Learning and isolation are poor partners. Focus on the learner context enhances the process of OLD through revealing motivations as well as potential barriers. Context can reveal attention hot spots e.g. ease of access to materials, availability of support, the loneliness of the long distance online learner, guidance on specific design criteria e.g. the variety of activities, collaboration with peers and tutors, interaction with content, formative and diagnostic assessment opportunities etc. Context assists the designer make appropriate choices, in particular providing mechanisms for customising learning to suit individual preference e.g. providing information in alternative formats. All this runs in parallel to theoretical approaches to LD for example constructive alignment (Biggs and Tang, 2011).
Scenarios, Personas and Force Maps are useful approaches to OLD. Context can be presented in textual formats but also displayed through mind mapping or diagrams where a visual approach can offer an effective overview of key issues. Constructing context encourages sharing practice; drawing on own experiences and incorporating those of colleagues to bring key issues together. Doing this online rather than round a table can in itself reveal areas of online learning design which need attention.
For my own practice inclusion is a key concern. Without attention to access, the application of theory to practice becomes diluted. Effective OLD takes into account the diversity of ways people access learning resources and opportunities, this is particularly important where there are no face to face clues or opportunities for discussion. Identifying potential barriers to access and participation are key to retention and success.
In the future I will be looking to building a collection of contrasting scenarios for future reference and experiment with alternative ways of presenting these e.g. diagrammatically.
Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. 4th ed. OUP