User:Fordn/Books/Principles and practices of online teaching

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Course information

Code: IQ115

Category: Inquire

Target Audience: All

Availability: 2012

Learning Intentions: The goals of this course focus on preparing participants to become effective online teachers by; exploring the essential skill sets necessary for teaching in an online environment implementing effective practices and strategies for teaching in an online environment. Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to: Make informed decisions about the appropriate use of online technologies, both synchronous and asynchronous, to support particular pedagogical practices, demonstrate knowledge of the principles of instructional design, and online pedagogy in relation to online teaching and learning. Develop appropriate strategies for promoting active learning. Articulate an instructor’s role in an online learning environment

Pre-requisites: Regular access to the WWW and the ability to create accounts in various online environments is required.

Participants: Teachers at any level of the education system who are currently teaching online or who are planning on doing so in the near future.

Length and provision: This course runs over a ten week period, and uses a combination of synchronous and asynchronous technologies.

Description: The "Principles and Practices of Online Teaching" course is designed for teachers at any level who are involved in working with students in an online environment. Whether you design and deliver courses that are fully or partially run online, the "Principles and Practices of Online Teaching" course will help develop the understandings you need to effectively teach online or blend online segments with your traditional face-to-face courses.

Rationale: The use of online technologies to supplement face to face teaching or to facilitate fully online course provision is increasing in many areas of our education system. To operate effectively in an online environment, teachers will need to learn and embrace a new set of skills and understandings.

Course Content

  1. Getting started - preparing yourself, your course, and your students for a constructive learning community.
  2. Contexts for online teaching and learning
  3. Selecting resources for online learning
  4. Creating resources for online learning
  5. Online pedagogies - learning as interaction, learning as inquiry, resource based learning, learning as activity.
  6. Online technologies - synchronous and asynchronous
  7. Instructional design - from 'lesson' to 'course'
  8. Promoting online participation and interaction - (a) making the most of asynchronous forums
  9. Promoting online participation and interaction - (a) working in the synchronous online environment
  10. Bringing it all together

The "Principles and Practices of Online Teaching" course is designed for teachers at any level who are involved in working with students in an online environment. Whether you design and deliver courses that are fully or partially run online, the "Principles and Practices of Online Teaching" course will help develop the understandings you need to effectively teach online or blend online segments with your traditional face-to-face courses.

Contexts for teaching & learning

In this module you'll consider the factors that need to be taken into account when considering the context of learners and the learning in the online learning environment. By working through this module you will:

  • consider importance of the learner's external and internal environment factors in learning design decisions.
  • use a simple model to consider the following variables in terms of the context for online learning:
  1. formal vs informal learning
  2. individual vs group learning
  3. synchronous vs asynchronous learning
  • apply your knowledge in a simply task designed to demonstrate your undersandings of these variables.

The focal point of this module is the simple task that has been set, which requires a brief analysis of an online learning experience, and some interaction with other course members about what they have found.


Much is written about context in learning or learning context, and you are fee to explore this at length in your own inquiry in the Web, but for this course we want to focus on a notion of context that includes the following:

  • The learner's external environment - i.e physical space, available resources, time available, access to mentoring support etc.
  • The learner's internal environment - i.e. existing skills/knowledge, beliefs, thoughts, hopes etc.
  • The learning experience - i.e. formal/informal, group/individual, synchronous/asynchronous (see CUBE activity next)

It is important that, when beginning the process of designing and developing an online learning experience that consideration is given to these issues. Just as in a face to face context, the course design decisions you make will need to reflect an understanding of the context of your learners. Otherwise you risk developing a 'one-size-fits-all' experience that may end up excluding some people because it doesn't fit with their time/space/expectations.

Many online course developers adopt some sort of 'pre-assessment' to determine the context of learners before they begin, and then design the experience ot accommodate those needs and expectations. Others try to design the experience to ensure the maximum flexibility and choice to allow learners to plot their own pathway of participation through what is presented.
Establishing the context for teaching and learning is an essential first step in ensuring that all learners involved will have their needs catered for and are able to participate to the extent that they want to or will be required to.


Think about your own participation in this course...

  • Do you have a clear set of personal goals and expectations of what you want to get from this course? And have you explored the course content to discover a pathway that will ensure these are met?
  • What time do you have to devote to study in this course? How will this impact on how you will engage with the various modules, tasks and reflective activities?
  • What access do you have to online technologies required to access the course modules and to participate in the synchronous elements of the course? Will this limit your participation in the course in any way? What alternatives can you find if that's the case?
  • How important is the 'social' dimension to learning for you? What commitment can you make to participating in the forums? What are your expectations of others contributing to the forums in response to you?
  • What set of existing skills, knowledge, beliefs about online teaching do you bring to this course? Are you already teaching online? Have you been an online learner before? How might these experiences shape your participation in this course?
  • Do you currently have a context into which you can immediately apply the things you are going to learn in this course? If not, how are you going to make the learning from this course 'authentic'?

Use the contexts for teaching and learning forum to share your thoughts and to learn about the context of others.

Introducing the CUBE

As you may have begun to appreciate, the online environment embraces a wide range of educational contexts, technologies and uses. The diagram below is an attempt to portray the relationship between three sets of variables which may assist you in understanding these differences.


This cube is a simple representation of three dimensions of the teaching and learning process in the Global Classroom. The front face (brown tones) considers the ICT issues, the side face (blue tones) considers the motivation for or purpose of the learning experience, while the top face (pink tones) considers the nature of participation.

What the dimensions mean


  • 'formal' distance education provision refers to courses of study or programmes which have been designed to meet particular learning outcomes. These may include courses which lead to qualifications, or programmes operating in a classroom, designed by a teacher for a particular purpose. In a tertiary context this is referred to as a "credentialled" outcome.
  • 'informal' distance education refers to the kinds of learning activities undertaken by individuals or groups which are not part of a pre-designed learning programme, or prescribed by someone else. Informal distance learning is usually initiated by the learner for their own purposes, and may include collaborative research, information access, interviews etc. In a tertiary context this is referred to as a "non-credentialled" outcome.


