Inspiration for Students of Instructional Design and Technology

Archive for July, 2012

Review of an Open Course

For this week’s assignment, we were tasked with reviewing an open courseware class and judging it against the standards specified in our course textbook. I chose the Human Memory and Learning course, which intrigued me because we learned about this topic in an earlier Walden class. The course link is:

MIT Open Courseware InitiativeThis course is part of MIT’s Open CourseWare Initiative program, a “high-profile open courseware project” that promises to “greatly expand the number and range of instructional resources available to instructors teaching online” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 141).The following are my answers to the assignment questions.

Does the course appear to be carefully pre-planned and designed for a distance learning environment?

No, this course is merely an upload of lecture notes. When designing a distance learning course, teachers should resist the urge to simply upload their course materials to the Web, creating “shovelware” rather than a true distance learning experience (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 134).

Does the course follow the recommendations for online instruction as listed in your course textbook?

No. Clarifying the organization and requirements of a course is a fundamental feature of online teaching (Simonson et al., 2012).The online version of this course does provide a syllabus, calendar, and list of assignments. However, these items are for a face-to-face class, not an online class. I still thought I might receive value from the posted lecture notes. However, I found them to be nothing more than a brief outline of topics. In addition, I followed links to the course readings, but discovered only abstracts. The full texts were viewable for pay only. When designing for online learning, the instructor should focus on the visual presentation of materials (Simonson et al., 2012). A few other courses that I browsed included videos of class lectures, which would have been more beneficial than the lecture notes provided in the course I reviewed.

Did the course designer implement course activities that maximize active learning for the students?

No. Instructors teaching a distance course should plan activities that “encourage interactivity” and “allow for student group work” (Simonson et al, 2012, p. 153). Although one of the course assignments was to lead a class discussion, this was only in a face-to-face setting.


After reviewing the Human Memory and Learning course on MIT’s Open Courseware site, I was perplexed about its purpose. This course certainly did not fit my idea of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) as it obviously was not a real distance learning class. Perhaps an instructor wanting to teach a similar class might be able to use the syllabus as a starting point. However, as someone wanting to learn more about memory and learning, I came away empty handed. I briefly perused some other courses on the MIT site, and it seemed that many of them were simply materials for a traditional class that had been “shoveled” online.


I also looked at, and I suspect the open courses on that site may fit the definition of distance learning. With coursera, you sign up for a class starting on a designated date in the future, and there is an actual instructor. For example, the E-Learning and Digital Cultures class lists videos, readings, discussions, and collaboration under the class format. Upon completion, students receive a certificate but no college credit. Unfortunately, since this course starts in January of next year, I could not review it for this assignment. Although open courses are becoming popular and hold the promise of “democratizing higher education” (Lewin, 2012, para. 4 ), this assignment left me wondering if you don’t, in fact, get what you pay for.


Lewin, T. (2012, March 4). Instruction for masses knocks down campus walls. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Distance Learning Technology Case Study

Scenario 3: Asynchronous Training. In an effort to improve its poor safety record, a biodiesel manufacturing plant needs a series of safety training modules. These stand-alone modules must illustrate best practices on how to safely operate the many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor. The modules should involve step-by-step processes and the method of delivery needs to be available to all shifts at the plant. As well, the shift supervisors want to be sure the employees are engaged and can demonstrate their learning from the modules.

Among online learning’s many advantages, asynchronous courses have the additional feature of being “available 24 hours a day, at the learner’s convenience, and are time-zone independent” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 125). However, some may question whether distance education is appropriate for workplace safety training. The WorkSafely Web site debunks this notion, listing it among the Top 10 Training Myths for workplace safety (WorkSafely, n.d.). Instead, they say training comes in many forms, and online learning is becoming more commonplace. For the scenario in question, I would recommend video podcasts and mobile learning.

Video podcasts

Video podcasts are quite commonplace these days thanks to popular sites like YouTube. These videos have more than entertainment value, however. For example, the City of New York uses video and audio podcasts for their new teacher training (Learning Times, n.d.). In similar fashion, the biodiesel company in the example scenario could deploy narrated, video demonstrations of safety procedures. The videos could be embedded in eLearning courses, with test scores reported back to an LMS for compliance reporting. One advantage of podcasts is that they allow a long session to be broken into smaller chunks. In a previous job, I worked for a company that sells compliance training materials to the process manufacturing industry. Among their products are CBTs, which include videos on safety topics. A Google search for “osha training videos” brings up a long list of vendors offering similar products. The company in the case study would probably be able to purchase suitable videos to get their training program up and running quickly. These videos would resemble the following example, available free on YouTube, which demonstrates a lesson on tool safety.

Mobile learning

Not as commonplace as video podcasts, mobile learning delivers training via smart phones, tablets, and the Web. Cisco Systems predicts that in 2012 mobile devices with Internet connections will surpass the number of humans on the earth (Oakes & Polaschek, 2012). Ambient Insight predicts that by 2015, 300 million PreK-12 schoolchildren worldwide will have mobile learning devices (Oakes & Polaschek, 2012). Even if these projections are optimistic, it seems obvious that mobile technology will have a significant impact on distance learning in the next few years. Calling mobile learning the “rising star” of distance education, the following YouTube video compares mobile learning to eLearning:

Although use of mobile technology for enterprise learning is still a new idea, some industry leaders are already embracing it. Qualcomm, a global company employing 22,000 employees, is currently rolling out a major eLearning project that uses mobile technology to distribute enterprise knowledge (Oakes & Polaschek, 2012). Forbes recently published its list of the top 50 iPad rollouts. I’ve included the top 10, shown below. Among them are high-tech companies, K-12 schools, and government.

