Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Designing courses for e-learning

Chapter three in the Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age book, Rhona Sharpe and Martin Oliver take a look at the fundamentals in designing a course for e-learning.

Sharpe and Oliver firstly look at where you are going to start when you are faced with the mountain that is course development. Typically all that lands on your desk are the learning outcomes for the new course. Okay its not all that bad - learning outcomes do have a lot of information squeezed into them. Information can range from the topics to be covered, the type and level of knowledge and can also specify how students demonstrate competency.

Armed with learning outcomes we can start to think about designing our course. For this Sharpe and Oliver outline Bigg's term constructive alignment as a way to align outcomes to learning activities and assessment tasks. Another important note made regarding the course development is that students will only learn what is being assessed, they are exam driven. Ramsden notes 'from our students' point of view, assessment always defines the actual curriculum'. If you have ever lecturered you will know the most common question is "will this be on the exam?", answer no and no matter how well you dress the "interesting" topic up you will see student brains switching off.

Models guiding course design are examined, Salmon's five-stage model recieves particular attention:
  1. Assess and motivation 
  2. Online socialisation
  3. Information exchange
  4. Knowledge construction
  5. Development
More details can be found at

One aspect noted in the chapter regarding course design is the amount written about how a course designer should create a course and very little on how it is actually done. They note in looking at design decisions by actual practioners that decisions are generally made based on pragmatics (e.g. class size has got too big for one on one tutorials - technology is used to provide some teaching support).

Sharpe and Oliver look in detail at the a typical scenario when creating an e-learning or blended learning course - this is typically a redesign of a course which include:
  1. what was a success on the current course?
  2. Analysing how to integrate face-to-face with online
  3. Course design should make explicit their underlying principles
  4. Course design is an iterative process
This was an interesting chapter - with a lot of good links. It is very much an overview of the literature on designing a course but a good starting point to learn more about designing e-learning courses.

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