Category Archives: Distance Education

Motivation and Online Learning

Recently I attended an online lecture by Dr. Richard E. Clark.  This post is a summary of the information and resources presented in this live session and ideas on the application to the design of online learning.

How does motivation impact learning? Dr. Clark provided an overview of motivation for learning and sparked discussion about the role of games and simulations. He got the group’s attention immediately with a couple of numbers: motivation accounts for 30% of learning and 60% of transfer.

Motivation is a behavior – well, three behaviors, actually:

  • Starting a new task
  • Persisting once the new task has been started
  • Exerting mental effort, investing, in the learning process.

Motivation problems result from not performing these behaviors:

  • Not beginning a new task on time
  • Not persisting in newly started task – distractions!
  • Not exerting mental effort to learn something new.

These problems are not hard to find among online students.

What can course designers do to help students?

  • Provide clear instructions that include the details necessary to proceed at the start.  Do they know what needs to be done? Dr. Clark stated that most people would rather be considered difficult than inept or incapable. Many won’t ask for help or clarification prompting a motivation related issue before the course is begun.
  • Provide clear expectations regarding deadlines – this might include milestones, course calendars, reminders to plan ahead for future assignments and course requirements.
  • Consider issues related to cognitive load. These could lead to a problem with mental effort. Dr. Clark highlighted Frank Paas’s Mental Effort Scale, a single item that measures students’ perceptions of their cognitive load while engaged a specific learning task.
  • Consider possible impact of learner characteristics on motivation. What motivates any individual to start, persist, or invest in learning will be different from the next person. Our own motivations are not those of the students we are designing for. Culture, age, beliefs, and personal experiences can all play a part in this.
  • Present to students the value of the learning event, outcomes, and experience. What is the risk of not learning?

What can faculty/instructors do additionally to help students?

  • Communicate with individual students – are there other problems going on in the student’s life that may result in failure to start, persist or invest, but are not related to motivation?
  • Provide feedback that confirms the student’s ability to complete the task, but guides him/her to identify why they may not be motivated to complete the task.

  • Monitor student effort throughout the experience and provide feedback tailored to the specific kind of motivation problem. Attribute the learner’s success and failure to his or her effort.

Engagement vs. motivation – Dr. Clark acknowledged the widespread use of the word engagement in online learning circles and reminded us that engagement is not motivation in total. He described “engagement as an alternative word for persistence; enthusiastic persistence”.

Entertainment vs. motivation – Games, simulations, and enjoyment of learning were all mentioned. Dr. Clark clarified that while technology rich practice environments can be helpful (such as simulations) games can be a distraction.

Resources

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.). Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents, (Vol. 5., pp. 307-337). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Hove: Psychology Press, Taylor and Francis Group.

Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 109-132

Paas, F., Tuovinen, J. E., Tabbers, H., & van Gerven, P. (2003). Cognitive load measurement as a means to advance cognitive load theory. Educational Psychologist, 38, 63-71.

Petty, G. (n. d.) Dweck’s Theory of Motivation. Retrieved from http://teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Dweck.html

Photo credit: Blue Turban Photography, Flickr

Getting (Online) Students Ready

RunwayI don’t think it is completely out of line to say that not all students, or prospective students, are ready to begin online programs when they enroll.  I recently overheard an online instructor say: “The students enroll in class, buy a computer, and on the first day of class turn the computer on.” This group of students is non-traditional, usually working full-time, and often returning to school after a long absence. The preparation of these students falls on the shoulders of the instructor of their first course who is expected to help them with everything from computer set-up to LMS familiarization. All of this takes time and focus away from the course content and schedule and can result in frustration of all involved.

How do you prepare your online students to actively participate in the experience on Day One of Term One? Ideally, there is some sort of formal New Student Orientation available – developed by your institution and customized to meet the needs of your students and programs. This experience would include not only web pages and tutorials, but also helpful assistants available to answer questions and address concerns.