  • 'personal' access to distance education provision occurs when an individual undertakes a programme of learning working independently. Good examples of this occur in what is known as 'self-paced' or 'independent' learning modules, where there are no requirements for interaction or collaboration with others.
  • 'group' or 'cohort' access to distance education requires a group or 'cohort' of students to participate in the learning process. Usually, this is characterised by paticipation in collaborative or group interaction which is important to the outcomes of the learning experience. (collaborative research, remote teaching, interviews, group assignments etc.)


  • 'synchronous' communication - refers to communications that are happening in real time, simultaneous (eg video/audio conferencing, IRC (chat), interactive whiteboards etc.) Learners may be separated by place, but must be available at the same time in order to participate.
  • 'asynchronous' communication - refers to communications which are time independent (eg. e-mail, listservs, blogs, WWW, print material) Learners may access learning materials at the time and place they choose.

This cube can be used to "plot" the different types of Global Classroom activity, according to the attributes involved. By considering each of these three dimensions you will be able to identify which quadrant of the cube a particular online course or activity will 'fit'. (NB - often a whole online course may comprise of many activities that will 'fit' in different quadrants of this cube.

The easiest way of doing this may be to consider each pair of criteria being the ends of a 10 point scale. The to think of where abouts on that scale the activity or project you are looking at might be placed. In this way you can get an idea of where the activity 'tends' to be.

NOTE - this is not an exact science - it is merely intended to be used as a means of helping understand the range of contexts and motivations for participation in online learning.

Some examples

  1. Student at home using skype to communicate with a friend = synchronous/individual/informal, since this is an individual involved in an activity occurring in 'real time', where the purpose is informal, ie not relating specifically to a qualification or 'credit'. Of course, if the student had been communicating using email the mix would be asynchronous/individual/informal
  2. A class participating in a LEARNZ fieldtrip = asynchronous/group/formal when using the online activities and discussion board, or synchronous/group/fomal when participating in the audio conferences. Of course, if one of the students in the class goes home and browses the site on his/her own through interest the mix might be asynchronous/individual/informal.

The important thing about this analysis is that it emphasises the need for these dimensions to be considered during the design phase of any online learning activity. Later in this course we will cover some of the considerations relating to instructional design, and the need to determine the appropriate match between technology, learner needs and teaching approaches.


Can you think of an online course or learning experience that you've been a part of where your experience was limited by the design that excluded your participation for some reason (e.g. requiring synchronous participation at a time that doesn't suit, requiring group work where you wanted to pursue a personal need etc.) . Summarise your experience - identify what the limitations in the design were, and how could they have been addressed?

Apply the cube

Take a moment to think about how the 'cube' can be helpful in terms of understanding the design decisions that underpin different online learning experiences. You may choose one that is familiar to you (or one you may have designed or participated in yourself) and apply the thinking of the cube as follows.

  • Briefly describe the online learning experience you are using - what is it called, what is the learning intention, what level is it designed for and provide a URL if available.
  • On a scale of 1 - 10 (1 being group and 10 being completely individual/indpendent) where would you position the experience you have chosen in terms of how it is intended to be participated in?
  • On a scale of 1 - 10 (1 being formal and 10 being informal) where would you position the experience you have chosen in terms of the recognition/motivation for participating?
  • On a scale of 1 - 10 (1 being synchronous and 10 being asynchronous) where would you position the experience you have chosen in terms of the way(s) learners participate?

Share your learning experience and your assessment of it according to the CUBE model in the contexts for teaching and learning forum (NB a forum has been chosen for this activity because it will allow others to read and comment on what you have submitted.)

Some online learning experience examples

Here are some online learning experience examples you could choose from if you don't have anything that comes to mind:

  • Connect with Haji Kamal. Can you help a young lieutenant make a good impression on a tribal leader in Afghanistan?
  • Weather and climate - from the Atmospheric Science Program, Geography Department, Indiana University
  • Global warming simulation. You’re in charge of development decisions in Brazil. The decisions you make speed or slow global warming.
  • Similar Triangles - from the Khan Academy, understanding similar triangles
  • Study Spanish - a free online course for learning Spanish - students participate in a collaborative task, although not online, this same task could easily be carried out in a video conference or webinar situation for instance.
  • Global classroom projects - links to lists of projects for middle primary students
  • Water purification - a telecollaborative project for students in grades 9 - 12 studying technologies related to water purification.
  • Estimating lengths, areas and angles - taking the guess-work out of estimating

Activities for online learning

Learning activity is the 'meat' in our hamburger metaphor - it is the centrepiece, the main ingredient.

In this module you'll be introduced thinking about learning as activity, and how learning activity should be the focus of what we plan for as teachers in the online environment.

By working through this module you will:

Learn about why activities are important, and how we should prioritise them in our approach to learning design.
Consider how we can design learning activity that promotes higher order thinking.
Explore the types of activities that can be used in an online environment, and consider the advantages of these.
For those with less time to spend on this module we recommend you focus on the topic on types of activities and think about which of these might be useful to incorporate into your online learning experience.

Learning as activity

"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing" - Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)

“We learn by doing and realising what came from what we did” John Dewey (1933)

Pause for a moment and think of a time in your own schooling when you learned something of significance, a unit of work, a particular teacher, a class you were in. I've asked this question dozens of times in workshops and when I ask participants to share what happened, and identify the characteristics of that learning experience one thing emerges overwhelmingly. The common thread in all the responses is usually that the learning was associated with describing an activity - a time when, as a learner, the person was actively engaged in doing something. Only occasionally do things like "a lecture' or 'reading a book' get mentioned.

