Pre-planning analysis of a MOOC offering

I had the pleasure of observing an open course on the history of China called ChinaX.  It is one in a host of EdX MOOCs offered by founding partners Harvard and MIT.  The course is broken up into 6 modules which are meant to correspond to a 6 week time frame.  The course is, however, asynchronous and doesn’t have any real-time elements.  The designers note that it is to be completed “anytime, self-paced” but they do restrict the learner’s autonomy just a little in choosing to lock the next module in the sequence until a set date.  The course has a lovely, light and airy interface and uses the familiar format of many CMSs with the navigation panel down the left-hand side of the screen.

Overall I’d say this was a carefully pre-planned course and that the designers provided for each of the ISSUES TO ADDRESS IN THE PLANNING PROCESS listed in the Simonson text (2012, p. 15-162).  In my navigation and participation of the course I found instances that suggest that they considered the following: Who are the learners? What is the essential content? What teaching strategies and media should be used? What is the learning environment?


The logo for the ChinaX course offered through Harvard and MIT’s edX MOOC.


The ChinaX course begins with an “Important Preliminary Survey” which each participant is strongly urged to complete.  This suggests that they are aware that “knowledge of general learner characteristics can inform the instructor of the nature of students” and that “this knowledge can aid the distance education instructor in overcoming the separation of instructor and students” Simonson, 2012, p. 154).  As this was the course debut they implemented the survey to gain insight so that they could better serve the students of the course.  The designers know that some learners are not there with an endgame in mind such as a certificate.  Some are there simply to audit and observe.  The pre-requisites as listed in the syllabus?—“ None, just a willingness to jump in, learn your way around and have fun”  (edX/ChinaX, 2014).  This isn’t to say that they leave the learner flying blind.  There are video tutorials on how to navigate the course for those who don’t find it instinctive.

The designers know the content extremely well. There are over one dozen Chinese history SMEs involved in supplying the content and lectures for the course.  They know the nature of the content is very vast and that they needed to put some serious thought to how best to present the content.  One of the team members (the Content Consultant and Developer) talked about how daunting it was to “conceptualize 2,000 years of Chinese history and condense it into digestible themes” (edX/ChinaX, Meet the Team video, 2014)—which they accomplished quite nicely.  This, to me, was ample evidence of their taking into account that “it is essential to examine the nature of the content as well as the sequence of information” in light of the issue of time which within the distance learning environment “is often limited and inflexible” (Simonson, 2012, p. 157).  The course is self-paced allowing the user to control the flow of information even down to the degree of speeding up (or slowing down) the cadence of lecturing professor’s.

Piskurich (Laureate Education, n.d.) notes that a well-planned course should provide ample opportunities for online learners to explore on their own. The designers for this course seemed to bear that in mind in their consideration of what strategies and media should be used as they incorporated fun optional activities that would enrich the experience (i.e. upload a video of yourself singing the Ming Dynasty song) as well as giving the learner a choice of assessment (multiple choice vs. short answer).  Teaching and Learning at a Distance notes that instructors need to “focus on selecting instructional strategies that engage all the learners in active learning [by] de-emphasizing the informative part of the instruction for more discovery of information” (Simonson, 2012, p. 159).

Lastly the learning environment was also considered.  The designers were aware that “when the classroom shifts into a distance learning setting…the environment often becomes a challenge (Simonson, 2012, p.160).  As such, they provided contingencies for the resources that they offered (transcripts of the videos should student’s need to refer to material from the video) as well as contingencies for the technology adding the following notation to their page of video tutorials:

“In locations where YouTube is restricted, edX videos may not be available for streaming. The video segments are frequently available for download, however. Click the “download here” link below each video segment to download the file for viewing (EdX, 2014).


EdX. (2014). Home. Retrieved from:

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Planning and designing online courses [Video file]. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education(5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.



An instance of applying technology to facilitate distance learning


In an effort to improve its poor safety record, a biodiesel manufacturing plant needs a series of safety training modules. These stand-alone modules must illustrate best practices on how to safely operate the many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor. The modules should involve step-by-step processes and the method of delivery needs to be available to all shifts at the plant. As well, the shift supervisors want to be sure the employees are engaged and can demonstrate their learning from the modules.


In this case I would suggest using a CMS with a linear instruction design in which “before students are permitted to continue to the next topic within a module they must successfully complete the [accompanying] assessment” (Simonson, 2012, p. 169).   This sequential structure would facilitate linking concepts and allow students to build on the content they previously digested.  I would create modules in the CMS dedicated to each of the content areas–most likely there would be a module per each piece of heavy machinery.  Each employee would receive an invitation to self-enroll and supervisors would be given instructor access so that they can track and monitor.

