Monday, September 21, 2015

The e-Learning Sausage Factory

Willems (2015) argues that tertiary institutions have neglected the human aspects in implementing on-line learning. They argue that academics need to  “adapt themselves” with human communication skills for the online medium. The paper relates the experience of the "REdelivery" team at Queensland University of
Technology, which helps academics adapt their courses for e-learning.

While I agree that academics need different skills for designing and delivering on-line courses, I suggest this should not be a special "adaption", just part of normal teacher training. There will need to be advanced courses for e-learning specialists, but anyone who teaches at a university will need to know the basics of how to design and deliver an on-line course.

While it is useful to have specialized teams to help academics adapt courses, this is just a stop-gap measure. In the longer term those who develop courses need basic training in how to do this from scratch. My preference would be to "flip" the current training: teach academics how to design and deliver on-line courses first and then add the little extra they need to adapt this for face to face (F2F).

Within the next five to ten years almost all tertiary courses will be delivered on-line, with some F2F components (typically in a 80:20 mix). Academics will spend most of their teaching time involved with e-learning and so this is the primary teaching skill they need to learn.

It is much easier to covert an on-line course for F2F delivery than the other way around.Courses will therefore be routinely designed for e-learning, with any necessary, or desirable, F2F components then added.

There is too much emphasis in e-learning design on the academic as a video performer. Video makes no difference to student's learning outcomes, so we should not waste too much time on production values. Students certainly like video, but a good video, a bad video, or no video at all, makes no difference to how well the student learns.

Showcase open courses ("MOOCs") will need high production values as a marking tool for institutions (just as public lectures have always involved showmanship). But this should not be confused with real courses, for real learning.


Willems, C. (2015). The 'Gourmet' Sausage Factory: Keeping It Human. Journal Of Learning Design, 8(1), 79-94. doi:10.5204/jld.v8i1.197

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