Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Design a Course in 60 minutes! - Part I

Well, I realize that it has been over a year since I last posted ... shame on me! Being busy is still the reason that I have neglected to post anything of substance. I digress.

Recently, I presented two workshops at a conference for educators. The League for Innovation in the Community College - Conference on Information Technology was held in Nashville. The workshop title, the same as this posting, was intended to introduce participants to a rapid course development approach being used here at San Juan College.

The Pedagogy
As simple as this sounds, our pedagogical approach is that "learning occurs when information is presented and interactions are facilitated." While this is does not address the issue of learner motivation, it is certainly a foundation for ALL instructional design.

Stated another way, learning happens when someone presents new information and provides an experience which includes interaction (activities). For example, the learning objective is "to understand hydrostatic pressure." You can achieve this in a variety of ways, but remember - interaction continues until the information is learned (understood). So lectures and discussions and testing fit this approach. Why? Lectures typically include the giving of new information. Discussions allow learners to actively/passively participate in the clarification of that new information. Testing is a common tool for measuring the retention (memory) of that new information.

This does not mean that everyone will learn, but learning never takes place without these elements. So, consider this the least common denominators of learning. Now we can proceed to the Instructional Design model.

The Model
Taking the minimalist approach, we have identified the common characteristics of all good instruction. Every course should include three types of information - we call this the SWC Model. The model represents a) what every learner SHOULD know; b) what every learner WILL know; and c) what every learner CAN know.

what every learner SHOULD know ...
Every course has a section for information which is intended to orient the learner to the specific course. These include a syllabus, learning objectives, dates and deadlines, expectations, information about the instructor, plug-in/hardware requirements, and FAQ's. This list represents the types of information that will help the learner get acclimated to specific course.

what every learner WILL know ...
This is controversial, but I will share it anyway. When learners are paying money for a service/product, they should receive some identifiable returns. Assume that the learners enter the course with different levels of knowledge, but that the aim has to be to provide a certain level of knowledge upon exit or completion from the course. Or, we could say, every learner will understand a minimum amount of information which is typically required for them to continue their studies of the target subject.

This impacts the instructional design by focusing on less content over all and more on activities to understand and demonstrate an understanding of this information. If they do not learn what is considered essential, they will not likely succeed at learning the next level of knowledge. How often have you heard faculty complain that their students were not ready to learn at the target level of the current course. Students required refreshers or remediation? Why should this ever happen?

what every learner CAN know ...

This is my favorite section, because this allows the course to include a treasure chest of extra stuff that is not required, but available to keep the learner interested in the subject area. When they have "free time" they can explore and dig as deep as they like to learn more about what interests them. When working with passionate Subject Matter Experts, this is where the majority of their content resides. There is no limit to what can be included, because it is not required learning.

The SWC Model allows for the creation of challenging and engaging courses, while setting realistic expectations for "graded" studies. Imagine the empowerment of EVERY learner when they realize that they learned the required content. Imagine the excitement of those exceptional learners who were able to learn (without the pressure) more details, read at higher levels, and dig down infinitely into a topic that they enjoyed.

so, what then? My next posting will discuss how to use an open source course development tool to create a course in 60 minutes.

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