Tag Archives: flexible learning

Providing clear structures and guidance for online learners

The Flexible Learning Planning Guide provides a set of 10 guidelines for teachers planning a small-scale implementation of online learning. The first guideline is:

Learning is guided by a clear schedule of objectives and activities which establish an effective developmental progression.

This is not always easy to do: too often learners are confronted with an intimidating list of items (resources, forums, links, …) with little guidance as to how these relate to specific course outcomes or objectives. Even learning management systems such as Moodle and Blackboard provide a calendar for scheduling learning activities, but these are often not linked to course outcomes and assessments. The danger is that learning activities are seen as arbitrary tasks and learner motivation to engage can be affected.

LMS, wiki or blog?

In a small-scale implementation where the technology incorporated does not include a LMS, there may be no features to help teachers develop such a schedule of activities. On the other hand, if the online course is built around a wiki or blog, the teacher is not constrained by the LMS interface.

Whatever the technology used, one clear way to communicate a clear structure of course activities is a table which maps weekly activities to outcomes and assessment:

Example course schedule

…etc…

This sort of schedule clearly explains to the learner not only what you want them to do, but why it’s important and relevant. See making learning processes explicit for why I think this is important.

The bad news is, most learning management systems, blogs or wikis don’t provide simple tools for creating such a table. The good news is, it’s not hard to create a table like this in HTML that you can then reuse as a template to provide a common schedule format for all your courses. A much simpler option is to use Google docs to create your table as a published spreadsheet. However, you lose some of the flexibility of HTML (eg embedded links), and you may not be able (as here in WordPress) to embed a Google doc in your own page.

Flexible learning planning guide

For a large institution, selecting a flexible learning software platform is a major undertaking, requiring careful consideration of many factors. Such a process can seem like overkill, however, when a smaller-scale development is planned. For example, one or more teachers in an institution might decide to pilot an online learning component as an action-research project. Or a small provider might decide to ‘put their toe in the water’ with flexible learning. From my experience, the people involved in such projects need some guidance but are not prepared to undertake a full needs analysis and evaluation process.

I started putting together the Flexible Learning Planning Guide for just these sorts of situations. It’s informed by my own work and also by research such as Chickering and Gamson’s 7 Principles, which I’ve found very useful as a framework for developing teaching and learning.

I believe there’s a need for something like this to complement the sorts of rigorous development processes called for in models such as the eLearning Maturity Model: not because they are not valid but because small-scale projects sometimes just need a bit of guidance to get started.

The guide is based around pedagogical processes rather than software features. And I deliberately left out many aspects of good practice because I wanted to keep the list short – it currently comprises just ten practices and I’ve had to resist the temptation to add to this. For example, I’ve deliberately left out any practices relating to assessment as that is often excluded from such ‘first steps’ projects because it’s such a high stakes component.

The guide reflects my interest in constructivist approaches to learning and the use of tools such as blogs and wikis. It also avoids providing a simple checklist of features – because good practice doesn’t arise automatically from software features, but from how effectively they are used.

Download the guide