MODULE II - Learning (Content Development)
As the content expert, students expect you to share your experiences and knowledge in a way that will help them learn. In many instances, the content will be developed and made available to you. It is important however, that you know how to personalize the learning experience in a manner that represents your teaching style.
At the end of this module faculty will be able to:
- Differentiate between Deep Learning and Surface Learning.
- Develop a learning activity based on the constructivists’ theory of learning using active learning techniques.
- Understand the key elements of a lesson plan as noted in the OntarioLearn Course Development Checklist.
- Build online content that is accessible and follows best practice guidelines in relation to style and web-design.
- Discuss the value of learning objects in the online learning environment.
- Locate or build a learning object appropriate to the online course.
Active Learning shifts the responsibility of the learning to the student. Many students argue that this is not appropriate and that they "are paying good money to be taught". While this argument may have some merit, the faculty member who encourages active learning in their courses are truly giving the student a greater learning experience for their money.
Active learning activities can take more time to create and often require more guidance and feedback, especially on the front end. This can be a challenge in the online environment where there is a potential to run "40 separate courses" in one course site. A way to avoid this is to build a collaborative learning environment that provide students an opportunity to learn from each other, in addition to the content presented in the site.
When building active learning activities the student must go through some level of experience;in other words, the students must be expected to "do something". The activity should also lead into another activity that continues to build on the learning.
The Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo has prepared an extensive list of possible activities that you adapt for your specific courses.
Take it a little further: Develop an active learning activity that you can use in your online course this term.
Deep Learning versus Surface Learning
Deep and Surface Learning theories are theories you have likely heard of. As a teacher, it is important to encourage your students to become "deep learners" as it allows for long term retention of the material covered in your course. The table below highlights the key elements of these theories in their simplest form:
|Surface Learning||Deep Learning|
|Ability to mimic or regurgitate content||Ability to critically analyze a concept or theory|
|Extrinsic motivation (means to an end; get to the next level)||Intrinsic motivation (process of self-actualization; wanting to make a connection to self and personal goals)|
|Does not promote long-term retention||Promotes long-term retention|
|Students are passive participants in the learning process. The focus is on the learning of the moment; typically there's no association with other courses or past learning experiences.||Students are active participants in the learning process and use previous knowledge to advance their comprehension.|
|Encouraged through rote forms of assessment
(Eg. Short answer tests, Multiple Choice exams, etc.)
|Encouraged by assignments linked to reflective practice. (Eg. Practice-based assignments) Students demonstrate understanding of theory AND relate it to a personal experience, etc.|
Adapted from content presented at: Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre and Deep and Surface Learning.
In the online environment, it is easier for students to stay in the realm of surface learning. A quick review of the tracking records in your course site will give you some evidence of the surface learners in your class. They are typically the students who spend most of their time on the assessment and evaluation pages and whose main focus are the tasks associated with passing the course.
It is part of your role to encourage the student to be more active in the learning process by creating content and learning activities that challenge the student to think more deeply about the concepts being learned.
Active Learning shifts the responsibility of the learning to the student. Many students argue that this is not appropriate and that they "are paying good money to be taught". While this argument may have some merit, faculty who encourage active learning in their courses are truly giving the student a greater learning experience for their money.
Active learning activities can take more time to create and often require more guidance and feedback, especially on the front end. This can be a challenge in the online environment where there is a potential to run "40 separate courses" in one course site. A way to avoid this is to build a collaborative learning environment that provides students with an opportunity to learn from each other, in addition to the content presented in the site.
When building active learning activities remember that the student must go through some level of experience; in other words, the students must be expected to "do something". The activity should also lead into another activity that continues to build on the learning.
The Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo has prepared an extensive list of possible activities that you can adapt for your specific courses.
Develop an active learning activity for your course.
In a constructivist’s classroom, the teacher is actually the guide on the side. Like in the active learning content above, an active learner is highly engaged in the learning and the teacher creates opportunities for the student to build on their learning (also known as "scaffolding"). Students are encouraged to be problem solvers versus always coming to the teacher for the answer.
When building learning activities as a constructivist, you need to be aware that the student is coming to the class with life experiences that shape how they will interact and learn in the online environment. Typically, learning activities are built around "Big Ideas" versus very specific detail. These activities require students to think outside the box, which is something you may have to encourage and motivate. Students should be given the opportunity to decide on topics that are relevant to them, yet expect to convey an understanding of what is being taught.
The following website provides detailed, yet practical information about Constructivism and learning. Towards the end of the page, the authors share some strategies for building "constructivist's activities" that you will find helpful in building your own activities.
Creating Meaningful Content
In most OntarioLearn courses, the course content is already developed for you. It should include clearly outlined objectives and a plan for how students should progress through the content of the unit or lesson.