This video illustrates how one company, Watson Pharmaceuticals, used the Blackboard CMS to train employees via modular video coaching.  Their goal wasn’t safety related but rather they sought to improve sales through training and they were successful in that regard.

This article details how one automotive company, Subaru, used an LMS (Moodle) to put together a modular training and “gather best practices into a knowledge database” (Gale, 2008).



Gale, S.F. (2008).  Moodle goes corporate. Retrieved July 20, 2014 from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education(5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.



Distance Learning: A brief survey

Having completed a Masters using a hybrid online/face-to-face application I felt intimately acquainted with what constituted a distance education experience.  Prior to digesting the definition of distance education given by Simonson et al in Teaching and Learning at a Distance I would have also included my self-study via resources like Lynda or Skillfeed within the purview.  My definition of distance learning was essentially synonymous with the widely accepted definition of e-learning–learning conducted through an electronic medium; typically the internet.

My uninformed definition represented only one-fourth of the components necessary for a learning experience to bear the distinction  of distance learning.  As outlined in Teaching and Learning at a Distance, distance learning must be institutionally based, include a geographic separation of teacher and student, utilize interactive telecommunications, and facilitate the sharing of data, voice and video (2012).  There are many definitions out there regarding what constitutes distance learning but  this definition feels comprehensive and sufficient.

Accepting  those parameters it would hold that while I participated in e-learning (to increase my skills in certain applications or gain new skills) and assigned online modular learning to volunteers who I managed, these instances don’t necessary qualify as distance learning because while there was a separation between the “teacher” and student and video and data was shared, these experiences were not institutional based  and there was no interactivity.  And I use the term teacher loosely because the instruction was very generalized, and the teacher had little engagement beyond providing the content for users/students to digest as they saw fit.

Between 1833 and 1873 the idea of distance education was established and began to be developed and explored.   In its nascent stages those in the industry recognized the implications this medium held for educators and those who sought education.   The Distance Learning Timeline Continuum multimedia program notes that between 1873 and 1892 New York state gave a university permission to award degrees through mail correspondence.  Very early on the standard of accreditation was applied to the distance learning model so the institutionally based piece is an essential  and long-standing component–what complicates the issue is what qualifies something as an institution.

With the introduction in recent years of MOOCs and tutorial repositories such as Lynda a discussion around redefining this element might be in order.  At the crux of the argument for distance learning solutions is the flexibility and convenience that they offer.  If the spirit in which the Hermod’s institution (founded in 1898) is to be followed, distance learning should also consider those having “limited traditional education opportunities”.  What does this look like?  I’d say redoubling the efforts of those “educators and trainers [who are] advocating the accreditation of institutions that offer distance education to add credibility” (Simonson et al, 2012, p. 33).   As such, my personal definition of distance education is learning that takes place where teacher (an actively engaged instructor) and student are not in proximity of one another, that uses state-of-the-art communication tools to facilitate learning and that can originate from non-traditional institutions like MOOCs or training repositories.



Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education(5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Reflections on Learning


This course (EDUC 6115 Learning Theories and Instruction) has really enriched my understanding of the learning process.  In my profession I’ve had occasion to work with all kinds of learners from school age children to adult learners with their ‘briefcases’ of experience and barriers and motivations for learning.  The differences between learners is owing to so many things but even with all the nuances involved the commonality is that they’re all engaged in learning.  I’ve always seen classifications like visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner.  These learning styles are a way of classifying an individual’s natural pattern or processing or gaining information.  The leading learning theories–the isms–Connectivism, Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism add to the analysis of how people learn by offering insights on motivation, the role of memory and the factors that influence learning.  What I found most surprising is that a person’s learning preferences are not static and may be subject to change depending on many variables.  The individual who responded to constructivist methods in grade school might find connectivist methods more effective in high school and maybe prefer elements of all of the methods be present in their college level instruction.


This course helped me to realize that I shouldn’t put limitations on the kind of learning I’m capable of being.  Sure, I might have an aptitude for a certain kind of learning but I wholly agree with Gardner, the author of the Multiple Intelligences theory, who submits that “some individuals will develop certain intelligences far more than others; but every normal individual should develop each intelligence to some extent, given but a modest opportunity to do so” (Gardner, 1983, p.278).  I remember taking some sort of assessment that made the assertion that I was a kinesthetic learner and therefore required very hands-on approaches to learning.  I think it’s empowering to know your strengths as a learner but it shouldn’t serve as a crutch or an inescapable label and shouldn’t deter an individual from trying to hone their other intellegences and learning styles.