An online orientation might include:

  • Learning basic computer skills: such as using email and sending attachments.
  • Buying and setting up a computer: downloading plug-ins, protecting from viruses, selecting hardware and software.
  • Accessing the Internet: choosing and using Internet browsers, finding an ISP, using unsecured wi-fi hot spots.
  • Preparing to participate: how to navigate the course LMS interface, uploading/downloading of course materials and assignments, communicating in discussion boards, virtual classrooms, and via email and instant messaging.
  • Managing time, resources, and stress: awareness of expectations; availability of counseling, advising, and support resources; tips, suggestions, and recommendations from successful students.

If a customized orientation is not available, there are a lot of existing options online. A few examples are listed below. Consider sharing some of your favorites.

photo credit: Oddsock, Flickr

Marketability of Graduates

I attended the Sloan-C Conference on Online Learning last week and three themes surfaced as I attended sessions and talked with other participants:

ImReady-greenforall.orgPart 3: Marketability of Graduates

Maybe it’s the career counselor in me that tuned in to this theme. In a session on Corporate Partnerships, Phil Ice of APUS posed the question: What is the college experience today? He pointed out that his experience and expectations were different than what you would find today enrolling as a Freshman/First-Year student. I instantly remembered the groan I heard over the phone as I told my parents I had finally declared a major (on the last possible day in my sophomore year at a private liberal arts college). It was Psychology. I think one of them actually said “oh no”. What was I going to do with that? I wasn’t at all sure.

Conversations and presentations addressed the preparation of graduates for the eventual job search.

  • Program and degree advisory panels that include local employers. Why shouldn’t they weigh in on coursework and internship requirements? They are the ones that will eventually receive the resumes from these students and apparently they aren’t as willing to train new employees as they used to be. University as vocational-technical? No, there’s more to it than that, but there is also a practical application side to what students need from the college experience of the early 21st century.
  • Online identities created using web 2.0 and social networking tools. And then marketing oneself professionally by documenting education, experience, and providing examples of work.
  • Vendor/Exhibitor products addressed “helping students reach their career goals”, e-portfolio systems to enhance “career advancement”, and skills and cultural training options offering “virtual business trip” scenarios.

How does online education play into all of this? Are online students different than on-campus students? The market for online students seems to be the working adult who needs to continue education in order to prepare for a career change or advancement while still on-the-job. At least, this is what you see in the commercials. Could the market be changing to include new high school graduates as well? Employability and job stability may be concerns, and motives for enrolling in online education, across the board.

photo credit: greenforall.org, Flickr

Speed and Agility in Higher Education

I attended the Sloan-C Conference on Online Learning last week and three themes surfaced as I attended sessions and talked with other participants:

NeedForSpeed-AmnemonaPart 2: Speed

The opening session with Frank Mayadas started this theme in motion. He stated that those of us involved in the development and delivery of online learning are moving at a frenetic pace and achieving success. That is in spite of the fact that words like “speed and agility are rarely used to describe higher education.”

How fast can we go? How fast should we go?

The concurrent sessions covered issues related to technology and how it allows us to manipulate data at a faster pace that we would ever be able to do on our own. These technologies have the potential to impact how learning takes place and how networked learning changes the way we design and deliver formal courses.  It occurred to me that while technology can make our work easier, it also adds to our to-do lists.

The closing session with Stephen Laster included this statement: “What I did yesterday isn’t good enough for tomorrow.” The speed at which we must move to keep up with the need seems a little daunting. Keeping up with not only what is new, but what is also useful will be a constant challenge as we move forward in the fields of instructional design and instructional technology.

How do we balance careful decision-making and development of effective online courses as our budgets, bottom lines, and student demands push us forward?

photo credit: Amnemona, Flickr

Unapologetic Openness and Transparency

I attended the Sloan-C Conference on Online Learning last week and three themes surfaced as I attended sessions and talked with other participants: Unapologetic Openness and Transparency, Speed, and Marketability of Graduates.

Bubbles-by_Jeff-Kubina

Part 1: Unapologetic openness and transparency

There is a tendency, maybe even a tradition, in higher education to keep things to yourself. It’s a highly competitive atmosphere both among and within institutions. While many of my posts address “openness” in terms of software and content, in this post I am referring to something a little different.