The way people learn pivots on them engaging and having the right experiences. In the past, the perception was that the teacher was in charge of the learning process but in reality a very good teacher guides and directs rather than telling. What they guide or direct is the activity of learning - the tasks that learners are engaged in. Ask any early childhood educator - they'll provide you with plenty of the theory - and thoughts on practice - to support this.

In the exploration of learning theories in the module on pedagogy and technology you'll discover that one of the characteristics of the currently adopted theories such as constructivism and constructionism for instance is that they are activity based. There is a strong emphasis on learning as a process that is active and participatory, not passive and 'receiving'.

The reason for this emphasis here is that with online learning, there is an danger, inherent in the way the technologies are structured and adopted, as well as being influenced by the physical separation of the teacher and learners, of adopting a more transmissive approach to teaching. While many courses (including this one) will provide information to be read and engaged with, the central focus of any effective teaching/learning event will be the activity - the thing that invites participation and engagement. The information/resources/content should serve to support/inform/guide that activity.

Dale's Cone

Years ago an educator named Edgar Dale, often cited as the father of modern media in education, developed from his experience in teaching and his observations of learners the "cone of experience" (see figure below). The cone is based on the relationships of various educational experiences to reality (real life).

Dales Cone of Experience

In his original version, Dale calls the bottom level of the cone, "direct purposeful experiences,". This represents reality or the closest things to real, everyday life. Dale's observations and practical experience led him to conclude that the closer a learning experience could be to providing direct, puposeful experince, the better the chance that many students can learn from it. The closer to the top of the cone, the greater the level of abstraction, and the more difficulty students have in retaining what is learned.

There has been a lot written about Dale's cone since it was introduced, included a lot of 'pseudo research' that attempted to apply statistics to the levels, claiming percentages of success in learning at each stage. Much of this has now been de-bunked, but the original work of Dale holds true - that learners are more likely to retain what they learn through direct, purposeful experience, than simply engaging with iconic representations such as text.

As we design online learning experiences, we must hold this thought, and ensure that what we design doesn't simply involve reading lots of text, and hopefully constructing meaning from it in the recesses of our minds. We need to be thinking how we can create the conditions and opportunity for learners to engage in direct, purposeful experiences where-ever possible.

Thinking a little more about Dale's cone helps us make decisions about resources or activities. Consider the following table:

"layer" online application
Read Written instructions, online readings, links, downloadable PDFs, texts.
Hear Podcasts, audio files, broadcast (internet) radio, distributed CDs.
View image Inclusion of still images, info-graphics, image libraries.
View movie
or demonstration
Embedded movie files, videos of demonstrations or explanations, distributed DVDs.
Participate in
Audio/video conferencing, webinars, online forums and discussion boards.
Simulation or
dramatic presentation
Learners record themselves undertaking a dramatic presentation and share online. Use of computer-based simulations. MMOGs etc.
Direct, purposeful
Set tasks that involve field trips, practical experiences etc. in the local context, followed by reflective reports and/or feedback from a local mentor/supervisor.


Learning activity should be the 'meat' in our online learning experience. As teachers and learning designers, we need to avoid the temptation (default position?) to simply use the online environment as a transmissive medium. Our challenge is to consider all the ways we can to actively engage our learners in ways that will increase the likelihood of them retaining what they learn.

  • How could you apply the principles of Dale's cone to your online learning experience? Are there more ways that you could plan for to increase the level of learner engagement and decrease the level of abstraction?
  • What other online applications can you think of to illustrate the selection of resources and sorts of activities that could be used at each 'level' of Dale's cone above?

Higher order thinking

Higher-order thinking requires students to manipulate information and ideas in ways that transform their meaning and implications. In contrast, Lower-order thinking occurs when students are asked to remember or recite factual information or to employ rules and algorithms through repetitive routines.

We may engage in forms of lower order thinking when providing scaffolded support for learners, to help them to a level where they have the necessary pre-knowledge to engage in higher order thinking activities. The challenge for us as educators is to ensure that in our questioning approach, our setting of tasks and activities, and in the group work we encourage, we are consciously 'raising the bar' for learners, and encouraging higher order thinking.

Some frameworks to guide us

For many educators, Bloom's taxonomy serves as the basis for what are now called Higher Order Thinking skills. Generally the concept is that higher order skills are complex combinations of lower skills. Rather than replicate lots of information about this approach, this slideshow provides a useful summary.

Another framework being used widely now is the SOLO taxonomy (Structure of Observerd Learning Outcomes). It describes level of increasing complexity in a student's understanding of a subject, through five stages, and it is claimed to be applicable to any subject area. Not all students get through all five stages, of course, and indeed not all teaching (and even less "training" is designed to take them all the way). This slideshow (from TKI) provides more information about this approach.

Further reading

HOTS: Higher order thinking - a goldmine of well summarized approaches, strategies and readings for fostering higher order thinking.

HIgher order thinking- a very readable summary of key ideas by Alice Thomas, and Glenda Thorne.


Thinking of ways to develop higher order thinking skills among our learners is pretty common place in education now-a-days. This topic is inserted here merely to keep front of mind the importance of considering how we can incorporate activities and challenges in our onlline work with students that foster thinking at this level.

From your own understanding of higher order thinking skills, or from your reading of the material above, share your thoughts in response to the following questions:

  1. when is it justified to ask questions or set tasks that may be considered lower order thinking in our online courses?
  2. why do you think that so much of the early online learning course material was criticised for focusing only on lower order thinking, with overuse of simple 'drill and regurgitate' approaches?
  3. what are the strengths/weaknesses of each of the frameworks outlined above (Blooms and SOLO)? Which might you use to inform the work you are planning for your online learning experience?