Good learning outcomes clearly state what the student is expected to know or do upon completion of the unit of study, lesson or course. In many cases, the learning outcomes for your OntarioLearn course will be clearly noted in the course outline and the weekly lesson outcomes in the content that has already been prepared for you.
The OntarioLearn Course Development Checklist lays out a clear plan for the content that is expected in each lesson. Below is an excerpt from this checklist. Click on the "Learn more" links for more information and specific examples for each criterion.
|4. Lessons Learn more...|
a) Each lesson contains an identified introduction. Learn more...
b) Each lesson contains a statement of its learning outcomes. Learn more...
c) Each lesson has a main body containing the core content and/or references to text readings and other resources where applicable. Note text references can be in the course schedule. Learn more...
d) Each lesson contains a learning activity. Learn more...
e) Each lesson contains a summary. Learn more...
f) Self-checks are integrated at appropriate locations in the course. Learn more...
g) All lesson messages/documents are labeled to reflect the nature of the content. Learn more...
h) Each lesson directs students to relevant assignments where applicable. Learn more...
i) Attachments are posted in formats that can be read by all course users. Learn more...
j) A variety of learning activities is used throughout the course. Learn more...
k) Time is download lesson files has been kept to a minimum. Learn more...
l) All lesson notes are free of mechanical errors. Learn more...
Brief Overview of the Critical Elements of a Good Lesson
It should be clear to students what they can expect to learn and be able to do upon completion of the unit.
This section provides a brief introduction and outline of the content that will be covered in the unit.
Each unit of instruction should include 3-5 SMART learning outcomes. It should be clear to students what they can expect to learn and be able to do upon completion of the unit.
The Instructor's notes should be complimentary to other course material (i.e. textbook or reading list). This is the section that gives the Instructor an opportunity to share his/her experiences in relation to the course content.
The content should be sequential and well organized. It should have the reader as the central focus and should be written in a consistent and active voice.
This is the area where you can add graphical elements and learning objects that are related to the content.
This section will likely be presented over a variety of pages in the unit.
TIP: Be sure to review the "Writing for the Web" content before preparing your notes.
Summary and Next Steps
Provide a summary to synthesize the knowledge taught in the lesson. Finish with explicit instructions as to what the student should do next.
Following is a short video clip from Georgian College to explain how all the pieces of the lesson plan fit together.
More information available at: Planning Instruction
Good Resource Tip:
Honolulu University: Teaching Tips Index provides links and resources to help you build effective learning material.
Time Management Tip:
For editing purposes, it is much easier to update page number changes in this section, than having to sift through many pages of content.
Review the interactive Course Development Checklist on the OntarioLearn website.
Contribute to the Tumblr Discussion by sharing your response to the following question: What elements do you think are the hardest to include in each lesson?
Writing for the Web
Web users do not spend as much time reading a web page as they do printed material; they quickly scan web pages for the information they are looking for. This is something you need to keep in mind when writing content for your online course. Students tend to skim the content presented, so it's important to prepare it in a format that draws and keeps their attention.
7 Tips on How to Write for Scan-ability
- Be consistent in the layout of your content. Students should not have to learn a new layout for each module or unit in your course site.
- Keep your text simple and complement it with learning objects and graphics that are relevant to the content presented.
- Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists.
- Create focused headings for the content that follows.
- Minimize the amount of scrolling on a webpage. Prepare your content in a concise manner and link to other pages rather than repeating the content.
- Make the linked text meaningful. Linked text should be short but descriptive. Make sure it accurately describes what you are linking to. NEVER use the word "here" as link text!
- Ensure all images are relevant to the content being presented. Images can create a more positive impression than text alone. It makes a page full of text appear less daunting and will encourage the reader to scroll to the end.
The style or format of the text impacts its readability as well. What looks good to one person may be distracting to another. In addition to this, not all computer systems are equal, so fonts and colours are not always represented on another screen as you may have intended.
Here are some basic tips you should keep in mind:
- Align your text to the left margin.
- Choose a font type and size that is visually pleasing.
- Centre justification (text that meets both left and right margins) makes text harder to read on the screen.
- Font Size can vary if you are using headers and sub-headers; however, the body of the text should be no larger than 12pt and no smaller that 10pt.
- Use Bold only when you want to make a point or draw attention.
- Don't underline as it can be confused with a link.
- Avoid the use of red and green font colours. They tend to create issues for viewers
- who are colour blind.
- It is a good practice to ensure that text and backgrounds contrast strongly.
"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn."
-- John Cotton Dana
The Ontario government recently introduced the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Currently the focus is on preparing institutions to meet appropriate service standards for those with disabilities; however, many institutions are researching and preparing faculty to meet accessibility guidelines in relation to Universal Design for Learning (UDL. The goal of UDL is to create content that engages all learners, regardless of their abilities. This tip sheet provides some immediate strategies to ensure your course is in compliance view the Tips for Creating Accessible Documents.
