September 20, 2004

LEARNING: Online vs. F2F

In Ten Ways Online Education Matches, or Surpasses, Face-to-Face Learning, sociology professor Mark Kassop describes some of the ways in which he believes online learning excells.
(link via eCornell Research Blog)

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004


In the Forum for the discussion of the Analysis phase of course development, Peter asked:
What exactly is a user's metacognitive ability? "Thinking about thinking"? -- but what does this mean in the context of education and Instructional Design?

In learning, metacognition refers to our self-conscious awareness about how we learn - paying attention to what we learn and how we learn it while we're learning it.

As we learn different ideas and skills throughout our lives, we also learn something about how we learn (at least if we're paying any attention!) and how to approach different tasks. Sometimes we do this quite self-consciously -- for example, when thinking about how to approach a very complex task or when reading something we think might be "over our heads" -- but at other times, we may just be going through the motions.

>>Try this experiment:
Select a piece of reading material -- anything ... an article in the paper, a course reading, this blog entry(!), etc.-- and read through it once without any particular agenda or mental preparation.

Then read it again --but this time, first imagine that you are going to have to write a one-page summary of the piece or teach it to a class.

What was the difference?

Most likely, you consciously paid much closer attention to how you were reading the second time.

Girl-reading.jpg When simply skimming a piece of writing, you might not think about why you're reading it, you might ignore any terms or phrases you don't immediately understand, and you probably wouldn't analyze the structure of the writing or the argument it presents, think about how it relates to other things you've read on the same topic, or reflect on it afterwards. But when charged with writing about or teaching the content, your attention is conscious and focused on how you are going to interpret the content and arguments presented.

When faced with a learning task like the one in the experiment, you focus your attention, monitor and evaluate yourself while you accomplish the task. For example, you might apply the following metacognitive strategy:

  • Plan/Pre-plan - Analyze the task and decide to concentrate on it
  • Direct attention - Focus on the task or on certain aspects of the task (e.g., decide to focus on how to teach the content rather than on how to directly apply the information)
  • Strategize - Decide on a strategy for accomplishing the task (in this case, for example, decide how to pick out the key concepts that will be the focus of the written piece or teaching unit, highlighting important phrases and taking notes as you read)
  • Self-monitor - While accomplishing the task, gauge the success of the strategy chosen and change strategies if necessary (e.g., ask yourself "Am I focusing on the right things, or should I look at this a different way?")
  • Evaluate - Look at outcomes (e.g., "Did I get what I needed to out of this to teach or write about it, or should I look at it again?")

In other words, the task assigned to you in the experiment was a learning intervention that made you become aware of, monitor, and take control over your learning.

Children's metacognitive skills tend to grow as they progress through different levels of education and cognitive development and as they become more skilled at learning how to become independent learners.

Classroom.jpg If you've ever taught in elementary or high school, you probably already know that young students often do their schoolwork without stopping to evaluate their comprehension, to think about the quality of their work, to revise their work as they go along, or to think about how the work connects to other things they've learned. They do the assignments because they are assigned, and finishing the assigned task -- not learning -- is the ultimate goal. In other words, their learning strategies tend to be instructor-dependent, and the instructor must "push" learning to the students.

Adults and mature students generally have more highly developed metacognitive skills, and therefore more independence as learners -- particularly if they are highly motivated to apply themselves. Mature learners are more aware of when they need to check for errors, why they might be having problems in understanding, and how to go about finding another way to approach the task, improve their work, or better comprehend the material.

Of course, this isn't simply a matter of age...personality factors and experience with formal study both play a big part in the development of these skills.

What does all this mean in terms of online instructional design?

knowledge.gif As we've discussed in previous sessions, online courses generally require a greater degree of learner autonomy and independence than do face-to-face courses.... therefore, a learner's success is often in direct proportion to his or her ability to apply successful learning strategies in self-directed learning.

During the analysis phase, analyzing learners' metacognitive skills allows the designer to create an environment tailored to the learners' ability to be self-directed, as well as promoting learners' knowledge and awareness of their own thinking and learning -- in other words, helping them become aware of the learning strategies that they already use and introducing new strategies and exercises.