Choosing activities

"If you tell me I will forget
If you show me I might remember
But if you involve me, I will learn" —Chinese Proverb

There are plenty of ways in which you can engage learners in activities in an online environment, a range of these are outlined in the following section. There is a danger, however, in making activities seem like 'busy work', rather than contributing significantly to the learning - and indeed, they may be the substantive part of the course.
When you choose types of activities for your online learning experience, consider:

  1. What knowledge/skills do you want the students to have at the end of the course?
  2. Do you want to integrate additional collaborative activities, case studies, problem-solving, etc. to involve students in higher level thinking?
  3. Do you want to simply keep the students busy, or do you want the activities to promote deeper learning?

Types of activity in an online context

Includes tasks and activities designed for the individual learner to engage with in order to process information and transform it into personal knowledge.

  • reflection (via journal or blog)
  • observation
  • survey
  • puzzle
  • self-assessment
  • digital portfolio
  • independent research
  • mind-mapping
  • graphic design
  • composing music
  • photography
  • video-editing
  • role-playing
  • online quiz with instant feedback

Asynchronous online
Includes tasks and activities specifically designed to involve members of the learning community, to reinforce understandings of the social construction of knowledge and the importance of peer feedback etc.

  • class discussion
  • formal debate
  • small group discussion
  • team project
  • team competition
  • problem-based learning groups
  • case study groups
  • peer review
  • email
  • instant messaging
  • online chat

Synchronous online
Includes all synchronous activity, including teacher to learner(s) and learner to learner(s), enabled by video, audio, webinar, text-chat etc.

  • telephone conversation
  • peer-to-peer instruction
  • teaching a lesson


There are a plethora of ideas available for creating activities within an online learning context - the important thing is to ensure that they are contributing to the overall goals of the experience, and don't simply become 'busy work'.

Consider the list above and choose just one or two of the activities suggested here. Think about how you might incorporate these into the experience you are designing - more importantly, think about why you would incorporate them. What purpose would they serve in terms of assessment, learner self-assessment, scaffolding learning, peer critique etc.?

Resources for online learning

Resources for learning are one of the three key ingredients in designing a successful online learning experience. Resources represent the content of online learning. Traditional views of content as 'authoritative', and 'quality assured' are being challenged in the online world, with the ease of access to a broad range of resources made possible using a simple search engine. In addition, the tools for creating, managing and distributing resources are now available to allow learners themselves to generate and share resources.

By working through this module you will:

  1. explore some of the online resource repositories that are available and identify resources that may be useful to you.
  2. consider the use of open education resources (OERs) and some of the policies and 'rules' around their use.
  3. look at some of the tools available for creating user generated resources (UGR) and how these might be deployed in your context
  4. be introduced to the use of images and icons in online courses, and explore some open resource libraries for you to use.

For those with less time to spend on this module we recommend you skim the "Reflection" questions at the end of ech of the topics in this module to check your understanding of what is being covered, and refer back to the relevant module content when working through the module on activities for online learning to help inform decisions there.

Resources and learning content

Learning content has historically formed the centre-piece of most instructional processes. This content has generally been valued because it has been through the publication process and is quality assured, both in terms of the integrity of the information in it and the way it is presented.

In the online world there is a growing array of resources now available - students (and teachers) are no longer restricted to using print-based materials or other traditional sources.

Some of the benefits online resources provide include:

  • lowered costs of development, publication and distribution
  • multi-media elements are often more engaging and illustrative
  • engagement with the content can be more interactive, less passive
  • embedded links create multiple learning pathways within the same resource
  • accessible 24/7, and by multiple users
  • can be re-used within assignments and presentations (assuming the appropriate licensing).

Browse some of the links below to consider examples of the range of types resources and learning content available to you online:

Resource repositories

to help make these learning resources more accessible, many countries, organsiations and educational authorities have created repositories where these are stored.

This may not necessarily mean physically storing the resource - that could exist anywhere. A resource repository will more importantly organise and classify the resources, enabling the resources to be searched and sorted, and often have comments added to them by 'experts' or by other teachers that will be helpful in making choices about their use.

Consider the following examples, and think of how helpful these might be in your teaching:

For more information and links about resources and resource repositiories that you can access and use for your online teaching check out the link onOpen Education Resources.


Resources and learning content form the 'veges' in our burger metaphor. The 'veges' provide the essential information and knowledge required to complete the learning activity.

Of course, what is presented above is only a sample, but provided here to stimulate your thinking and consider the value of pre-prepared online resources in your teaching. Consider:

  • How might you use any of these in the online learning episode you are preparing?
  • What advantages do they offer over traditional resources?
  • What support or scaffolds would you need to put around these resources to ensure they are used in a way that produces the learning outcomes you intend?
  • Are there any specific resources ore repositories you've used in the past that would be valuable to share with others on this course?

What are open education resources?

Open educational resources (OER) are digital materials that can be re-used for teaching, learning, research and more, made available for free through open licenses, which allow uses of the materials that would not be easily permitted under copyright alone.[ref: Wikipedia]

The term Open Educational Resources (OER) was first adopted by UNESCO in 2002 and refers to educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licenses, to re-mix, improve and redistribute.

OERs are produced to support learning and teaching and may even be created as part of the learning and teaching processes. Content created by students using the digital tools at their disposal during learning activities could potentially become part of an OER repository (see section on tools for creating resources). This raises considerable questions around ownership and attribution (see section below on creative commons).

OERs became the focus of attention when institutions like MIT started their 'open courseware' intiative, putting lecture notes, exams and videos online and available for free. The Open University followed suit with their 'OpenLearn' initiative, offering over 600 courses online for free. Each of these initiatives demonstrate the realisation that the value of online teaching (indeed, all teaching?) lies not in the transmission of content, but in the quality of the teaching and learning exchange that takes place in and around the content. What you get is simply access to the resources - no suport from teachers or tutors, and no engagement in any form of learning activity. Since the beginning of the open courseware initiative, MIT's enrolments have actually grown in many areas, not decreased.

Why use OERs?

