Putting the ‘online’ into learning design

There’s distinct differences between Learning Design and Online Learning Design (OLD). When designing for virtual delivery, in particular for distance learners, the materials have to work much harder to sustain interest, motivation and retention. Transferring traditional content to an online environment can be flat and miss the potential for providing variety and interaction. Over in OLDsMOOC, there are many traditional theoretical approaches being surfaced but they also need adapting to virtual environments. I wonder if the Online in Learning Design needs to be seen as an additional layer. Theories within this layer would include Laurillard’s ‘conversational framework’ model; this offers a useful example of how OLD can stimulate dialogue and networks of learning. Garrison and Anderson suggest a Community of Inquiry made up of three presences; social, cognitive and teaching. In the past I’ve found enabling communities of shared practice (e.g. following Wenger) can create powerful learning experiences. Online discussion often takes time to set up and encourage (here Salmon’s five step model is worth following) but the directions it can go off into can be exciting.

On the practical side of OLD, chunking content up with formative assessment opportunities and using alternative formats such as audio which can be listened to ‘anytime anywhere’ are always worth building into the course or activity design. Inclusive practice is critical to reaching the widest possible audience; accessible content and alternative formats give students the opportunity to access resources in the way which suits them best. Pilot and evaluate as much as possible; it’s one thing to access course material on an up-to-date networked computer but try a range of old and new browsers and operating systems including mobile platforms. Students will use a far greater variety of hardware than you might expect and remember download times vary greatly across the country. Lastly, taking part in an online course – maybe a MOOC (there’s still time to call in and browse activity in OLDsMOOC) – remains the best way of all to discover how to put the online into learning design.


Example of Salmons 5-step model http://www.atimod.com/e-moderating/5stage.shtml

Example of Laurillard’s Conversational Framework  http://www.med8.info/cpf/laurillard_93/index.htm

Garrison and Anderson Presences http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/ch11.html

Theory and Practice of Online Learning by Anderson is available free http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/contents.html

Wenger Community of Practice http://www.education.ed.ac.uk/dice/scrolla/resources/Harris_Community_of_practice_Symp3.htm


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