Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Factors when designing good intructional strategies

I was recently asked the question "In your opinion, what factors need to be considered when designing good instructional strategies in a courseware program?"

Four things came off the top of my head that need to be considered when designing good instructional strategies for courseware.

  1. Never lose sight of your target market. It sounds obvious, but I’ve seen it happen. Here’s one example, a short self-paced open-access voluntary training course was designed for the Canadian Forces their spouses and civilian members of the Canadian Dept. of National Defence. Subject matter experts, designers and developers jumped right in and created some wonderful HTML-based courseware. However, they lost sight of their target market a little bit because they intended to deploy this HTML on the Internet but created it in such a way that it does not meet the Common Look and Feel Guidelines of the Treasury Board of Canada, so now it cannot be posted on any publicly available Government of Canada server. They now have a significant hurdle to overcome. How will their target market access this web material? So a tiny bit of lack of upfront planning with respect to the target market has now put them in a position where they may have to deploy the training using alternative means instead of on a publicly available Government of Canada web server.

  2. Ensure learning activities can be completed in a manageable time. At my university students are given a benchmark of 9 hours per week of work for an undergraduate course. When designing courseware learning activities the tendency by some instructors is to take the normal classroom assignments and learning activities and just augment them with additional web-based activities. This can result in courses with very heavy workloads (i.e. well above 9 hours per week). So, I try to keep the time in mind when I am designing courseware-enabled courses.

  3. Use stable courseware/technology with supporting documentation for novices. Two years ago I fell into this trap where I designed a first year computer course that needed to have an associated bit of technology: a Java programme compiler. The professor recommended one. It was free. I was happy. However, in the inaugural offering of the course, the technology proved very hard to master by novice students. The instructor spent a lot of time on the phone helping students install and work the compiler in the first few weeks. What the instructor had neglected to tell me, and what I had neglected to consider, was that he was successfully using this compiler on-site in classroom-based computer labs where he was continuously available to help students with software issues. As a dedicated tutor he effectively served as a support mechanism to classroom students. In the distance course that we were now delivering we had not planned for this "dedicated tutor" function. So the questions, which arose from students around the intricacies of the Java-compiler, where now being fielded at a distance by the instructor and it consumed his time and resulted in some frustrated students. In the second offering of the course, we beefed up the documentation around how to install the compiler and how to use it. So it went much better the second time around.

  4. Focus on Interactivity. Whether it’s student-to-student, student-to-instructor or student-to-content, consider trying to infuse as much interactivity as possible into a course. Some courseware-enabled courses that we offer at my University that were designed 5+ years ago lack interactivity on all fronts. They are basically electronic “page turners”. Students hate it. Their expectations are much higher today for courseware than they were in the past, so plan carefully for a significant level of interactivity in your course.

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