There are a range of reasons why you might consider using OERs in your preparation of online courses (or all your courses for that matter!). Here are some:

  • To help reduce or minimise the cost of access to resources to your organisation and/or students,
  • Rather than limiting ideas to those approved by a small group of publishers, OERs allow educational communities to pool individual resources from around the world to bring together the best ideas.
  • Author participation is encouraged by making it easier to publish and update content, allowing them to share their ideas with the world without navigating the many barriers associated with traditional publication models.
  • You can try new ways of teaching and learning, many of which are more collaborative and participatory.
  • You have the flexibility to adapt materials for their specific needs (using the appropriate CC license) – making it relevant to teacher and students needs.
  • OERs are relevant, usable, adaptable, and free
  • You save time, cut costs and contribute to improving the quality of learning in your own classroom and around the world
  • Students can be more involved, using the OER process as a way to collaborate with them on content creation.

From the perspective of an online educator, the use of OERs also takes the head-aches out of having to pay licencing fees each time the resource is used in a course. In addition, students are able to take all or part of the appropriately licensed resources and re-use them in their assignment work or generate new content for others to access and use.

The Creative Commons license

Creative Commons is an alternative to the traditional copyright process, and provides a range of copyright licences, freely available to the public, which allow those creating intellectual property – including authors, artists, educators and scientists – to mark their work with the freedoms they want it to carry.

The intent behind the Creative Commons approach is well summed up in the by-line of the Creative Commons organisation which is: "Share, re-use, re-mix - legally".

Professor Lawrence Lessig is one of North America’s leading academics and widely known in the global Internet community as a vocal proponent of reduced legal restrictions on digital copyright, and a champion of notions of ‘fair use’ and ‘free culture’.

Watch this video (recorded at Nethui 2011) Professor Lessig talks to CORE Education's Director of eLearning Derek Wenmoth about creative commons and copyright in the classroom.

The Creative Commons licensing process has now gained such momentum that it has similar legal recognition as the traditional copyright process.

There are six main categories of licence that are recognised internationally, and these can be applied to any content created by the author through a simple process. The New Zealand Creative Commons website has some esy to follow advice on how to choose and apply a CC license if you are interested.

Many schools are now considering implementing a Creative Commons licensing policy to cover materials produced by teachers and students, and to provide guidance regarding the use and re-use of materials accessed from elsewhere.

Some OER repositories

There are an increasing number of OER repositories appearing online - here are just a few of the more established ones, chosen here because they represent different approaches and purposes:

  • WikiEducator - a global community resource supported by the Open Education Resource Foundation, an independent non-profit based at Otago Polytechnic for the development of free educational content. The Commonwealth of Learning provides financial support to the OER Foundation.
  • 80 OERs for publishing and development initiatives - a list of 80 online resources that you can use to learn how to build or participate in a collaborative educational effort that focuses on publication and development of those materials.
  • Khan Academy - Started by Salman Khan in 2006, the website supplies a free online collection of more than 2,400 micro lectures via video tutorials stored on YouTube. The Academy's mission is "providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere".
  • Another site you might find helpful is OER GLue. This one isn't a repository as such, but a clever online application that allows you to gather a set of OERs together, add activities to them and then present them as a course (kinda like the hamburger model really


Open education resources are one flavour of 'veges' in our burger metaphor. The significance here is that these resources are 'open' and can be used free of the constraints placed on other resources and learning content. Consider:

  • How would you explain the concept of Open Education Resources to a colleague?
  • How could you make use of OERs in your preparation of online teaching materials? What steps would you have to take in terms of storing and managing these?
  • Could you see a way of implementing a Creative Commons policy in your context to cover the work of teachers and students? Wha practical steps could you take to implement that?

Creating your own resources

In this section we want to introduce you to some simply tools and applications that are free for you to use to create your own resources and media for use in your online learning episodes. Creating interesting and dynamic resources can be easier than you might imagine, particularly if you are the sort of teacher who already creates slideshows, videos or graphics for use in your classroom.
One of the most useful features in a number of online resource generating applications is being able to take advantage of the 'embed' code to include the resource you create directly into your online learning episode. (You'll note that we've included a few of these in this course). Several of the resource creation applications listed below have this feature, and you are encouraged to try them out.

Make your own media

There are dozens of applications available online that make it easy for you to create resources to use in your online learing environmnent. Here are just a few:

  • Slideshare - upload your slideshows and other documents (incl. Powerpoint, Keynote, Open Office) and use the embed code to include these in your online environment. Slideshare has advanced features allowing you to embed Youtube clips in the slideshow, and the ability to record a sound track.
  • Youtube - a popular site to upload video clips to then use the embed code to include in your online environment.
  • Teachertube - similar to Youtube, but designed specificlly for educational content.
  • Voicethread - a powerful and effective way of sequencing images and slides, and attaching text and audio comments. Very effective as an alernative to the traditional threaded forum - lots of opportunities to be explored with this one. Once compelted there is an embed code to allow this to be included in your online environment as a resource to review.
  • Audacity® is free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems.
  • Picnik - take your photos directly from Flickr, Facebook or Picassa and use Picnik's editing tools to edit you them and get creative with oodles of effects, fonts, shapes, and frames.
  • Wordle is a fun way to generate “word clouds” from text that you provide. These can be used as graphics to add 'punch' to your online environment - you'll need a screen capture application to save the images and use them.
  • Gliffy - Easily create professional-quality flowcharts, diagrams, floor plans, technical drawings, and more!. Enables 'save-as' feature for the images you create.
  • TooDoo is an easy to use application to create your own cartoons that can then be embedded in your online environment.
  • Recordr is a way you record yourself live just with a microphone and a web camera, and share it with your friends. By using our bookmarklet, you can also comment with video/audio to a web page you are viewing. There is also an embed code available for the videos you create.
  • MindMeister - an online mind-mapping application that allows you to 'embed' your map directly into your online learning environment when you have completed it.
  • MindModo - another online mind-mapping application that allows for 'embedding' of your maps - 30 day free trial available.

