Friday, June 03, 2011

Is ‘Simple’ a four letter word in eLearning? Are bells & whistles blinding us?

For the last decade in distance education and elearning, I have repeatedly come across the theme that “more is better”. You’ve heard it too I’m sure: more links, more optional material, more practice quizzes, more solutions to self-assessment questions, more video clips, more audio clips, more flash animations, more HTML, more mouse-overs, more student-to-student interaction, more discussion, more group projects, more online activities, more simulations, more wikis, more blogs, more web 2.0 tools, more textbook publisher resources, etc. We’ve heard it so frequently that we can begin to believe it. However, when a course is being designed, what should the driving force be when considering design elements? Should it be “more is better”? Obvious answer: NO! We need to take a deep breath and go back to first principles: Instructional design. It is for the benefit of the learner in their practice of learning and it involves using a systematic approach to the development of learning materials. This approach involves an analysis of learning needs and goals, and based on this analysis decisions can be made about the course materials, level of interactivity (i.e. student-to-content, student-to-student, and student-to-instructor) and assessment strategies. I argue that the ‘more, more, more’ approach can act counter-productively in student learning. With so many activities, so many learning objects, and so many different tools to navigate that it is not surprising that some learners feel overwhelmed and fall behind. Simple designs that demonstrate consistent and logical links between the objectives of the course all the way through to the types of assessments presented to the learner while using appropriate technology to support these logical linkages can avoid the ‘cognitive overload’ phenomenon that overwhelms some learners. I think we need to pay more attention to simple and effective instructional designs, and we need to pay less attention to the “more is better” approach to courses. Let’s start thinking less about which new and cool technological feature to “add” to a course and let’s start thinking more about “raison d’ĂȘtre” of a course: for the learner to learn. Ask yourself hard questions like “do I really need 378 HTML pages in this course”? So I challenge you all to re-examine your courses and actively pear down things that do not directly support the aim of your course. Make it simple. Make it elegant. Make it easy for learning by learners. That’s just my two cents. How do you feel about this issue?