Online education and entrepreneurship

Institutions should not feel that there is a conflict in offering online programs. It was pointed out several times that these programs are a business in and of themselves and a potential source of income, especially in the current economy. However you want to define your market, look at the research, and craft your programs and courses carefully to deliver the learning opportunities and outcomes potential students are looking for. If you are going to do it, do it well and you’ll be that much more competitive and thus sought out by students.

Working with corporate partners

Few schools have the in-house infrastructure and human resources to fully back a cutting edge online offering. Past conferences I have attended, even some of my own presentations, have downplayed the use of a specific product (such as an LMS or virtual classroom). But wouldn’t this be helpful information for others? A corporate partner may have the ability to take your program to the next level, resulting in student retention and recruiting success.

Faculty use of the Internet

There is an opportunity to say what you want to say and disseminate your work in addition to academic journals. I’ve written before about the need, particularly in the field of instructional technology, to get the word out about successes and failures in less time than it takes to go to print in a journal or book. Self-publishing is an opportunity to do this (and blogging is an example). This is not yet an accepted, scholarly practice, doesn’t count toward tenure, etc., but could provide an outlet for faculty and a source for learners.

For Profit/Not For Profit/Public/Private

At the level of the instructor, instructional designer, etc. aren’t we all doing something similar? That is, preparing online programs and courses that are high quality, focused on learning objectives and student needs. There is something to be learned from the ways in which different types of institutions approach the common problems. From a business standpoint, there are areas that are certainly proprietary, but a sharing of experiences has the potential to make us all better at what we do.

All of these approaches to sharing have academic integrity at their core. That’s what has to drive the initiative and what in the end will likely contribute most to a program’s success and longevity. What is your experience with openness and transparency in higher education?

photo credit: Jeff Kubina, Flickr

Connecting – Networked Learning

This post is my reaction to the George Siemens presentation on 9/29. The main topic was connectivism, but he covered much more ground ranging from a review of learning psychology theorists/theories to artificial intelligence and neuroscience. Using a couple of the presentation’s prompts as a guide, here are the ideas that resonated with me.

LightMyPath-FaithGobleHow do we teach (design) differently?

Since I am an instructional designer, not an instructor, I modified this question a little: How do we design formal educational experiences differently? As noted in the presentation, we have technologies available that allow us to store information and knowledge (and lots of it) outside of ourselves, outside of our own memories. These technologies offer ways to “off load part of our thinking”. Designing courses, particularly ones that will be delivered online can use these technologies, should incorporate these storage tools in ways that make the massive amounts of stored information accessible to learners, and allowing them to move beyond. Designers are thinking more about how to get students to interact and engage with these knowledge stores through course assignments and activities. The days of weekly quizzes are not gone, but I see them less and less as a ‘must-have’ presented by a faculty content expert.

George Siemens also brought attention to the idea of resonance. One of the definitions of this word is “a quality of evoking response“. What resonates with a student? This is a question instructional designers should respond to more often when working with development teams, especially ones that include teaching faculty. I often ask the question: how should a learner be different after completing the course? Perhaps this question should be tweaked to further delve into resonance. What has meaning to the learner? What will have meaning to the learner? Motivation is part of this. Context is a part of this. Engagement is a part of this.

Capturing that opportunity to engage a student is related to resonance. Identifying that opportunity is another thing. More careful evaluation techniques might help. End-of-course surveys are fairly common, but maybe adding interviews or focus groups with students throughout a course, especially in its first run, would be helpful. Certainly not all students are motivated by the same things, and not all students find resonance in the same things within a course.  What about including students in the course design process? Not instructional design students, but students from the department to which the course being designed belongs. Analysis (learner) and Evaluation seem to be the two areas most likely to be abbreviated or left behind completely in course design. Why?  Time and budget constraints, I suppose, but think about the lost opportunity there.