For more lists of applications that you can explore at your leisure check out these links:

  • Make your own media a page on the copyright friendly wiki providing links to a range of media creation tools that are freely available.
  • Image creators and clipart - a page on the copyright friendly wiki providing links to a range of applications for creating your own images, plus links to galleries of clipart.
  • Concept mapping tools - another page on the copyright friendly wiki with links to a range of concept mapping tools. Concept maps are very useful for creating images to illustrate ideas and concepts in online learning content.

Share some of your own

It can often be an advantage to 'make your own veges' in our burger metaphor, particularly when what you are after isn't available or is only available subject to formidable copyright restrictions.

The appications listed above are just a selection of what is available. You may know of others that you find valuable.

Images and icons

The use of icons provides a useful way of guiding learners around the content in an online learning experience. Icons should be simple and used consistently throughout the structure of the course - and the number used should be limited.

There are a number of icon sets available on the web - some are commercially available while others are available in the public domain through the creative commons license.

Crystal Clear Icons from the Crystal Clear icon set by Everaldo Coelho is one of the most well known of these. The icons are licensed under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

These icons can be downloaded in a single package at Open Icon Library. You can then select the set you want to use and save them into a separate file for use with your online learning experience.


Images can be used to good effect to help illustrate ideas and to provide a visual reinforcement of the content. When choosing images it is imprtant to ensure that you have the permission to use them, or you risk breaking copyright.

Some graphics can be created simply by using the draw tool in your word processor, or another graphic creation application such as a mind mapping tool like Inspiration or its web-based verision, Webspiration. Graphics created this way can be saved using a simple screen capture tool and inserted into your online content.

If you can't create the graphic you need, there are plenty of libraries available that use the creative commons license. Some are listed here:

  • Image gallery on Wikimedia Commons - a growing collection of photographs and images that are free to use under the creative commons license. The license conditions of each individual media file can be found on their description page.
  • Flickr is an online image repository, contributed to by subscribers, that can be searched by tag and category. Users can assign a copyright note to each photograph or image they upload. Check out the Creative Commons or the Creative Commons Free Pictures groups on the site - all the images in these collections have a creative commons license.
  • Copyright Friendly - links to dozens of sites on this Wikispaces page containing Copyright-Friendly and Copyleft (Mostly! iImages and sound for use in media projects and web pages, blogs, wikis, etc. Though you may not need to ask permission to use them when publishing on the Web for educational purposes, you should cite or attribute these images to their creators unless otherwise notified!
  • FreePhotoBank - a free stock photo site. Feel free to download pictures (up to 2048 pixels, Creative Commons licence) but don't forget to link back to FreePhotoBank.
  • OpenClipArt - Unless noted, content on this site is waived of all copyright and related or neighboring rights under theCC0 PD Dedication.

Note: always check individual licensing notices before publishing on the Web or broadcasting!


Images and icons are an important part of our 'vege' collection in our burger metaphor. They help to illustrate key concepts and contribue to the support aspect by aiding navigation around the site.

  • What images are you going to need for your online learning episode? Can you find something useful using the links provided above?
  • Do you plan to use a set of icons in your online learning experience to assist learners navigate the site? Can you compose a useful 'set' from the sites above?

Supporting online learning

Providing support for online learners is one the three key instructional design planks for online teaching. In this module you will be introduced to three key areas of development for providing support for learners. By working through the module you will:

  1. consider the ways in which you scaffold and support learners as they participate in the online learning.
  2. review ideas about feedback and assessment, and how these apply in an online environment.
  3. learn about the importance of developing an online community as a means of providing peer-support in an online course.

For those with less time to spend on this module we recommend you skin the questions posed in the 'reflection' section at the end of each of the topics to check your understanding of what is being covered. Of these we recommend you focus on the scaffold and support page, and refer back to the other areas when planning your online learning experience to help inform decisions there.

Supporting learning

In our face-to-face teaching settings we tend to provide support for learners in a range of ways, many of which we do instinctively or based on practices that are well established and we simply replicate. Consider the following for instance:

  • arrangement of desks and chairs
  • scheduling of lessons
  • storage and access to resources
  • library issuing systems
  • circulating around the class to respond to student questions
  • instructional charts displayed on the wall
  • group processes explained in advance and used by students

These are simply a few examples - you're bound to be able to think of many more. In the online environment the support we provide needs to be considered as a part of the learning design process - not left to chance, relying on the synchronous sessions or when students raise concerns in the forums or email.
Here's a simple checklist of things that you might consider when thinking about supporting learners online:

  • Have you assessed learner needs in some way so that you can be sure the learning experience will be suited to where they are at and where they need to move to? You can use a variety of strategies for this, including a range of diagnostic tools, pre-tests etc. One of the most helpful ways is to simply invite learners to share their expectations of the course at the beginning, and ensure you respond with suggestions about how they might go about making sure these are met.
  • Have you created multiple pathways for engagement in the course so that learners with different approaches and styles can plot their own way through the experience?
  • Is there a course map to help learners find where they are at any point in the experience, and support them in finding their way to where want to be without having to reference back to the facilitator all the time?
  • Are the expectations of the course clearly stated, and are the assessment criteria shared with the learner at the beginning of the course? Where appropriate, is there opportunity for the learner to paticipate in establishing the assessment criteria?
  • Is there a clear schedule of events and key dates available for the learners? Does this give adequate time for planning of key events in the course (i.e. synchornous events) and, if necessary, time for negotiation and change?
  • Are there regular course announcements that appear on the course main page, and are these emailed out to learners to 'pull' them back to the course environment?
  • Do you respond to the forums in a timely fashion, and when you do, do you provide suggestions for further action or prompts for deeper engagment? Do you encourage learners to respond to each other by providing feedback and suggestions?
  • Have you provided your contact details so that learners have a way of communicating directly with you if they are stuck or encounter interruptions to their learning? Sometimes it can be useful to provide an 'open forum' where learners can share ideas, thoughts and questions about things that aren't directly related to the course content.
  • Have you checked that all links to resources are current and working, and that the materials you use are accessible by all learners (i.e. at no cost, will work on all browsers and types of computer etc.)
  • If you have planned for synchronous participation, can you be sure it is scheduled at a time where all learners are able to make it, and that all learners will have access to the necessary equipment/applications? Are you sure tht the synchronous participation must be compulsory, or can it be more like a tutorial that 'adds value' for those who can make it?
  • Is the online learning environment easy to navigate? is the navigation consistent throughout, and does it reflect what is shown on the course map? Are there hyperlinks inlcuded within the modules to re-direct to other parts of the site?

