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Monday, July 21, 2008

eLearning Curriculum

I received a question today and thought that I should post it so that people can weigh in with resources and suggestions.
We are designing curriculum for a graduate program aimed at building skills to be able to work in the eLearning and eContent design and development domain. What curriculum belongs to prepare students to work in the eLearning field?
Obviously, the starting point for this would be existing programs at other schools ...
Any suggestions on good programs that they should emulate?
Certainly look at some of the comments in: Masters Education Technology for some thoughts from people who have attended different programs.

Other related questions ...
What's missing today in these programs that they should consider adding?
Where else should they look for information to help design a good program?
Any help would be appreciated.

17 comments:

Chris @ eQuixotic said...

Please, please, please - teach upcoming eLearning developers about visual design! eLearning is a visual medium. Yes, it should be obvious, but too many eLearning developers don't seem to grasp this. There is more to eLearning development than simply understanding adult learning theory, just as Web design requires more than just solid writing skills.

The dearth of visually-compelling eLearning is killing our ability to sell our learners on the concept.

Gina said...

I am in a graduate program that I love. I am learning the educational theory, which is what I really wanted to learn. We do a pretty decent job at my job with eLearning, although I would like to learn more about the new technologies. And that is where I think I would like seeing more opportunities in my major. I took a class this semester that looked like it would be a blend of both (technology and ed theory) but the class wasn't what I expected at all.

I think it may boil down to our professors not knowing the new technologies. I am one of the most technical students, but then again I do work for a technology company and develop technical training (I also have an IS (information studies) undergrad degree).

I think it's going to be hard to find a mix between technology and ed theory in a grad program.

Doug said...

More questions than answers, but how would people rank the following in importance?

1) ed theory
2) (online) writing skills
3) Flash
4) HTML/CSS
5) specific LMS's
6) UX/user testing
7) content management
8) project management
9) training practice and presentation skills
10) portfolio preparation (and what would the five top deliverables/samples look like in such a portfolio?)

V Yonkers said...

I agree with both Chris and Gina. There is little about visual design in most e-learning curricula (which is very important) and very little combination of technology and theory (usually it is weighted towards one or the other).

Teaching in a highly recognized program, however, I think there is a course in organizational management and communication missing in most programs. It is important that elearning ID's be able to navigate corporate structures (including the politics of the workplace, budgets, project management and team work) and communicate with various groups within an organization to deliver and design effective training.

jadekaz said...

Specifically for elearning design and those that might not be currently standard offerings, these come to mind:

Story writing, comic book writing and storyboarding, game design, audio and video script writing, photography and video shooting, social networking, communities of practice, instructional graphics and diagrams, simulation design, technical writing, user interface design, usability testing, web casting, and how to choose software tools.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony!

This is a tricky one. But it comes back to what I've said all along about the technology being transparent if learning has to happen in a facile manner using it. A study done by Waikato University in 2003 onelearning students and supervisors as well as teachers at TCS indicated this clearly.

But considering the curricula tend to be full already, what is thrown out to accommodate some of what other commenters are suggesting should be included.

I admit that there are certain basics required, such as knowing how to switch on a device, knowing how to access a link and some basic keyboard skills but, phew! when do the barriers stop being introduced?

The adage, "E-learning? Let's have less E- and more learning", has a place here.

a kite
from Middle-earth

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Tony!

Having said all that, one of the most important aspect that a designer would have to understand is that an elearning student (not a student of elearning) should not be aware of the interface and the need for any particular specialist skills in order to use that interface. In this respect, visual design would become an important part of the 'curriculum' for the student designer.

'Page' design is extremely important, but it has to be of a design that is suited to learning, not simply one that's emerged from the craft of making it look good. Designers need to discard the postmodern myth that text is a necessary evil. In today's learning text is as important as it ever was. Putting text into the background, a practice used by many Web 1.0 developers at the turn of the century, is simply not smart if learning is to be effected in an elearning environment.

Most of the skills that would be embraced by designers in these aspects are generic ones. It makes little difference if the designer is trained in Flash or Director, the same principles apply as they would using Photoshop and standard html.

Ka kite anō

Ray Jimenez, PhD said...

Teach them theory of "working proficiency" - enough skills to perform today and "full proficiency" - mastery of skills which can be learned through time. Most educational technology focuses on learning EVERYTHING today .. which do not work in today's rapid, fast, and constantly changing world. In most cases, people have to start be proficient today.

Eric Wilbanks said...

