Online learning design – a pondering…

image_slide1I have been spending time (again)  looking at the OU’s Open Learn platform trying to work out why it’s so good! Next year I’ll be embarking on a course on Coursera which will take a couple of weeks (as opposed to a few hours) and will involve interacting with a others on the course. I’ll write about my experiences at a later point.

From studying Open Learn courses and from my own experience of working with lecturers to build online learning courses I have written a summary of what I believe can help:

1) Clear structure

When writing an online topic/unit of short study, it is important to make sure it is clear and that the student can see what they have to cover and how long it will take.

So with any Open Learn ‘unit’ there is a clear structure:

Learning Outcomes
– Content 1
– Content 2
– Content 3
Test questions/assessment
Answers to test questions

Once again, this is for self-directed study and doesn’t involve interacting with anyone. There’s no reason as to why this model and structure can’t be used for courses that involves participant interaction. My take on that structure is below and the Moodle book tool works rather well for this:

Introduction WITH learning outcomes
– Content 1
– Content 1 answers & summary
– Content 2
– Content 2 answers & summary
– Content 3
– Content 3 answers & summary
Submission of activity tasks
Webinar for students to ask questions (via Adobe Connect Pro)*
Assessment activity
Further reading/resources

*This can only really be relevant for courses/units that have a definite start and end time or as part of a regular timetable.

2) Meaningful activities

By meaningful, I mean activities that can get the students to find out or experience things for themselves. In my most recent Open Learn course, the tutors tried to get the learner to understand orbits and circular motion and specifically why the moon doesn’t crash into the Earth (centripetal force) by using a cork or blob of plasticine attached to the end of a piece of string:

One way to supply a steady centripetal force is to pull on a piece of string attached to the moving object. Try whirling your cork or plasticine in a horizontal circle – you will feel that you need to keep pulling on the string as you do so.

Finally, let go of the string while whirling the cork and note the way it moves. You should be able to see that it continues to move in the direction it was heading at the time of release.

I think we need to be a bit more creative when thinking up activities!

When designing small chunks of learning – ie like a particular topic to be delivered online, you could follow the structure and think about what activities should be embedded in the content areas – not just the assessment activity at the end. An idea for a content page layout could be:

  1. Topic details
  2. PonderPoint*
  3. More topic details
  4. PonderPoint
  5. Activity
  6. Reflection task

*PonderPoint: My take on the ‘In text questions’ from Open Learn – so a few questions based on what you’ve just read. Answers will be on the next page with the summary

The activity on each page could include something physical that will require them to move away from their computer (such as take a picture, interview someone or sketch out a plan), create a digital artefact (such as a video recording, Powerpoint or a web tool product), perform a web quest/google search for answers and display the outcomes into a word doc (uploaded to the site alongside the assessment) followed by the reflection activity. If this course of study required interaction with peers then the activities could include forum posts, Skype conversations, wiki building etc with their reflection task staying private.

I know that I should really be adding refernces to Gilly Salmon’s work and research but I think that all the above is so simple and almost could be deemed ‘common sense’ and I didn’t want to get too deep. Anyway, I’m going to have a go at using my adapted structure with a few colleagues and see how it goes…


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