Rozhan Mohammed Idrus,Ph.D
Professor of Open & Distance Learning (ODL)
School of Distance Education
Universiti Sains Malaysia
11800 USM, Penang, MALAYSIA
1. e-Learning is increasingly becoming popular, both in academic and corporate environments. However, learners do not fall into a homogeneous group. What can you do to ensure that all learners of a group are nearly at the same level of understanding / assimilation when the e-Learning course is predominantly asynchronous?
Even before the popularity of e-Learning, mostly brought by the influx of modern information and communication technology capabilities in the form of the Internet, the learners in a conventional classroom in a school or university or corporate setting were also inhomogeneous. This inhomogeneity will be accentuated if we consider a global setting. That has always been a major consideration in teaching and learning practices. e-Learning can now do what could not be done before, not for the lack of knowledge but for the constraints within a conventional setting. It is now possible to design an e-Learning course in many different ways (the buffet approach) that conform to the learning style, preferences and modalities of the learner. Although
e-Learning courses are predominantly asynchronous, a very transparent and detailed blueprint and lesson plan of a course will ascertain the learning objectives at set intervals. This should include activities that would recall prior learning so that the learners know what they should have known at that point in a particular course. This will inject a level of uniformity or prerequisites that has to be adhered to by the learners. Mechanisms of pre-test (with feedback and recommendations) will further be a yardstick in determining that the learners are the same level of understanding.
2. Blended learning is one of the new mantras to overcome some of the drawbacks of asynchronous e-Learning. Is there a ready-made prescription for blending a course given a learning outcome, using variations of online & offline, synchronous & asynchronous, media elements, learning processes and any others?
I beg to differ insofar as blended learning is concerned. There has always been a blend in our teaching and learning practices. Even from before, the blend involves a planned combination of approaches and options for blended learning go beyond the classroom. It is a matter of old media, new media, little media and big media, and the ensuing pedagogies that come with it. Also, the blend can be formal and informal, technology- and people-based, independent and convivial, and directive- and discovery-oriented. As far as I am concerned, there should not be any drawbacks of asynchronous e-Learning as any blended course must be constructed with a purpose. So, in ones blended course; What are the key features of the blend? In which situations is the blend adopted? What blended techniques are adopted to enhance learning? Who is the blend designed for? In a nutshell, the prescribed blend must be constructed for a prescribed learner. However, we may reach a 'ready-made' mode when we have enough repositories of blends that we can easily prescribe and we may have to create a new blend if what we have do not fit the need of the learner and the type of learning to be delivered.
3. One size does not fit all. However, it is very expensive to create custom courseware without sighting a clear segment and hence most courses are designed to be pretty generic. What are some of the steps to follow to customize a generic course for a specific target audience based on demographic parameters such as age, sex, education or job role?
This is not an easy one to respond to. Firstly, who is designing the courseware? If it is a commercial design, I would not be surprised to the generic production. I always wonder if the commercial courseware had the necessary academic input from subject matter expert from a university, say, the curriculum set by each course in any institution (unless tailor-made for a specific cohort) has already taken into account the age range, entry requirement as well as discipline specific content (job role, that is ..). We should be gender free unless we are saying there is a different management course for males and females. In fact my question would be (my apologies for answering a question with a question), why should the course design be generic at all .. since we have already determined the curriculum at each level of a course. A certain amount of overlap should be acceptable to keep the relevance and flow, or self-directedness of the learning materials. Courses have also been configured to reflect the job roles or areas of specialization. Then it is the role of the learner to undertake the study of that course that has been designed .. learning, un-learning and re-Learning along the way. The customisation is towards the learning style and preferential learning needs of the learners, not to customise the course per se .
4. How important is it to understand the psychographic profile of learners to get an excellent Instructional Design?
To me, this question answers itself. Instructional design relates directly to learning theories and these learning theories are directly related to the learners. So depending on the learners and circumstance, different learning theories may apply. In this case an excellent instructional design would mean that the most appropriate strategy based on learner characteristics was optimized for the learning experience of the learner. In order to obtain an excellent instructional design, the designer must be very knowledgeable as the best design decisions are most certainly based on the knowledge of learning theories. The psychographic profile of learners is crucial as that knowledge open our eyes to their possibilities and ways of seeing the world. So we need to know why they are learning, their motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic), what keep them going and getting feedback from them. Of course, perfect matches are impossible as we have to leave a certain degree to the act of learning (as their profile can, and will change) and utilizing the human mind and from a pragmatic viewpoint; instructional designer's toolbox contains an ever changing and increasing number of theoretical applications, physical possibilities and educational technology capabilities to figure out what works and to use it.