It's almost impossible to develop eLearning without having (at least) a basic understanding of Project Management. The PM course I took many years ago at a local college has positively impacted every job I've had since (education, publishing, graphic design and eLearning).

Gary Wise said...

Good morning, Tony!

This is an interesting question. I've reviewed the comments on this post and the Master's post you suggested and find a consistent theme in all but one post - key missing ingredients in today's formal educational programs.

To be broader still, these are the same missing ingredients I find in many existing corporate training organizations in terms of skills and knowledge of the training professionals.

Don't get me wrong, there are some really talented instructional design and stand-up trainers in the work space; however, the dynamic of learning is rapidly shifting from formal training to informal learning and the paradigms around traditional design and delivery are now old-school.

There are new competencies required in the training workplace and most involve a holistic approach to continuous learning...and formal training is only a subset of that environment. What I find missing in formal educational programs and in many existing training professionals are things like:

- the ability to align training outcomes with a business strategy.

- the ability to determine the root cause of a performance deficiency (training may have nothing to do with the gap).

- the ability to break traditional linear instructional design and build learning - that's learning - not just training that serves the continuum of learning our knowledge workers face day-to-day in the work context of their jobs.

- the ability to factor in attributes of a continuous learning environment (space, media, and technology) in design criteria as implied by integration of learning on a continuum. (Working on a white paper on the Learning Continuum Model now...give me another couple of weeks...)

In the other Master's posting you referenced, there was a single post by Jackslash who said he'd rather hire "two years of great experience" over a two year Masters degree. That's kind of a strong statement, but it does contain an equal dose of reality. Master's grad come to me for work with great theoretical preparation, but lack the people skills to conduct a performance interview. These folks are smart enough, but have no practical application coming out of school. The popular argument - "Well then where do I get experience?" - is a valid argument, and I feel it is what is broken with higer learning.

I'd like to see a Master's program that has more emphasis on the practical application in the workplace. An internship or two is one thing, but immersion into the work context would be more valuable to capture the skills and knowledge that will be attractive to and employer and serve the new worker with a more effective work practice.

Sounds like a rant? Maybe a little. I see no shortage of really bright young people coming out of school, but those with a couple of years of work experience beat a 4.0 GPA hands-down.

...and that would be my $.02

Have a great day in learning!

Gary Wise
Sr. Dir. Learning Architecture
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Mediacl Center
gary.wise@cchmc.org

V Yonkers said...

Gary, I you did a great job of condensing what everyone said and identifying what needs to be incorporated into a Master's in elearning.

I only disagree with one thing. I have two different, distinct types of students taking my classes: those with experience and those without. I find that those with experience do things because "that's what they've always done". This group very much needs the theoretical basis because they are unwilling to try things that they perceive is not the way it is done "in the real world". The theory helps them to understand why they do things the way they do and makes them more open to different ways of doing things (not just because this is what others are doing). I find these students get a lot out of theory in that they really begin to open up to new possibilities and experimentation (which they can do in school but not on the job).

Those coming in right after undergrad work with limited work experience are very good with the theory, but find it difficult to apply the theory to practice. As you mentioned, more application is needed for these students along with multiple contexts for learning. When asked to design a distance learning module for a specific context (such as preparation for insurance licensing as opposed to preparing volunteers for recruiting at a local college), they are lost and don't even know what questions to ask.

It is difficult to design a program for both groups, but the reality is there are both groups. Therefore, there needs to be a balance between the theory and application. While initially the experienced worker will produce, many of those without experience can come up with new approaches that fall out of the whelm of "traditional" e-learning (such as using social software).

Tony Karrer said...

What great input! This is far beyond anything I would have thought of. I tend to agree with what everyone is saying, but I also wonder about the ability to cover all this stuff in a program.

I also wonder about the ability to teach a lot of these things, e.g., Project Management, without having practical application and real-world experience.

Similar to Ray's point - how much do you teach in the program vs. how much do you leave for future learning?

Keith and Dom said...

Tony,
That's a well timed post! We've just done an interview with the two people who head an e-learning postgraduate course at Brighton and Sussex universities in the UK.

The podcast of the interview is syndicated on Wednesday 23rd July, available on the doing e-learning blog.

Interesting insight into what they cover in their course, and what they've found works/doesn't work. The course had input from a number of UK e-learning vendors and is strongly vocational.

When you get a chance please do have a listen.

Keith & Dom

V Yonkers said...