Scaffolding strategies

Many of the things we do quite intuitively in face-to-face settings provide learners with the assistance they need to promote learning when concepts and skills are first being introduced. This sort of support is commonly referred to as scaffolding - instructional strategies that enable the learner to take steps that are appropriate for them.
Many different facilitative tools and strategies can be used to scaffold student learning. Among them are:

  1. Breaking tasks into smaller more, manageable parts
  2. Prompting for reflection and feedback
  3. Providing templates or graphic organisers to assist with thought development
  4. Promoting teamwork and dialogue among peers; concrete prompts, questioning
  5. Coaching; cue cards or modeling
  6. The activation of background knowledge
  7. Giving tips, strategies, cues and procedures

Crucial to successful scaffolding is an understanding of the student’s prior knowledge and abilities. The teacher must ascertain what the student already knows so that it can be “hooked”, or connected to the new knowledge and made relevant to the learner’s life, thus increasing the motivation to learn.

Teachers have to be mindful of keeping the learner in pursuit of the task while minimizing the learner’s stress level. Skills or tasks too far out of reach can lead a student to his frustration level, and tasks that are too simple can cause much the same effect.


Here are some links to material that might help you with your understanding of what is meant by scaffolding learning:

  • Scaffolding learning - from MyRead, looking specifically at strategies for teaching reading in the middle years, but the principles apply more generally.
  • Scaffolding for success - from Jamie McKenzie. Provides a useful overview of what is meant by scaffolding learning and its characteristics.
  • Zone of proximal development and scaffolding - from the Victoria Department of Education - useful summary of the theoretical background to the idea of scaffolding.


Support and scaffolding strategies are another part of the 'bun' in our hamburger metaphor. Each makes an important contribution to the support that online learners receive as they work thorugh the course activities and content.

  • How are some of the suggestions for supporting learners embedded in this course? How helpful have they been to you? How difficult could participation have been if they weren't there?
  • What other examples can you think of from your classroom experience, and how might these be translated into the online environment?
  • What forms of support and learner scaffolding are you planning on incorporating in your online learning episode? How will you monitor its success (or otherwise).

Feedback and assessment

In recent years there has been plenty of research evidence illustrating the positive impact that teacher feedback can have on student learning. This is particularly true in online learning, where the immediacy of the face-to-face environment is gone, and with it the non-verbal forms of feedback that can often play an important role.
Lack of feedback in the online environment can lead to dis-engagement, or sometimes worse, hours spent in study and the completion of assignment work that 'misses the mark' somehow.
Online feedback can be provided in a number of ways, including:

  • through the discussion forums
  • privately via email or a personal phone call
  • in notes attached to assignments or tasks submitted in drop-boxes
  • during synchronous sessions (video conference, webinar etc.)

The purpose of feedback can include:

  • identification of problems and areas to work on to improve
  • providing specific actions or direction for development
  • clarifying areas of concern or confusion
  • enabling students to build more accurate self-assessment skills

Feedback also needs to be of good quality and purposeful. Here's a simple list of do's and don'ts of effective feedback to remember:

  • make feedback specific and targetted
  • be prompt
  • identify positive aspects, start with what went well
  • distinguish between the intention and the effort
  • distinguish between the performance and the personal (i.e. 'what you said sounded judgemental', rather than 'you are judgemental'.)
  • identify areas for improvement
  • offer alternatives and/or examples
  • check for understanding and invite response
  • encourage learners to feed back on each other's work
  • generalize
  • comment on things that can't be changed
  • criticise without making recommendations
  • be dishonestly kind or superficial

Further suggestions can be found in the following links:


There are whole courses and books written on this topic, much to cover in this short part of our course. Here we will assume that, as teachers, you will have a good understanding of what good assessment practices are and instead summarise just a few of the key things that are important to consider when building assessment into your online learning experiences.

  • Make assessment requirements explicit from the outset - this is one of the key ways of providing support for learners in an online environment, where they will be having to 'map out' for themselves how they will engage with the learning tasks. There's an addage in the instructional design world that you should 'start with the end in mind'. In other words (using the car journey metaphor), have a clear idea of what the destination is and share the criteria by which learners will know if/when they've reached it.

A useful way of presenting this to learners is to create and share a rubric for the assessment process. A rubric consists of three key parts:

  • the criteria against which the assessment will be made
  • the stages of progression that show growth and development
  • the indicators describing what is observable at each stage in the progression

As learners become more familiar with the use of rubrics to assess their work they can become involved in the development of them also, negotiating the creation of the indicators to match the criteria, and also in making choices about the evidence they will need to gather as proof that they have achieved at the various levels.