What about lurkers? Which is what I suppose I am, in the eci831 course where I find these presentations. What resonates with them and how are they engaged? What is their motivation for being in the course and for lurking? George suggests that being a lurker may not be a good thing. Not a bad thing, mind you, but a lost opportunity. There is an assumption that those who lurk are 1) less knowledgeable and 2) less confident members of the group. The idea is that these beginners could be helpful to the overall learning process of both their fellow learners and their instructors, if, they allow themselves and their own learning processes to be transparent to the others. In doing so, they offer a new and different perspective from that of their expert instructors and add to the experience of the rest of the class.

Designers should consider lurkers as part of the audience, finding ways to pull these people into the conversation and making it more appealing for them to want to choose to be transparent to the other participants and their instructors. Alternative assignments might be a way, particularly in F2F or blended situations that easily lend themselves to this – students could choose to participate in synchronous discussion or asynchronous discussion but experience both. I once worked with a faculty member who taught one of those undergraduate, auditorium courses with little class participation, except when he opened up a space in the courses companion LMS site. There he saw not only active participation, but also small study groups forming. This kind of thing could be designed into a course.

Where do we turn for guidance?

George pointed out that the youth culture of today is making up its own rules about how these technologies should be used, how to participate in networks, etc. Their parents and teachers aren’t modeling these things, showing them the ropes. They didn’t have these kinds of technologies and networks. It’s a similar situation in higher education. We need to turn to those who are actively using these technologies and networks. Encouraging these individuals, groups, and institutions to talk openly about what they are doing, to document what works and doesn’t work in their context(s) is enormously important. Disseminating this information should be more instant than publishing books and in journals. It just takes too long to get the word out. This will mean changing the mindset of higher ed at-large regarding what is appropriate and scholarly work. While many people, like George Siemens, are actively blogging, can you get tenure this way? Maybe not.

Other stuff to pass along…

Photo credit: Faith Goble, Fickr

Professional Conferences – ID, IT, Distance Ed…

Sometimes my employer funds these trips, but I have funded myself just as often. I like conferences, but I don’t love conferences and two-a-year is usually my goal, especially if I can present. I realize it’s usually a bonus to be able to attend these and I try to select them pretty carefully. Recently I was asked to recommend events related to Instructional Design/Instructional Technology/Multimedia Development. The list below was the result and I thought I would pass it along here. The events marked with an asterisk (*) are ones I have actually attended and recommend. Others I have heard about and would like to get to at some point.

  • EDUCAUSE – a number of regional events also available. I am planning to attend the one in the Southeast next year.
  • USDLA
  • E-Learning Guild – check out DevLearn. A colleague of mine (Hi Nathan!) went last year and it sounds terrific, although he was very ‘Adobe’ when he got back ;)
  • AACE * – check out E-LEARN and ED-MEDIA…and SITE if you are in teacher education.
  • AECT
  • ASTD
  • SLOAN-C *- a big fan of SLOAN-C, especially the emerging technologies symposium, small and focused.
  • ITC
  • Distance Teaching and Learning Annual Conference * – University of Wisconsin – Madison, a great mix of people and topics, and a well-run event.
  • SALT * – I’ve been to the one in Orlando, small (in a good way) and a nice mix of education and industry.
  • ITTSEC
  • AERA * – Big, really big.  Focused on the “R” (research). Lots of interesting Special Interest Groups.

There are so many more conferences out there. Some with really specific niches…. what’s your interest? Second Life? Faculty Development? Open Education?…. Here are several links set up for searching for more…

Trends —- I’ve answered survey requests from a few of these organizations recently. There are changes coming I think. More virtual events (more on these in another post). More regional events. Less “glamorous” locations. More registration options (i.e. by-the-day). Will be interesting and very possibly improved in a lot of ways.

Your Favorites???

Update! (2/16/10) – @etcjournal has posted a very nice list of conferences on their Educational Technology & Change site. Take a look at this for upcoming events in 2010 complete with links. Online conferences are noted as well.

Update! (2/24/10) – ThinkingCap is also tracking eLearning conferences you can search by month. Check out the “Call for Proposals Deadline” tab. Very helpful!

Update! (5/21/10) – Just discovered this list via Twitter. 750 Educational Technology and Related Conferences. You can download the list as a Word.doc.