaranteed to fail. It is doubtful either you or your client desire such an outcome. To help ensure determination of the actual deficiency, perform a thorough analysis, working closely with your client. Begin your analysis with what your client thinks is wrong, then dig deeper, utilizing your previous experiences, education, and intuition. There are a variety of resources that can assist individuals and organizations in enhancing and strengthening their analysis process.
- Define your process and communicate it, focusing on key review points in the cycle. The design and development of e-learning is often a complicated collision of ideas, tools, roles, people, technology, and desired outcomes. You and your client want predictable results. A well-defined, reliable process is the clearest way to get the desired results. What activities are to occur? When will they occur? Which ones must be completed before other activities can begin? It is important to make your client aware of its responsibilities: specifically inputs, review cycles, and corresponding impacts.
- Identify all key project personnel and define and communicate their roles. Now that a process has been identified and we know what will happen when, we need to know who will be doing the “whats.” Roles may include buyer, acceptor, reviewer, program lead, project lead, subject matter experts, instructional designer, developer, graphic artist, animator, audio/video specialist, etc. Regardless of the size of your company or project, roles must be filled. Maybe it’s the case that some individuals will be wearing multiple hats, but someone has to fill all of the necessary roles. It is essential to establish who signs off on what items at the beginning of the project. Also, it’s best to have a single point of contact for acceptance. Acceptance by committee is too often slow, painful, and expensive.
- Perform a comprehensive and realistic analysis regarding the technical needs and specifications of the project. Examine your client’s technical infrastructure. This often means working closely with IT. Does it have a learning management system (LMS)? What standards does it use for tracking? How many users? How media-rich will the e-learning be? Are there limits regarding high-bandwidth media? What kind of network transfer rates can be expected? What are past examples it considers successful?
- Perform a thorough analysis regarding the content of the e-learning and the specific instructional treatments. Set realistic goals for the program. Most teams usually don’t have a James Cameron Avatarbudget, but regardless of cost constraints, strive to make interactions meaningful, engaging, and relevant, mimicking the desired end behaviors. Clicking the Next button to continue is notconsidered meaningful interactivity. Creating engaging e-learning is hard work. Align the learning objectives with instructional themes, rehearsals, evaluations, and remediations that have been selected during the design.
- Specifically define your deliverables. How else do you know when you’re done? There are a variety of questions regarding the project scope that must be answered during the analysis and design phases: How much research and instructional design is required? What is the course structure? How many types and amounts of interactions? How many types and amounts of media? How many types and amounts of rehearsals? How many types and amounts of evaluations? Also, if it’s a blended project, keep in mind any potential collateral materials such as job aids, administrator’s and users guides, duplication costs, etc.
- Acquire an intimate knowledge of your development tools. Obtain or develop experts in key areas such as: project management, instructional design, graphic design, e-learning authoring tools, Web infrastructure, audio/video, SCORM and related standards, and newer methods such as mlearning and using social media. All of these areas are critical to the success of your project. If your team cannot adequately cover all areas, consider contracting outside resources that will both perform the required work andteach your team to be self-sufficient.
- In addition to the purely technical considerations of an e-learning project, also consider the unique aspects of interface design and media types and sizes when designing e-learning. Employing a graphic designer to create an effective interface, with custom buttons and eye-pleasing color schemes and assets is worth the expense. First impressions are critical to the learners and the e-learning product you are producing reflects the company and organization it is supporting. It’s a shame to see programs that have wonderful instructional design, but the 5 to 10 percent of the budget that should have been spent on a professional graphics talent was omitted. Other items to consider are the use of proper color palettes; your choice of file formats for graphics, audio, animation, and video; file-naming conventions and directory structures.
- Test your application early and often, from both a user and technical perspective. Don’t wait until two days before delivery to test your application in the actual environment it will be delivered. The concept of testing your application cannot be overemphasized. Hopefully, during the technical analysis phase, course components and requirements were aligned with the delivery environment. Still, testing should be done early and often to ensure operability and minimize unpleasant surprises. Also, from a human factors engineering (or usability) standpoint, test your application with learners. Don’t wait until you are out of time and money to find out if you have a flawed design. Test prototype versions of your program which contain key sample interactions, interfaces, and navigation schemes with actual learners early and often.
In summary, creating e-learning is complicated: project management, instructional design, interface design, Web design, a bevy of authoring tools and languages, 2-D and 3-D animations, audio, video, internet, intranet, extranet, browsers, plug-ins, SCORM and AICC standards, and oh, yes. . .changing learners’ behaviors and ensuring client satisfaction. Whether you have a large team or a small team or whether you are corporate or academic, keep these tips in mind to find a scalable, repeatable process that works for you.
Mark Steiner is president of learning solutions firm mark steiner, inc. Visit www.marksteinerinc.com for more information.
Senior Lecturer at Portsmouth University. Professional interestes include Enterprise Education, Alternate Reality Games and technology for teaching.
I have been using the Posterous blog platform as a formative
learning/reflection tool for my classes for a couple of years now.
