Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Simulations and Problem-based Learning in Online Courses

I attended a really great two-day workshop last week in St-Jean, Quebec. It had the theme of defining the roles of the Training and Development Officer and the Educational Services workers within the framework of the Canadian Defence Academy. The topics on the second day were particularly interesting to me, specifically, the topics and workshop on e-Learning Innovation. Three proactive themes were distilled that were thought of as being alternatives to weaknesses in the current instructional design models: rapid prototyping, simulations and the creation of performance supports.

Consider simulations for a moment. When most people think of simulation they think of something rivaling a video game and that’s ok because those are indeed simulations. If you’re an instructional designer and someone comes up to you and says… “why aren’t you using simulations in your online courses?” You might cringe in fear of the work involved as well as the cost involved of designing and developing a detailed and immersive simulation. (That’s my reaction anyway HAHA!) But there are other ways to develop simulations. Problem-based Learning (PBL) comes to mind. It’s a way to emphasize the constructivist approach to learning and to promote higher-order learning in a scenario-based framework (i.e. address learning objectives into the levels 4 through 6 of Bloom’s Taxonomy for cognitive skills.)

A great article was published recently in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Education (IRRODL) that presents a case study for using PBL in an online biotechnology course. If you’re interested in using PBL as a type of simulation in your online courses make sure you read this article. It does a great job at outlining the detailed rational needed when designing this activity. It’s not an easy job to create; it’s tougher to create a PBL learning activity than it is to create a multiple choice exam, but you don’t need high-powered graphics, animations, or predictive and interactive software to provide a simulation to your students in this case. All you need is the student’s imagination and a real world problem for them to work on.

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