Here is a list of some of the general principles of UDL:
- Determine the essential components of the course. Identify the knowledge and skills students must attain to successfully complete the course.
- Provide clear expectations and feedback. Be sure your expectations and feedback convey the essential components of the course.
- Explore ways to incorporate natural supports for learning. Some disability related accommodations benefit all students. Explore ways to infuse these natural supports in your courses.
- Provide multi-modal instructional methods. Students learn in a variety of ways. Seek opportunities to use all seven of James and Galbraith’s learning styles (print; aural; interactive; visual; tactile; kinesthetic; olfactory).
- Provide a variety of ways for demonstrating knowledge. Create alternative ways for students to demonstrate knowledge and skills. (e.g. option of writing a research paper or completing a presentation).
- Use technology to enhance learning opportunities. Put material on line, arrange for course listservs, and select software that is compatible with a screen reader.
- Encourage faculty-student contact. Invite students to use email and post your available office hours so they can ask questions and solicit feedback.
(Compiled from North Carolina State University’s Principles of Universal design and Chickering/Gamson’s 7 Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.)
The National Centre on Universal Design for Learning has prepared an extensive website full of resources, articles, research and other tools that can help you incorporate these principles into your teaching practice.
CANnect is a US based consortium focused on creating quality online learning opportunities for those who are blind or visually impaired. This organization has created a website called Web Accessibility for Online Learning. This is a very detailed site with a lot of valuable information. The section on Best Practices is extremely useful.
Now that you know more about Universal Design, here are a few points to consider that can help ensure your web content is accessible to all students: WebAIM, Web Accessibility in Mind, has prepared a quick reference guide with very practical tips on preparing accessible web content. Be sure to surf this site, as it is full of excellent resources, such as accessibility checkers, checklists and links to accessibility guidelines. Follow the links in the graphic below.
A learning object is defined as a resource, usually digital and web-based, that can be used and re-used to support learning. Below is a list (while not exhaustive) of possible Learning Object projects that can be considered. Definitions were derived from those used by Merlot.
Animation: Allows users to view the dynamic and visual representation of a concept, model or process. Users are in full control of the pace and movement through the material, but cannot influence the initial conditions or their outcomes/results.
Drill and Practice: Requires users to respond repeatedly to questions or stimuli presented in a variety of sequences. Users practice on their own, at their own pace, to develop their ability to reliably perform and demonstrate the target knowledge or skills.
Simulation: Approximates a real or imaginary experience where users’ actions affect their outcomes. Users determine and input conditions that generate output that is different from and changed by the initial conditions.
Tutorial: Users navigate through electronic material designed to meet a stated learning objective. Tutorial are, structured to impart specific concepts or skills and organized sequentially to integrate conceptual presentation, demonstration, practice and self-testing.
Here a few samples of learning objects:
(Property of WISC-Online Learning Object Repository)
(Property of UWM Learning Object Repository)
Clearly the level of technical ability required to build a learning object is as broad as the ideas one can dream up for an object. The more sophisticated the object, the higher level of technical skill required (i.e. Graphics or programming knowledge). That being said, there are a number of free or cost-effective applications available for the average user. You will learn more about these in Module Four
There are a variety of open Learning Object Repositories (LOR) that you can utilize when building course content; Merlot is a example. Here are a few important things to note about LORs:
- They provide access to already made objects, versus building your own.
- Some allow you to make modifications to meet your specific need, provided you add the modified object to the repository.
- Objects can be free of charge; however some may have associated costs based on use.
- They provide an opportunity to become engaged in a learning community.
Queen's University has compiled a list of popular LORs. Search the LORs noted and locate a potential learning object that you can use in your course.
Share your findings on TUMBLR: Technology Wins and Losses. If you could not find a learning object, provide some commentary about what you did find.
The relevance and presentation of your content will have a major impact on students’ perceptions of the quality of the online course. It is important that faculty build content and activities that are simple to access and follow. Understanding that we are living in a society of skimmers, especially when viewing web material, will help you prepare your content in a manner that will keep your students’ attention and minimize barriers to learning.
When preparing content for the web, be sure to take advantage of the services of your College. If you have ideas or suggestions to improve existing content, talk to your Coordinator before making edits to an existing course site. They will be able to provide direction on tools they have available and on college-specific guidelines for development.
Presenting your content in a clear and concise manner using a variety of tools and teaching strategies will certainly keep your students' interest. That being said, you are also responsible for guiding the learning process and providing students with feedback on their development and/or progress in the course. In Module 3, you will learn different ways to build appropriate assessment and evaluation tools, while also learning ways to provide students with meaningful feedback.