As I reflect on the connection between learning theories, learning styles, learner motivation and the role of technology the word flexibility comes to mind.  None of theories can exist in a vacuum independent of the other.  The have to be flexible in their representations as the understanding of pedagogy and andragogy are constantly being challenged and evolving.  The learning styles–an individual’s preferred method of taking in information–are tied into the learning theories–the processes behind that learning and new insights are being added to the discussion all the time.  With regards to technology the flexibility factor lies with the instructor and his/her ability to recognize the possibilities and implications of a particular technology and align it with effective instructional methods for the benefit of the learner.


This course has presented me with so many insights from talented instructors as well as with valuable resources that I will continue to refer to and consult.  It has really opened my eyes to what the role of an effective instructional designer should be. My understanding of learning theories and styles will inform my ability to create effective instruction that takes into account learner strengths, weaknesses and motivations.


 Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books Inc.




























Fitting the Pieces Together: A look at the evolution of my learning style

  • Now that you have a deeper understanding of the different learning theories and learning styles, how has your view on how you learn changed?

I have always thought of myself as a certain kind of learner.  I responded best to kinesthetic instruction and my  learning style seemed to ve best represented by the Constructivism theory–the idea that learners construct their own knowledge and that several “situational variables such as, emotions, environment, social status and anticipated consequences” (Kapp 2007) have to be taken into consideration.  Upon gaining a deeper understanding of the different learning theories and styles I would maintain that I how I learn aligns closely with the constructivism tenets but not to the exclusion of some of the other theories.  Where cognitivism, arguably,  leaves off connectivism picks up and the common thread between them is that they suggest that learning cannot be done in isolation.  Connectivism relies on a “diversity of network” (Davis 2001) while cognitivism submits that “learning occurs internally and through the social interactions with others” (Kerr, 2006).  I recognize all 3 of these theories as my brand of learning in that I internalize better when learning and engaging with others and I frequently reach outside of myself and access a network to inform my understanding.

  • What have you learned about the various learning theories and learning styles over the past weeks that can further explain your own personal learning preferences?

This learning style schizophrenia (if you will), doesn’t suggest the non-validity of the theories but to me makes perfect sense.  I observed early on that they seems to exist on a continuum and not really exclusively of one another.  It makes sense that a learner might identify with the effectiveness of  one theory–say behaviorism–when trying to methodically learn something and then identify with social learning theories when attempting to really engage with a concept and consider differing perspectives.

  • What role does technology play in your learning (i.e., as a way to search for information, to record information, to create, etc.)?

Technology plays a very important part in learning.  At some point, chalk and chalkboard were state of the art technology that highly impacted the way people learned.  The same applies to the tools that we have at our disposal today.  And it should be stated that they are only as beneficial as we make them.  They aren’t valuable just by virtue of the fact that they exist but it is in how we apply them that the real value becomes apparent.  I’d say it’s important for instructors/designers to look at a tech tool, assess whether it can really fill a need and make an impact or if it’s just the flavor-of the-month, and then devise a way to integrate it into their instruction.



Davis, C., Edmunds, E., & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Kapp, K. (2006). Definition: Cognitivism Retrieved from


Asha 1.0 vs Asha 2.0: A learning style shift

My network has changed my learning modality from a more visually centered style marked by learning from seeing demonstrations or making lists, to a more kinesthetic style.  The visual model lent itself more to learning in isolation, but when I did begin to learn collaboratively I was exposed to many more resources and strategies and leaned more to the kinesthetic type. The kinesthetic learner:

♦ do[es] best when they are involved or active

♦ often have high energy levels

♦ think and learn best while moving

♦ often lose much of what is said during lecture

♦ have problems concentrating when asked to sit and read

♦ prefer to do rather than watch or listen (

This isn’t to say I’ve completely abandoned my visual learning tendencies, but through collaboration with colleagues or classmates I’ve have gained a greater appreciation for learning by doing.  I feel that this model really enriches my learning experience and makes the material more meaningful.  I am currently challenging myself to get a head start on learning the Adobe CS6 software that I understand we’ll be using later in the program.  Now the old Asha, we’ll call her Asha 1.0, would have read through some instructional material like Adobe for Dummies and maybe watched some tutorial videos on the subject.  Asha 2.0 takes that learning to the next level by doing, using tools like MOOC’s and/or training libraries like

These types of tools facilitate learning for me because they offer a hands on experience and feedback and interaction with students with similar learning objectives.  When I have questions this network is very valuable to me and are often the initial resource that I consult.  After they’ve provided a frame of reference and some “on the ground” and “in the trenches” advice I go from there adding my own research and point of view.  Consulting a network of thinkers to help digest a complex concept is the sort of practice that lies at the heart of Connectivism.  Connectivism is all about the power of sharing knowledge from diverse and up-to-date sources.  My personal learning network—online communities, mentors in the field, trusted online repositories—is certainly a testament to the theory.

