Tag: online collaboration

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Dream eLearning: No Constraints

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Earlier this week I received an inquiry about eLearning design.  This gentleman said he was interested in how I would convert his paper-based training to online training, without the constraints of any particular application.  Hmmm…. 

I thought about hanging up on this obvious crank caller.  “Everything is constrained”, I thought!  Then I remembered a video that hit the training circuit many years ago.  It documented the process used by Ideo in the design of a new style of shopping cart for stores such as Whole Foods.  Constraints were not part of that process; quite the opposite.  (Like just about everyone else who has watched that video, I think this would be the coolest place in the world to work). 

So…what would be my no-holds-barred, dream design for eLearning?  If I were approached by someone who asked me what I wanted, I would say: 

  • Interaction in meaningful ways.  I like to write, but not everyone does.  I like to joke around and get to know people, but some people can do that only in person.  I’d like to be able to communicate with them in some way that worked for all of us, even if we were continents apart. 
  • Memorable lessons.  I learn best by experience and when the topic is of interest to me.  I can remember a first-grade lesson in how to use serial commas.  The exercise used Santa’s reindeer.  What child could forget that?  Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen…  If the exercise had been about fruit – apples, pears, and bananas – I would not have been nearly as interested in getting it right. 
  • Field trips.  I like to go places and see things.  I like to put learning into context.  In grade school, we took a trip to Sturbridge Village to learn about silversmithing (among other things). There is nothing quite as convincing as seeing a silver spoon come out of a mold with only a drop of silver going in.  That lesson was so much more effective than a formula depicting the yield of pure silver. 
  • Variety.  Another lesson I remember is from ninth-grade science class.  We went outside during the afternoon – when the schoolyard was empty – to measure relative humidity.  We could have performed an experiment inside, but we did that all the time.  The mere act of walking through the quiet hallways and out those forbidden doors made the experiment memorable. 
  • Blood flow.  I know that most learning takes place between the synapses.  But my brain doesn’t fire very well if my feet and butt are still.  I like to get up, walk around, ponder, dream…

How can eLearning do all these things?

Well, it can’t completely.  At least not with old paradigms.  But it can do all those things in a new way… 

  • Every course should have multiple methods of sharing, so that every student has a chance to communicate in his own way. Include forums, chats, and if you’re using Moodle, the blocks for “online users” and “participants”; enable messaging.
  • Lessons should use examples that are meaningful to the audience.  A colleague of mine mentored young girls who saw little value in learning about math. Their interest was piqued, however, when they realized that math would enable them to get the most from their shopping dollars.  Which was a better deal: A sale offering one third off the price of one pair or a 2-for-1 special?
  • Field trips can be virtual or not.  I try to build my Moodle courses with “field trips for the mind” by including links to relevant external sites.  Whenever possible, build in actual field trips.  For a class in biology, create an assignment that takes students to a nearby lake or river, have them gather plants, take pictures or videos, and post them as their assignments along with whatever written information you’d like them to include.
  • Mix it up with videos, games, flash, and reading materials.  Add a Prezi or two. Pop in some fun quizzes or puzzles along the way.  Engage a guest speaker (live or on-demand) for some of the lessons.
  • Break up the lessons into smaller chunks so that students can get up without leaving in the middle of a topic.  At the end of each section, have a note pop up that says “time to take a break”.  This is a good place to work in your field trips (the actual kind). 

Once you’ve designed these elements into your training, find the software and experts to create them.  Don’t start with software and force your design to its abilities.  For authoring tools and ideas for using various features in your eLearning courses, check out these earlier posts: 

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Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Jazzing Up Your Moodle Courses with Collaborative Activities

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Many of my clients are new to eLearning.  Some have 200 page books (all text) while others have material that is mostly video or slides.  Hardly anyone starts out with a blended learning syllabus that perfectly balances individual learning with group activities.  The hardest thing to do when converting these materials to eLearning is to keep the students involved and interested. 

Here are some ideas of how you can use Moodle collaborative activities to engage your students and provide opportunity for interaction with other students, without costing you a dime or adding more items to your to-do list: 

  • Instead of creating a glossary of terms for your students, assign them the task!  Give them a list of terms to define; let them choose a few or require them to define every term.  Allow duplicates and allow ratings.
  • Do the same thing with the Moodle wiki.  Assign students a list of topics – tell them to come up with their own – relevant to the course subject matter.  Grade them based on their writing skills, the quality and number of citations, or anything else you think is an important measure.
  • One of the best ways to learn a topic is to explain it to someone else. Instead of answering questions posed in forum posts right away, wait some predetermined time (48 hours?) until students have had a chance to help their classmates.  Or, assign a team of students to respond to forum posts for one week.  (You can always jump in and set the ship right if they get off track).
  • Even better, ask students to start discussions.  Have them monitor the replies and respond to questions.  Suggest that they “ask questions” that will bring out the most common misunderstandings of the topic so that the discussions will further reinforce the right interpretations.  I did this when I wrote my first Moodle courses in statistical analysis.
  • Hold a panel discussion each week (or month) using the Moodle chat.  Set a time and choose a general topic.  Have some things to say to get the ball rolling before anyone asks a question.  Don’t make the mistake of going in unprepared.  This chat should have a purpose, which generically, is to further facilitate learning.
  • Even better, ask students to be responsible for these panel discussions.  Let them choose their own topics or assign them.  Either way, explaining something is a great way to learn it
  • You can do the same thing with web meetings within Moodle.  There are several options that are free to use.  The advantage a web meeting has over a chat is that you can display anything from a histogram to a Rembrandt; from a map to a color wheel.  If a visual is important to your discussion, this would be better than a chat. 

In case you’re new to all of these, some quick descriptions of Moodle activities: 

  • Glossary: Dictionary of terms, with definitions.  Can included pictures, audio, etc., but typically the definitions are relatively short. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Forum:  Threaded discussions that allow replies and ratings.  This is an asynchronous activity. 
  • Wiki: More like an encyclopedia than a dictionary. Wikipedia is the granddaddy of all wikis. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Chat:  Online typing of questions, answers, and ideas.  Users are identified on the screen and what they type appears much like a movie script. 
    • Penny: I said this.
    • Pitcher73: I agree
    • Scarymary: I think it’s all very cool
    • Etc.

In Moodle, if at least two people “chat”, a transcript is saved.  This is a synchronous activity.

  • Web Meeting: More than a chat because there is typically audio as well, plus a virtual whiteboard (some or all of the participants can “write” on it and it is displayed on everyone’s monitor), a screen presentation, or video.  This is a synchronous activity. The free versions don’t always offer a recorded transcript, but this isn’t always necessary. (Confesssion: I never listen to or watch recorded transcripts of meetings, especially if I wasn’t there to start with.)  

For more on web meetings and other collaborative features, check out my previous post.  

Let me know if you have any other ideas to get people involved, interested, and talking!

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