For example, this information can used to:

  • Determine the level of direction needed in the course (e.g., while self-directed learners might take advantage of a non-linear format, "novice" learners might need a well-defined, linear learning path through the content)
  • Determine whether the course should be blended online/classroom (if learners are not independent enough for 100% online work)
  • Determine whether to track learners and check their progress at various points through the course (e.g., instead of allowing users to monitor their own progress)
  • Determine the types and number of instructional strategies to be employed
  • Determine the types of assessments and evaluations to be employed
Posted by jotz at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2004


In one of the Forum postings for Session 3, Chris wrote:
In the session 3 reading we come across the question "what is the organization of the learners knowledge?"
Can you explain how a learner organizes knowledge?
Is organizing the same as information processing?

I'm not sure which reading Chris is referring to here, but I thought I'd better give an in-depth response, since this is a question-and-a-half ;)

When talking about learning theories, "organization of knowledge" refers to the ways in which information and knowledge are stored within the individual learner's memory.

Without getting into an in-depth discussion about brain theory (!), we can simply say that information is stored in either long- or short-term memory. Within long-term memory, information is organized into different types of structures, such as:

  • semantic memory (e.g., networks of connected ideas and relationships, frames of reference, principles and rules, paradigms, theories, models, etc.)
  • Stories and analogies
  • Procedural memory (e.g., knowing how to ride a bike, play an instrument, etc.)
  • Pictures and images

As teachers and trainers, our goal is to help learners take in new information and anchor it in a meaningful way within long-term memory -- in other words, to help them learn and create knowledge. Of course, our ultimate goal is to have them be able to retrieve and apply this knowledge when appropriate. (Just how best to do all this is the question at the heart of all the different learning theories.)

In a learning sequence such as Gagne's nine events, the focus is on stimulating the mental processes that promote learning -- having the learner create and elaborate on relationships between new concepts and existing concepts. In constructivist approaches, instructors tailor their teaching strategies to students' unique context and encourage them to analyze, interpret, and predict information -- requiring an understanding of the mental models that students use and the assumptions that underlie them.

In both of these approaches, it's important for the instructional designer to have an understanding of how a learner's knowledge is organized and the types of relationships between ideas that already exist in the learner's mind in order to design appropriate learning interactions.

You've probably had the experience of explaining a concept to a student in a number of different ways before the student has the "Aha! moment" and finally seems to grasp the concept... In other words, you finally found a way to help the learner see a relationship between the new concept and one that is already meaningful.

However, in much of online learning (particularly in self-instructional courses), you generally don't have the opportunity to interact with the learner in this way and to keep trying new ways of presenting the concept until you hit on one that's meaningful...

Materials such as Flash demonstrations, HTML pages, case studies, videos, etc., are all prepared in advance of the student's interaction with them, so you have to know something about the target audience's entry-level knowledge and how that knowledge is organized before you develop them -- hence the importance of identifying the primary audience's key characteristics during the Analysis phase of development.

How's that for a transition into next week's discussion of the Analysis phase of the ADDIE model!

Posted by jotz at 10:19 PM | Comments (1)

June 17, 2004


form-inform-learn.gifOne often-quoted statistic by trainers and education professionals is that, while organizations invest most of their budgets in formal training - such as workshops and courses - 80% or more of critical job skill learning occurs on the job in informal, unstructured ways.

For any kind of formal teaching or training, the ultimate goal is achievement of specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and, finally, performance (whether it be performance on-the-job or performance in an academic sense) -- not achievement of a passing grade on a test.

But too often formal learning is taken out of the context of performance, and success in the classroom does not translate to successful application of learning.

informlearn.jpgInformal learning -- getting direction from a supervisor, asking a co-worker who sits next to you, talking to others at lunch or in the breakroom, looking something up on your own, observing what others do, calling the help desk, and, most of all, trial-and-error -- is effective because it's personal, timely and REAL. Application is immediate, and there's no question of the WIIFM ("what's in it for me?") factor

Informal learning is, ultimately, self-directed learning.

But most informal learning is unstructured, and organizations can't just assume that workers will be self-directed enough to "pick up" critical job skills. So how can teachers and trainers leverage technology to make their formal training efforts more effective?

Integration is the key.

Designing formal learning activities that make use of contextualized learning activities representing the complexity of the real world -- such as simulations and problem-based learning -- is an important part of this, but it's only one part.

When designing a training course, consider the other types of interventions that will support learning on the job, such as just-in-time training aids, help systems, job aids, communication and collaboration spaces, and other interventions that allow learners to learn what they need to when they need to.

Posted by jotz at 09:43 PM | Comments (0)