Tony, not having a project management or similar course is like excluding Finance from a Marketing MBA. Just because the course does not fit into the topic/department doesn't mean it's not important. Without finance, there is no understanding of pricing, advertising returns, etc... Likewise, without project management, new graduates are nothing more than work for hire without and understanding of what they are doing.

Gina said...

I am at FSU in the Instructional Systems program, and our core classes cover many of the things listed here: ed theory, project mgt, portfolio development, identifying gaps and identifying solutions to close the gaps.

I have learned so much about my own organization (I work as a technical course developer for EMC) from the activities in my classes. I think the fact that I work for such a learner-focused organization has also helped tremendously.
I would really like to be learning how to apply social media to education, ESPECIALLY how to prove ROI, or how to identify social media as a solution after identifying a gap.

Michael Greer said...

I've been involved in training development many years. I started out life running a university Learning Resources Center helping faculty members develop individualized (multi-media) instructional packages... later worked as an in-house ID consultant, then independent contract ID, and finally managed my own team of designers/media producers to pump out custom training materials for Fortune 100 companies. [This is the lens through which I view this issue.]

In recent months, I've done quite a bit of research examining and posting reviews of free training and learning support materials available on the web. It's been a real whack on the side of the head!

Based on this recent experience, here are a couple of as-yet-undiscussed, but key, issues I think any eLearning graduate program should address:
1. The cows are out of the barn re: the development of training, tutorials, and the piling up of content for learning. Instructional technologists and performance improvement people CANNOT be the neck of the funnel. In this flat world, everyone has the tools to develop, produce, and publish "instructional" materials. And they are doing so, with or without our professional input. Key question: How will we harness this stuff, incorporate it into our training efforts, and (gently) influence its design?
2. Sometimes, to my dismay as a training professional, I am stunned to hear rave reviews from lay people about "training" and learning support materials that consist of simply a bunch of well-organized content. Other times, I hear them rave about stuff that is slick, fun, and maybe even superficial (from a content perspective). Do we have the courage as a profession to admit that there are times when simply a pile of well-organized content is the best learning solution? Or that slick, fun, and superficial stuff can be highly motivating and, therefore, serve learners well?
3. How can we be inclusive when working with all the ad-hoc publishers, content experts, and others who really don't care what pedagogical criteria we are applying to the stuff they are generating?

The bottom line question: How will the people in our grad school for eLearning deal with a world full of learning content generators who are working independent of them (and blissfully disregarding them)?

Judith said...

This is a great thread: I am one of the programme convenors of the Postgraduate Certificate in e-Learning Design at the University of Sussex, so have thought quite a bit about this! ☺ Below are a few of my thoughts, which are not so much content areas per se, but more skills that I think we should be trying to foster.

Visual design and writing skills - I agree completely re the importance of visual design, and I think also think that writing skills are absolutely crucial. I have seen really compelling pieces of e-learning created using the most basic of templates, but which were fantastic because of the tone, style, etc.

Translating theory into practice –a sound basis in learning theory is important, but it’s just as important to know how to put theories into practice. I’ve seen people produce e-learning containing a plethora of activities, and state that this somehow caters to all learning styles (which is, of course, a slightly different topic anyway), but I mean something a bit more subtle. If we start with some ideas about how people learn, then how do we smooth the transition from those ideas to actually creating e-learning which embodies these theories? Taking this further, it’s also important for e-learning designers to gain a sense of how particular technology choices might facilitate or, instead, hinder, the types of learning they might wish to foster, and to understand the trade-offs involved in using a particular technology.

Learner-centred e-learning – it’s very easy (I know, I’ve done it myself far too often!) to focus on the content to be covered, rather than on the learner and his/her experience of learning. And yet, if we don’t design e-learning which engages and interests the learner at some level, we’ll end up with nothing more than an exercise in button-clicking. Surely we all want to create e-learning which makes people really want to try it!

Which leads to a final comment on what to teach and what to leave for future learning. In a certificate or Master’s programme, it is impossible to cover all the information we’d like (learning theories, technologies, project management, design and content development). I do and try to cover the basic issues and provide lots of pointers for where to find more information (and especially encourage students to find and share their information with others and become part of a broader community of e-learning designers). I also try and help them hone their critical skills so that when faced with a new technology that promises to revolutionise e-learning, they can evaluate it through a critical lens. Similarly, we do a lot of peer review, critiquing, and “deconstruction” of e-learning so that we can pinpoint strengths, and look at ways of improving it further.