Posterous is great because students can email contributions to the blog
directly (and include images, movies etc) without needing access to the
The way I use it is pretty simple. We do activities in class
(lecture/workshop) then I task the students with "homework" which
normally involves some form of personal application of the classroom
learning. They summarise this as a blog post.
You can see my current cohort's efforts here:
You’ve probably seen this before but I thought it worth raising as evidence for a carpe diem approach.
The undergraduate experience of blended e-learning: a
review of UK literature and practice
Rhona Sharpe, Greg Benfield, George Roberts, Richard
Francis The Higher Education Academy – October 2006
“• Use the term blended learning. Although difficult to define, the term ‘blended
learning’ is finding acceptance among higher education staff. We suggest that
the advantages of the term include its poor definition - which allows staff to
negotiate their own meaning - the implication of the protection of face to face
teaching, and the implication of designing for active learning.
• Work with and within your context. We found that institutions who we had
identified as successful implementers of blended e-learning had highly
contextualised and specific rationales for their adoption of technology.
Similarly, successful local implementations were often in response to a real
relevant issues occurring at the course level.
• Use blended learning as a driver for transformative course redesign. The
importance of transformative course level designs was identified as one of
three characterisations of blended e-learning. Throughout the review, staff
repeatedly identified engaging in course redesign as critical to their success.
The valuable features of the course redesign were identified as: undertaking
an analysis of the current course, collecting and making use of student
feedback, undertaking the design as a team, designs which make explicit
their underlying principles, and developing the course iteratively over a
number of years.
• Help students develop their conceptions of the learning process. It seems to
be important how students conceive of their engagement with the learning
processes and activities within a blended e-learning context. In order to
support students, it is vital that we are consistent and transparent in
communicating our expectations about, for instance, attendance patterns or
how to engage in purposeful dialogue in asynchronous discussions.
• Disseminate and communicate results of evaluations. The need to coordinate,
promote and disseminate results from evaluations was identified as
a crucial aspect of monitoring institutional strategies and course redesigns.”
A study from the US highlights that, the change in design of classrooms and in the change in teaching practice within those rooms leads to higher grades. Although there is limited budget for us to develop these types of rooms further, we should be reassured by this study that the rooms developed are having an impact.
See here for details
Check out this video
This brings together such a variety of social media to help direct and focus the f-2-f sessions. Of course it would take huge amount of work to build students appetite for this level of engagement but perhaps with the introduction at level 1 across a programme you could see students getting involved on a deeper level. Perhaps with is what Trowler and the HEA were looking for in their recent paper on student engagement
See here for more information
Mary Davis collection of research from JISC Plagiarism mailing list
Davis, M. and Carroll, J. (2009). ‘Formative feedback within plagiarism education: is there a role for text-matching software?’ International Journal of Educational Integrity 5(2). Available at http://www.ojs.unisa.edu.au/index.php/IJEI/issue/view/117
Davis, M. (2009). ‘The role of Turnitin within the formative process of EAP: a tool for global academic culture’ in BALEAP 2007 Conference Proceedings
Davis, M. and Yeang, F. (2008) ‘Encouraging international and dyslexic students to develop more learning strategies for writing through the use of Turnitin’ BeJLT 2(3) November 2008. Available at: http://bejlt.brookes.ac.uk/article/encouraging_international_and_dyslexic_students_to_develop_better_learning/
Davis, M. (2008) ‘Using Turnitin to provide powerful formative feedback’. ASKe 123 Guide, Oxford Brookes University. Available at
Davis, M. (2007) ‘The role of Turnitin within the formative process of academic writing: a tool for learning and unlearning’. BeJLT 2 (2) October 2007. Available at
Davis, M., Emerson, L. and Carroll, J. (2007).’The use of electronic detection systems for learners. Is there a pedagogic argument or are we just teaching them to cheat?’ European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction at Budapest 28 August-1 September 2007, 12th biennial conference. Abstract available at: http://earli2007.hu/nq/home/scientific_program/programme/parallel_sessions/&session=10
Davis, M. (2007). ‘Creating learning and unlearning opportunities from Turnitin in the process of academic writing’ ‘Designing for learning’ - E-Learning Conference at University of Greenwich, 4 July, 2007 Paper details at
Cohen, J. (2010). Using Turnitin as a formative writing tool. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (2) pp1-14. Available at: http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ojs/index.php?journal=jldhe
This report summarises the findings of research commissioned by Universities UK into the role and
contribution of higher education in the UK’s creative economy. The research gathered evidence from
existing data and research as well as case study analysis and contributions from industry, higher
education and public sector partners.
The findings demonstrate not only the crucial role that higher education plays in the UK creative
economy, but also why that contribution will become increasingly important to economic recovery.
During the latter stages of writing this report, it became evident, through the Independent Review of
Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (Browne Review) and the subsequent announcements
in the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, that it is likely that all direct public funding
for teaching in universities, at least in England, could be withdrawn from the majority of subjects
which support the creative industries. The importance of the creative industries to the economy, and
the importance of the higher education sector in underpinning the strength of the creative industries,
means that the arguments presented in this report are even more timely and relevant.