Some thoughts on thinking and learning

These 2 articles discuss the information processing theory and submit models on how to instruct for maximum efficacy.

This article How the Brain Learns Best by Dr. Bruce Perry make a case against one-note teaching.  Dr. Perry likens bad instruction to playing a sustained chord on an organ versus good instruction  where keys are stuck and released and the neurons are able to  “respond to patterned and repetitive, rather than to sustained, continuous stimulation”.  The article talks about the importance of Instructors tapping into emotion to in order facilitate the learner connecting with the material.  In what he calls a “Bob and weave lecture” he advises instructors to “give a fact or two; link these facts into related concepts. Move back to the narrative to help them make the connection between this concept and the story.  Go back to another fact. Reinforce the concepts. Reconnect with the original story.”  This he suggests in lieu of a steady stream of facts which he asserts contributes to neural system fatigue.

This study by Ozcelik and Yildirim offers a look at the metacognitive processes of a group of students who were given access to web based “cognitive tools”–highlighters, sitemaps, bookmarks, pagenotes and search functions.  It analyzes why students utilized or under-utilized a tool and provides recommendations for “practitioners of Web-based instruction and Web-based cognitive tool developers”.


Ozcelik, E., & Yildirim, S. (2005). FACTORS INFLUENCING THE USE OF COGNITIVE TOOLS IN WEB-BASED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS. Quarterly Review Of Distance Education6(4), 295-307.

Perry, B.D. (2013, September 15). How the Brain Learns Best. Retrieved September 15, 2013 from


3 the ID in libraries way


These resources will be highly frequented by me in my exploration of the instructional design field.  Both Blended Librarianship and Designer Librarian offer entries on topics germane to the library world as it intersects with the instructional design world.  These sites directly or indirectly discuss issues facing libraries (academic, public or otherwise) such as budget constraints and collection needs, user friendliness and maintaining support–and they propose 21st century or ‘library 2.0’ kinds of solutions.  The SkillAgents site isn’t specific to instructional librarians, but it endeavors to help its users “create significant learning experiences”.  I find that it too is highly applicable to the library world because what librarian doesn’t instruct? The patron that we assist in searching the stacks, navigating the online catalog or the databases is our student.  These resources will help me keep an eye on horizon technologies that may impact the future of library collections and services.

1. Blended Librarianship

This is a great blog whose author, John Shank, is an Associate Instructional Design Librarian.  It’s hosted on the site which is an excellent tool for finding and sharing quality curated content on any given topic.  The Blended Librarianship blog presents  from the perspective of the librarian–a somewhat non-traditional pedagogic field–who engages in instruction in this age of e-learning.   A PowerPoint presentation on the site defines Blended Librarianship as Instructional Systems Design+Technology+Librarianship.  The site offers access to articles from national news sources as well as entries from personal bloggers.

2. Designer Librarian

This blog is great because it recognizes the need for a liaison between two fields that ‘travel in the same circles’ so to speak but could do with a formal introduction.  Per the “About” page, this site aims to “bridge the gap that exists between the field of educational technology and information science.”  The author has worked in both public and academic libraries which is of particular interest to me because I’ve worked in public for 8 years and hope to proceed into the academic world later in my career.  Entries like “An Overlooked Tab-oo in LibGuides Designs”, which discusses how to avoid an unfriendly, unwieldy interface are right up my alley and I’ll be staying tuned for more insights.

3. SkillAgents

This is a gem of a site that offers a fresh take on ways to innovate in the relatively fresh field of instructional technology.  SkillAgent is guided by Anna Sabramowicz, an Instructional Design professional.  Per the “About” page, it’s content is driven by compelling questions such as: Why do experts and teachers deliver content-centered courses when we know that’s not how people learn? And Why would a million dollar learning course fail, but a short two minute “explainer” video go viral?  As an aspiring instructional designer it would behoove me to observe or engage in this dynamic conversation surrounding trends and innovations in the field.