This is the second post in a series of four on instructional design for online courses. The goal of this series is to introduce a fresh, innovative approach to course design.
Instructional design, also known as learning design, appears to be making a comeback, which is most fortunate given that I am writing a series on this very topic. Massive open online courses [MOOCs] that mimic the classroom model where the learner is passive and the instructor is not, highlights the need for fresh, new approach to course design. And it’s not just MOOCs that need help, but numerous courses currently offered online; many are in need an overhaul to create an environment focused on learning, rather than one that focuses on instruction. My aim here is to provide readers with a course design framework, information and tools for designing online courses. These tools and skills appear to be in demand by educators that are trying to adapt their courses and teaching methods to an online or blended format. Some educators also find when entering into the MOOC world of instruction, they are in need of a different skill set from what is required for face-to-face teaching.
In the first post of this series, Why Online Courses [Really] Need Instructional Design I wrote about the dire need for instructional design: how it is needed to guide the process of learning for students, and guide the teaching of the course as well. A courses’ structure is a reflection of the design teams’ [or designer] belief in how people learn. The teams’ learning perspective translates into the choices made for instructional tools, the delivery methods, application activities and assessment methods for the course. We can see this in traditional higher education, which for the most part ascribes to the cognitive theory of learning, a theory that rests on the assumptions that learning is an internal process; a function of the learners memory. It’s an instructor-focused paradigm, where the teacher describes concepts for the learner via instruction, and in some cases relies upon visual representations for reinforcement. (Roblyer & Doering, 2010). This model still is the primary model in colleges and universities—professors lecturing to a class of [passive] students. Even though considerable research proves that students learn better when active in the learning process [in keeping with the constructivist theory], the cognitive theory prevails. George Siemens, co-founder of the first MOOC noted in a recent blog post:
The current MOOC providers have adopted a regressive pedagogy: small-scale learning chunks reminiscent of the heady days of cognitivism and military training. Ah, the 1960′s. What a great time to be a learner.” gsiemens, March 10, 2013
Before I move on and provide further examples, I’ll review four learning orientations—beliefs in how people learn. I wrote about each theory in-depth in a previous post, A Tale of Two MOOCs: Divided by Pedagogy, though here I’ve put together an image that summarizes the core principles of each.
When examining the image [above], one can see how learning theories influence the methods of instruction for a course. This diagram is not meant to be an implementation tool for course design, but an information source. In subsequent posts of the series I’ll review how learning theory is incorporated into the design of a course during the initial phase, the analysis phase [following the analysis is the development phase and then implementation].
In another article published recently, The Pedagogy of MOOCs, the author suggests that xMOOCs offered through platforms such as Udacity, are a step backward for education. Rather than leveraging the technology and the thousands of students to advance learning, where students become contributors to the course, the MOOC applies instructor-centered teaching and assumes the learner is passive – an empty vessel.
The crux of my post, the point I would like to leave with readers, is that a fresh, new perspective is needed for teaching and course design—course design is about creating environments to help students learn. As new courses are developed or transformed from face-to-face to an online format, the focus should not be on the technology, the platform, the video lectures, the forums, the instructor, but on the students —what methods will facilitate their learning? How will they learn? Stay tuned for my next post in this series.
- The Pedagogy of MOOCs, Paul Stacy
- How would MOOCs should be designed and structured differently? Learner Weblog
- Opinion: The Case for Learning Designers, by Peps McCrea
- Group work advice for MOOC providers, George Siemens
- Salomon, G. (1991). From theory to practice: the international science classroom — a technology-intensive, exploratory, team-based and interdisciplinary high school project. Educational Technology, 31 (3), 41-44.