5. In today's fast changing world, the time available for Instructional Design is coming down. A large number of courses are now based on Rapid Instructional Design, wherein a number of shortcuts are used. In your opinion, is there a substantial drop in quality or learning outcomes between such courses and those that are based on traditional Instructional Design?
Firstly, even traditional instructional design has been guilty of insisting that all students should be responsible for learning the same things at the same age. The potential cognitive differences among human individuals are staggering. Despite the lip service paid to individual differences, traditional education has failed to move away from the group mentality that has driven it for so many years. The very language of education, which separates students into grades, classes, honors, average, even learning 'styles,' forces the mind into perceiving groups, not individuals. That was the state even in traditional instructional design. Rapid instructional design has no focus on the learners at all. It is more about the schedule, the stake holder needs and the production turn-time by the consultant .. and we have the audacity to naively swallow that cheaper and faster instructional design are by some miracle related with better learning effects. Call me a traditionalist, but there are only two major areas that require speed in its context of outcomes; entertainment and business. We want to get information, sales facts, stocks and to be able to wheel and deal almost simultaneously across the globe. We want to watch live football and be witness to the launch of a new music album at the same time with everybody on the planet. It is NOT the same with education. In education it is about the quality of the content, not the speed of delivery .. well you have to deliver it on time, but given the whole content, the learner will need to go trough it according to the teaching and learning schedules, learn the content, do their activities, participate in forums and discussions, attend to their assignment, get feedback and learn a 'chunk' of knowledge before moving to the next. The major complain is that traditional instructional design is too slow .. too slow for whom? How slow is slow? Another excuse put forward is that the course, if produced too slowly will be out of date. How often does a curriculum change? There is a big difference between sales talk and the actual teaching and learning practices. Even traditional instructional design has some way to go to address the needs of the learner, let alone a rapidly produced one. We have not even touched quality yet. A quick reminder; e-Learning's early promise was most often reflected in three basic beliefs, each of which turned out to be wrong [Please refer to Why the e-Learning Boom Went Bust by Zemsky and Massy (2004)]
6. Most e-Learning design is at cognitive levels, given the paucity of budgets or lack of suitable Instructional Design and processes. What can we do to bring in an element of Constructivism into e-Learning thereby dramatically improving the learning outcomes?
If the constructivist approach has been adopted in the e-Learning design from the beginning, I believe this can solve the problem. We have a tendency to 'buy' an e-Learning system, and then try to build in the relevant features. This is more like building a house without the necessary or relevant design and then start to add in the wiring, piping, windows and major renovations. That may even cost more than the actual house in the first place. I believe e-Learning systems must be designed for a purpose, not an afterthought. This is basic instructional design in the consideration of introducing a new educational technology delivery mechanism. I have asked many teachers, 'why do want to use the Internet?' Mostly, they wanted the students to surf the Internet. Then, my next question would be, why you want them to surf the net. Naturally the answer would be to search for information. What information would you like them to find? This was the end of their response. This shows that they did not have a purpose for the students to surf the Internet.. The question is, why was the
e-Learning designed at cognitive levels? We can interject any design we want, constructivism, cognitivism as well as behaviourism. For an effective learning outcome there must be synergy between pedagogy, content and technology, a convergence which I called technogogy, a convergence that will produce a learning object conforming to an outcome. e-Learning is a delivery system that we can use to serve our purpose in the teaching and learning process. So we need to design in a purposeful context for a relevant and cost-effective e-Learning design.
7. In what capacity are you engaged with the e-TQM College and how do you see their e-Learning evangelism impact upon the learners in the Middle East?
I have been appointed as the Chief Editor of the International Journal of Excellence in e-Learning. I have browsed through e-TQM College barring that require a password and I am thoroughly impressed with the attention to details, including the Learner Awards. This is a good motivating factor for the students. Perhaps a Dean's list concept can be introduced. The e-library and learning resources for the students are excellent and the electronic facilities for the students are fantastic. I was not able to access any lesson plan to see the design of instruction for the students. We need to assess the learning styles and modalities of the Middle East students to add relevance to the learning objects constructed. I am certain e-TQM College can attain impact in the Middle East when students find engagement, collaboration, enjoyment, encouragement, motivation, relevance, learning in context and acknowledgement while attending their courses. At the end of the day it will be the richness of the teaching and learning process and the effective educational transaction that will be the mainstay of e-Learning and e-TQM College is most definitely heading in the right direction.