H808: Musings about effective practice in elearning

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This is a ‘response in progress’ to Core Activity 6.3: working collaboratively to produce principles of effective practice in elearning. (Warning: long post)

While the purpose of the activity is to collaboratively agree on ‘key principles of practice that you believe to be central to effective elearning’, reading independently I have come up with some initial musings to help put my thoughts in order.

When trying to get to ‘key principles of effective practice’ in elearning, I’m finding it difficult to determine the level of granularity or how specific a ‘good practice’ needs to be. In a previous blog post about defining the role of Learning Technologists, I discussed how the the profession is multi-facted with many roles and competancies ranging from teachers with Learning Tech hats to content creators, learning designers, educational managers, interactive content developers etc and so some of the specific competencies are relevant only within a specific elearning role or even within a specific sector of education and training.

In trying to find some sort of unifying factor to inform effective practice in elearning I came across this:

‘it is interesting to note how a number of the statements are colored by an educational philosophy, which is not necessarily associated with online teaching and learning. This philosophy values learner collaboration, a democratization of learning activities and roles, inclusiveness, and helping learners take responsibility for, and control of, their own learning.’ (Goodyear et al, 2001)

This suggests a broad pedagogical approach to effective practice in elearning: one that is learner centred, open and democratic.

Other readings have also sparked ideas. While quite detailed, Graham et al (2001) specify 7 areas of good practice principles and how those principles might be achieved in learning:

  1. Principle 1: Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact (Lesson for online instruction: Instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students.)
  2. Principle 2: Good Practice Encourages Cooperation Among Students (Lesson for online instruction: Well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students.)
  3. Principle 3: Good Practice Encourages Active Learning (Lesson for online instruction: Students should present course projects.)
  4. Principle 4: Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback (Lesson for online instruction: Instructors need to provide two types of feedback: information feedback and acknowledgment feedback.)
  5. Principle 5: Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task (Lesson for online instruction: Online courses need deadlines.)
  6. Principle 6: Good Practice Communicates High Expectations (Lesson for online instruction: Challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations.)
  7. Principle 7: Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning (Lesson for online instruction: Allowing students to choose project topics incorporates diverse views into online courses.)

While these are useful principles, they seem rooted in a quite specific role of online teaching, whereas elearning as a whole comprises a broader skills set and practice area. I’d put most of these 7 principles under a learner centered pedagogy and course design/delivery practice area.

Another useful resource is Dondi et al (2005) which taking good practice from another angle: that of what a practice should do to become ‘good practice’ (not what it is or how to do it). There are 9 criteria that need to be applied to a practice in order to retain it as a ‘good practice’. So, a ‘good practice’ should:

  1. come from the field of practitioners who already use it
  2. be contextualized to a given field, a given community of users and a period of use’
  3. address identified problems, needs and requirements
  4. be documented
  5. demonstrate improvement and effectiveness
  6. make consensus
  7. be reusable in the future in a new context belonging to a similar field
  8. support innovation
  9. lead to continuous improvement

So perhaps an approach to establishing some principles is to focus on the pedagogical approach (learner centered course delivery) and then also on the notion of practices that involve communication/documentation about practice so that it becomes ‘good practice’. This also means making tacit knowledge explicit, so ‘good practice’ can be shared.

So, effective practice in elearning might encompass:

  1. A learner centred approach to learning design with student-student (peer) learning built into design and approach. But other pedagogies (associative) may also be relevant to the task at hand.
  2. Pedagogical understanding of designing elearning for different learners and contexts (otherwise risks blind use of tools)
  3. Collaboration and networking as a professional to communicate good practice. This seems very important in this field as as learning professionals will most likely work in teams with specialisms (content, tools, IT).
  4. Knowledge of digital tools and networking skills (this will vary depending on role but familiarity is required)
  5. Demonstrable experience and ability to articulate and reflect on that. (evidence of practicing elearning)
  6. Ability to create artifacts, documentation and reifications of good practice. Even where it might not be ‘excellent’, the ability to represent and reflect on it in terms of ‘good practice’ furthers the practice.
  7. Operate as a participant in a Community of Practice where working knowledge in a rapidly emerging profession becomes good practice. A willingness to learn from other good practice so as to refine/improve working practice is also important.

There are of course problems with the notion of ‘good practice’ if that is what ‘effective’ means. Context is crucial; otherwise there is the danger of ‘good practice’ being a stifler of innovation. I have alternatively come across ‘next practice’ (rather than best practice) as well as ‘emerging practice’ as possible terms. I actually prefer this approach because the medium, industry and digital learning is constantly evolving and I am not sure it is possible to ‘reify’ good practice in an absolute sense. So in terms of establishing ‘good practice’ I would put heavy emphasis on a detailed level of granularity when documenting ‘good practice’, adding as much context as possible rather than making generalizations and trying to always strive for ‘next practice’ or ’emerging practice’ that can support innovation and lead to continuous improvement.

Another area of discussion is whether elearning practice sits aside ‘learning practice’ and so practitioners need to understand both to be effective. As elearning practice often feeds into or replaces ‘established practice’, good practice of using elearning is necessarily contextual and the notion of building in an ‘elearning advantage’ to learning design is another way of conceptualizing effective practice in learning (JISC, 2004).

So at this stage, more questions than clea
r answers. It will be interesting to see what the Tutor Group and module cohort come up with. I am sure I have missed something obvious and this is where the value of the collaborative task will come in. As a further relflection on collaborative learning, one of the difficulties of engaging collaboratively is coming to a shared understanding of concepts etc and therefore how much individual work is required: I felt I needed to go through this process of readings and formulate my own understanding, so I am in a better place to move towards working collaboratively.

References

Dondi, C., Moretti, M., Husson, A.-M. and Pawlowski, J.M. (eds) (2005) ‘Interim report: CWA 1 – providing good practice for elearning quality approaches’ (online), CEN/ISSS.

Goodyear, P., Salmon, G., Spector, M., Steeples, C., & Tickner, T. (2001). Competences for online teaching. Educational Technology Research & Development, vol 49 no 1, pp .65-72.

Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Lim, B.-R., Craner, J. and Duffy, T.M. (2001) ‘Seven principles of effective teaching: a practical lens for evaluating online courses’ (online), The Technology Source, March/April.

JISC (2004) ‘Effective practice with elearning: a good practice guide in designing for learning’ (online), JISC/HEFCE.

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