Online Schooling: Make it More Appropriate
— A Discussion on Instructional Analysis for E-learners
CoCo Research Centre
Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Australia
16 August, 2007
This paper will look over those factors influencing the degree how online schooling can be designed to be appropriate for e-learners, which will be focused on the process of instructional analysis. Based on this, then it will discuss how instructional analysis can help increasing’s completion rate.
Courses offered by online schools need instructional design as traditional courses does the same. The situation for online courses may be more complex than the traditional because of the variation and diversity of the e-learners. So it will be significant for e-teachers and e-lesson instructional designers to pay more attention to instructional analysis. That means the starting point of instructional design for online courses are important and I assume that the theories of instructional design for traditional mode of education could be utilized in the new domain. Andrews and Goodson (1980) have described 40 models for systematic design of instruction. But in this paper I recommend Smith, P. L. & Ragan, T.’s model (1999) where we can clearly find that there are three main parts of instructional analysis that are significant and essential for online courses.
Figure 1 An Instructional Design Process Model
Analyzing Learning Contexts
Different from traditional courses, online courses need quite a lot of elements that support the learners to complete their study online. These elements include online environment, computer, computer skills, institute towards online learning, learning habits, etc. Chemeketa Community College has given us a very good example indicating they emphasize assessing these elements and helping potential online students to make decisions. Through a series of assessment and tips for every question, the potential learners may clearly understand that to what extent online schooling is appropriate for them. This not only avoid the enrollment of those who lack of the possibility to learn well online, but also remind those who finally enroll in that they should even have more preparation for the special experience of online learning and confirm they do need an online courses.
This indicates that the needs for online learning are basically two elements: not only the knowledge and skills in the course but also the functions and features of online learning. If the online learners show low need for the functions and features of online learning, that means their individual psychological preparations tend to be similar with those who are going to enroll in traditional schools. However, they will never experience the advantage of traditional schools such as face to face communications and emotional feelings. As a result, it would be too late when they realize online learning is not appropriate for them.
Further more, as the 2.0 Culture grows resulting from Web 2.0, the net generations are deeply influenced by Decentralization which is a part of 2.0 Culture. So, to satisfy those decentralists, online learning should be more personalized. DuCharme-hansen and Dupin-Bryant (2004) pointed out that student needs assessment for web-based instruction includes the collection, synthesis, and interpretation of data about learners that can assist the instructor in matching students’ needs with the demands of the online learning environment…Without this vital information, effective distance education becomes a game of trial and error without the probability of high success.
However what we can see on the advertisement of online learning are usually the “well-designed” courses and their benefits which may attract potential learners. We seldom notice any online learning website assert that they will design the curricula for different learners. This even includes evaluation. This method of evaluation may suit these students while not suit those, who may feel frustrated later and tend to drop out.
Since it has been pointed out that their year-long study do not support the widely held belief that distance teaching is necessarily more work than classroom teaching (DiBiase 2004), it’s time for online instructional designers and teachers to think and do more in this section to help their online courses become more effective and more efficient.
A common error resulting from failure to analyze the characteristics of an audience [online learners as well] is assuming that all learners are alike (Smith & Ragan 1999). Hence, for online learning, we should try to avoid this error that has existed in traditional classes. Analyzing the similarities and differences between learners is an efficient way to achieve this goal.
According to Jonassen and Grabowski’s (1993) research, the result of considering similarities and differences among people, along with changing and stable characteristics, is a matrix of four categories of human characteristics.(See Figure 2)
Figure 2 Four Categories of Learner Characteristics
Some of online learning instructors and teachers may claim that they have not enough time for taking care very student. However those characteristics in great relation to the courses are limited and people are more or less alike in how they acquire different sorts of learnings. Robert Gagne (1985) pointed out that once we know that a person is going to learn, e.g. a concept, we know that certain conditions must exist both within the learner and outside of the learner for that learning to take place. These conditions of learning, which are themselves a similarity among people, do not vary between people, or even between subject areas. The similarity in the conditions for attainment of different types of learning is a fundamental building block for instructional design. (Ragan & Smith, 1996) What I’m trying to say here is that online teachers can save their time when face these similarities that similar schemes can be based on. Then leave time for the differences.
Differences between online learners are not easy to detect by teachers and peers in front of the screens. A useful way that I recommend is to integrate SNS (Social Networking Service) into the online learning communities, which may benefit from SNS’s basic theory – Six Degrees of Separation Principle (Travers, J., & Milgram, S. 1969) which indicates the law for know strangers from familiars. It is well known thatis the most famous SNS website. In the educational domain, a good example of SNS is (Chinese Version). However, it is a pure SNS but not for learning. Yet I appreciate their functions of making friends and letting friends know each other deeply without too much face to face communications. Those who are in the same schools, have same hobbits, like the same singers, study the same courses, etc can quickly get in touch with each other. Then most of the users are likely to post their dairies and photos and to leave and reply messages or comment for their friends. If SNS could be integrated into online learning environment as a significant part for the life of after class, I think the teachers may know them more easily through their communications and then adjust their instruction based on the observation.
Analyzing Learning Task
Smith & Ragan (1999) also pointed out that the process of task analysis transforms goal statements into a form that can be used to guide subsequent design and the primary steps in performing a [traditional] learning task analysis are as follows:
1. Write a learning goal.
2. Determine the types of learning of the goal.
3. Conduct an information-processing analysis of that goal.
4. Conduct a prerequisite analysis and determine the type of learning of the prerequisites
5. Write learning objectives for the learning goal and each of the prerequisites.
Then the outcome of analyzing learning task is an education plan. Similar to motivational plans (Wlodkowski, 1993), distance education plans are blended with curriculum and lesson plans to support and enhance learning. They become part of the total teaching package. The goal is to create a technology-supported, learning focused dynamic that enhance learning throughout the entire educational sequence. These are commonly recognized as regular online learning task analysis and its outcomes.
However, if I were the instructional designer of an Online School, I would prefer to add a mechanism for the variation of the factors of the online learners into the process of learning task analysis.
Different from traditional classes, online teachers are not easy to observe the changes of the learners. They are not like traditional teachers who can neatly and expertly adjust their teaching tasks and goals based on any change of situation in class. Too many factors of learners are changing every moment because of different places, different time and different study environment (e.g. if you were the online teacher, you wouldn’t know whether your student had a baby to look after while taking the online conference and then s/he suddenly logged out and disappeared.) It seems to be calm and normal when teaching online. But we cannot imagine what accidents may come to the instruction process one day without our awareness.
To solve this problem, besides collecting as much information about the learners as we can, we should set up the mechanism to deal with any potential accidents from the learners. This mechanism mainly includes various criteria to define the accidents or changes and their relative solutions.
Hence, online learning tasks analysis may be much more complex if this mechanism is added into it. Yet this complex system may help promote the whole service of online schooling to be more appropriate for the learner!
A good beginning is half the battle. Granted, we do not know how many unexpected incidents may happen after the online courses start, which may lead to learns’ dropping out. However, a good beginning, with reasonable analysis of learning context, learners and learning task based on the complete consideration of the differences between online and traditional learning, undoubtedly lead to learners’ satisfactions to the largest extent.
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Gagne, R. M. (1985). The Conditions of Learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
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