Addressing the barriers to successful engagement
Recommendation 1: Governments in the UK and the devolved nations should recognise the critical
importance of the creative industries to future competitiveness and the key role of higher education
in supporting their growth. This means according the creative industries policy emphasis in line
with their economic importance, and investing to ensure that the UK maintains its strong global
position in these industries. This investment should be prioritised through a clearly articulated
and aligned strategy.
Recommendation 2: In the forthcoming higher education white paper (due to be published in spring
2011), the Government should resist the narrow view that STEM subjects represent the exclusive
route to economic success, and should instead recognise the fact that STEM and creativity are
inextricably linked – successful knowledge economies need strength in both. In practice, this
means that the disciplines which support the creative economy should be identified as priority
subjects and attract public investment for teaching in a post-Browne environment. This is
particularly urgent in England and Wales, but is equally relevant in the other devolved nations.
Recommendation 3: Key industry bodies should ensure that the creative industries are included
in their engagement with government in the UK and the devolved nations.
Recommendation 4: Government and the research councils should ensure adequate funding
for research in disciplines relevant to the creative industries. This should include social science
research into the nature of the creative economy. Research assessment mechanisms should also
ensure that the outputs and impacts of creative industries-related research are fully recognised
and rewarded. Indeed, the REF expert panels, reporting to HEFCE on the outcomes of the impact
pilot exercise, have recommended that a broader definition of impact be adopted and that the
initial list of impacts need to be developed further, especially for the arts and humanities.
Recommendation 5: Universities should work to address the structural barriers to
multidisciplinary working. There is no single solution to these issues and different institutions
will need to find the approach that works best for their circumstances.
Recommendation 6: Higher education should work to overcome some of the process barriers to
working with the creative industries, particularly relating to the nature and speed of interaction.
This will require changes to the ways in which academic performance is rewarded to allow
more interaction with creative (and other) SMEs, as well as a willingness to create more flexible
organisational structures to support this. This will also require policy support from the national
and devolved governments and from the funding councils.
Recommendation 7: Encouragement and support for university-business interaction should be
a priority issue for the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in England, and for the main
economic development agencies in the devolved nations.
Recommendation 8: Intermediary bodies such as trade associations and industry groups (including
Sector Skills Councils) should work to raise awareness of the benefits to industry of working with
higher education across all forms of knowledge exchange activity.
Recommendation 9: Sector Skills Councils should work in partnership with the higher education
sector and industry to articulate and translate the skills needs of employers, broker relationships,
increase engagement and facilitate co‑investment.
Recommendation 10: Universities should continue to develop flexible policies towards
intellectual property rights so that this is not a barrier to effective knowledge exchange with
the creative industries.
Investing in opportunity
Recommendation 11: Third-stream funding, in particular from the Higher Education Innovation
Fund (HEIF), has been critical in supporting knowledge exchange between universities and the
creative industries. Government and the funding councils across the UK should ensure ongoing
support for these third-stream activities, for example through a reformed HEIF, to continue
to build innovative solutions to knowledge exchange.
Recommendation 12: There should be increased investment into multidisciplinary research
projects across the three main research councils with interests in the creative economy – the Arts
and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). In particular AHRC should be
resourced to participate fully in new cross-council initiatives.
Recommendation 13: Universities should continue to develop multidisciplinary education at
postgraduate levels, bringing together creativity, technology and business. The links between
the undergraduate and postgraduate provision are such that the viability of this multidisciplinary
activity is threatened by the anticipated withdrawal of public funding for creative (and business)
disciplines at undergraduate level. The Government should consider these issues as it reforms
future higher education funding in England following the Browne Review.
Recommendation 14: Universities should structure new ways of interacting with the disparate
sectors that make up the creative industries. Networks and subscription-based models offer
potential to aggregate industry demand and are worth considering, not least because they
can unlock the willingness of SMEs to contribute themselves.
Recommendation 15: Working through the Sector Skills Councils and other industry bodies and
trade associations, the creative industries should build productive working relationships with
higher education and contribute to the development of relevant educational provision.
Recommendation 16: Universities must continue to develop world-beating talent, but with
increasing focus on industry exposure, employability and entrepreneurship. This will mean
action on the development of consistent standards for industry experience and entrepreneurship
education as well as continuing to engage employers in new models of interaction that deliver
Recommendation 17: Creative businesses should work in partnership with universities to
develop opportunities for industry placements, live briefs and practical experience for students
at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Recommendation 18: Universities should continue to develop high-level and affordable CPD
for the creative industries through more flexible, tailored courses that meet industry needs.
Recommendation 19: There is scope for industry to work with universities and public sector
partners to build regional creative industries clusters and support innovation. Although higher
education is a powerful and natural partner for this, the support of industry and the relevant
public bodies (for example LEPs) is essential.
Recommendation 20: There should be ongoing support for the Skillset Media Academies, with
Skillset continuing to play a coordinating role on strategic network development.
This mini case study highlights the importance of a joined up approach for a department in tackling an issues as large as this and developing a wide range of initiatives that link together to bring about change
This psychology department got poor NSS results for feedback, they obviously looked at this issue deeply and then used online tools as well as other methods such as a programme wide workshop for students on learning from feedback.