Top 10 iPad rollouts


So, how would our biodiesel manufacturer in the case study put mobile technology to good use? Employees and shift supervisors could access training and reference materials on the plant floor using the company’s wireless network. The training could be designed in small modules for just-in-time reference—much more effective than going back to an office to find a book or load a training video. Furthermore, the GPS feature available on most mobile devices could be used to deliver training based on location. For example, the user might only see training for the equipment found in their current location.

I believe the combination of video podcasts and mobile learning would transform the biodiesel plant’s safety training, resulting in fewer accidents and fines.


Lai, E. (2012, April 25). Top 50 iPad rollouts by enterprises & schools. Forbes. Retrieved from

Learning Times. (n.d.).Case study: New York City new teacher training. Retrieved from

Oakes, K., & Polaschek, J. (facilitators). (2012, July 10). Mobile learning: Delivering learning in a connected world [Webcast]. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

WorkSafely. (n.d.).Safety training: Top 10 training myths that stand between you and your goal of zero accidents. Retrieved from

Defining Distance Learning

While introducing myself to other members of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) who shared my table at a recent dinner meeting, I mentioned that I was pursuing a master’s degree in ID from Walden University. One woman furrowed her brow and asked if I was happy with my experience. She seemed skeptical of my positive review of Walden’s program because she’d had a bad experience taking an online course 20 years ago. Apparently, her class had too many students for the instructor to manage. Unfortunately, many e-learning users who’ve had a bad experience assume that all e-learning “is like their personal experience: weak” (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008a, p. 71). This was certainly true of my dinner companion who had dismissed distance learning as ineffective.

Chiming in to support my viewpoint was a third woman, a consultant to global companies who has taught online courses through the University of Phoenix. She insisted that she hadn’t found many topics—face-to-face sales and negotiation skills, mostly–that she couldn’t teach online. I’m not sure if we convinced our skeptical colleague that today’s distance education has evolved in the past 20 years, but I hope so for her own sake.

Like most of you, my higher education began in a traditional brick-and-mortar university. Detractors of distance education often complain that an online course cannot duplicate the classroom experience. However, this is faulty logic. The two environments require different models for instructional delivery (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008b). Some believe that the immediate exchange provided in a classroom discussion is superior to the online course’s asynchronous discussion. The counter argument is that students and instructors in the online course have higher quality discussions because they have time to contemplate and formulate their responses (Moller et al., 2008b). My own experience at Walden supports that viewpoint. How many of you have ever spent an anonymous semester lost among a hundred other students in an auditorium-style class? In such a setting, it’s not possible for everyone to talk, and the instructor will never be able to speak personally with each student. I think the following YouTube video effectively addresses the skeptics.

My first experience with distance education was about 10 years ago. I took an online course from a community college to learn Dreamweaver. To be honest, I just wanted the academic software discount. Although I completed the course with an enhanced knowledge of Dreamweaver, I didn’t feel that I gained anything by having a remote instructor. A book or CBT would have been just as effective. Unfortunately, organizations and IDs are often more focused on delivering training cheaply to the masses and do not evaluate whether distance training will be effective (Moller, 2008a).

At Walden, we use, books, and CBTs for our tool training, and we focus our online coursework on topics where collaboration is beneficial. To me, this is a sensible approach. Nick van Dam, author of Next Learning, Unwrapped, proposes a learning framework that achieves the best results by combining formal learning, which may include distance courses, with informal learning. Rather than forcing the subject matter to fit one model, such as distance education, the “magic is in the blend” (van Dam, 2012, p. 53).

Prior to this week’s class discussion about distance learning, my view has admittedly been self-centered since distance learning has provided a convenient way to advance my career. However, the assigned readings and class discussion this week have forced me to “think outside the box” I live in. I was surprised to learn that distance education is a growing trend for K-12 (Huett, 2008), not just higher education. Furthermore, as I contemplate how I might promote distance education at my company, I learned I should consider the need for program evaluation and recognize organizational demands for a return on investment (Moller, 2008a).

Looking toward the future, in this week’s video, Simonson predicted exponential growth for distance learning from K-12 to higher education to the corporate world. This should offer numerous opportunities for students of ID. If we take an even broader perspective of distance learning’s potential impact, it extends beyond the mechanics of education and offers a potential avenue for the world’s poor and disenfranchised people to improve their situations (Khan & Williams, 2007). Therefore, as students of ID, we can think of ourselves as ambassadors for change in our own lives, schools, the workplace, and the world.



Huett, J., Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Coleman, C. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 3: K12). TechTrends, 52(5). 63-67.

Khan, H. & Williams, J. B. (2007). Poverty alleviation through access to education: Can e-learning deliver? Retrieved from

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008a). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70-75.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008b). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 2: Higher education). TechTrends, 52(4), 66-70.

van Dam, N. (2012, April). Designing learning for a 21st century workforce. T+D, 66(4), 49-53.

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