Some examples: Science rubric, oral presentation rubric, research project rubric

  • Assess what matters - a trap that many new to online teaching fall into is to make it mandatory to submit almost every task for assessment, presumably because they feel obliged to 'check up' on learners to compensate for the lack of eye contact and classroom presence they might rely on in face to face situations. Focus on the development of a key activity or challenge that incorporates all of the aspects of what is to be learned, and create the assessment to match that. This approach has been modelled in the course you are completing now.
  • Include diagnostic, formative and summative assessment approaches. remember that there are many forms of assessment. The advice above relates to the summative assessment approach, where the focus is on demonstrating and providing evidence of achievement in the areas defined by the course objectives and/or lerning intentions. establishing a range of diagnostic and formative asessment approaches is also important. This is the purpose of the various tasks, activities and reflection points that are included. These provide an opportunity to demonstrate the development understandings that are occurring along the way, and it is important that you include appropriate feedback mechanisms in the course to ensure learners are informed of when they are on the right track - or not (see section on feedback above).
  • Cater for personal an peer assessment approaches. assessment need not be something that is the sole perogative of the online teacher/facilitator. With the criteria for assessment being shared among the learning community, it becomes something that the group can participate in providing feedback and critique on. This is the purpose of the various forums as places where learners can share ideas and thoughts, and where other learners can respond in ways that add value and provide direction. Online survey tools are particularly useful for self-assessment, providing a substitute for the sort of questions that a teacher may ask as they roam a classroom.

For more information about approaches to assessment, particularly the development of rubrics, choose the following links:

Defining a rubric:

Rubric Construction Set:

Rubrics and rubric makers:

Kathy Schrock’s rubric examples:

Sample rubrics for different subjecs:


Feedback and assessment strategies are another part of the 'bun' in our hamburger metaphor. Each makes an important contribution to the support that online learners receive as they work thorugh the course activities and content.

  • What provision for feedback have you planned to include in your online learning experience? Have you planned this in such a way as to avoid it becoming a burden for you as the online teacher? How will you know that learners are receiving the feedback they require?
  • What will be the focus of assessment in the online learning experience you are planning? is it the 'stuff that matters'? Or are you over-assessing the 'small stuff'? If you need to be assured that learners are making progress towards the major task how else could you do this?
  • How are you planning to share the learning objectives/intentions for your online learning experience with students? How do you plan to share the assessment criteria also? Will you make provision for self and peer assessment as a part of your approach?


Feedback and assessment strategies are another part of the 'bun' in our hamburger metaphor. Each makes an important contribution to the support that online learners receive as they work thorugh the course activities and content.

What provision for feedback have you planned to include in your online learning experience? Have you planned this in such a way as to avoid it becoming a burden for you as the online teacher? How will you know that learners are receiving the feedback they require?
What will be the focus of assessment in the online learning experience you are planning? is it the 'stuff that matters'? Or are you over-assessing the 'small stuff'? If you need to be assured that learners are making progress towards the major task how else could you do this?
How are you planning to share the learning objectives/intentions for your online learning experience with students? How do you plan to share the assessment criteria also? Will you make provision for self and peer assessment as a part of your approach?
Share your questions, thoughts and ideas in the supporting online learning forum.

Building a community

Developing a sense of 'community' among the cohort of online learners is perhaps one of the most significant pieces of 'vege' in our burger metaphor. Online learning is often thought of as a rather isolating experience, a 'solo effort' where the sorts of inter-personal interactions we take for granted in a face-to-face context can't or don't occur.
While this can be the case, as online teachers we can take deliberate steps in our instructional design approach to ensure that learners have every opportunity to connect with other learners, and for the sense of 'community' to grow an develop.
Not all courses lend themselves to collaborative effort in assignments or tasks, but all can build community through communication and sharing, peer feedback and critique etc. The sorts of interactions tha can help promote this sense of community can occur at three levels: communication, cooperation, and collaboration. These form the basis of what we call the five Cs of online community development:

  • Cohort: The cohort is the cohort of learners participating in the course as a group. They may have an initial connection, such as a common employer, but it does not necessarily constitute a strong bond.
  • Communication: Communication is defined here as the basic level of discussion in an online format. Learners must participate in discussion to have any sort of presence in the class whatsoever. Communication can be focused around readings, presentations, and any other ideas based on course content or course administration. Communication can occur asynchronously in the online forums or via e-mail, or synchronously via webinar or audio/video conference.
  • Cooperation: Cooperation entails students working in groups or otherwise dividing up tasks. A machine metaphor can illustrate cooperation in the classroom: different parts of the machine perform different functions and goals, but work together towards a similar end. For example, learners may divide up a project, but are eventually assigned individual grades for their work. Examples of cooperative tasks include: dividing up sections of a report to write and doing peer review of each other’s work.
  • Collaboration: Collaboration is the most integrated form of group work, and is therefore potentially the most difficult and the most rewarding. In the case of collaboration, the group members work toward a common goal, one that carries a mutual investment. For example, learners may each work on every part of a report, consulting each other and re-reading each other’s edits. They are invested in every part of the project because they will share a common assessment. Examples of collaborative tasks might include group writing, creating a movie, and developing a shared science project.
  • Community: A virtual learning community is one of the ultimate goals of the core courses. When a cohort of learners participating in the same online course develop to become a learning community they become capable of developing ideas and understandings that transend what exists in the framework of the course itself. In addition, the community assumes much of the responsibility for supporting other members in their learning, so the responsibility doesn't rest entirely with the course facilitator.

Online learning communities don't just 'happen', nor can you 'make' one develop. But you can plan for the right circumstances to exist in your course design so that the chances of a learning community developing are greatly increased.

Further reading

For more information about online learning communities you might be interested in the following readings. They are rather academic, but provide an excellent background if you're interested in developing your own insights in this area:

  • Key Elements of Building Online Community - an academic paper that explores the perceptions and challenges of building community in online classes.
  • Building an online learning community - links to a slideshow by Jane Hart, a social media specialist from the UK, who presents a range of tools and environments that can be used for building learning communities online.
  • Developing an online learning community - academic paper presented at the 2009 ascilite conference in Auckland, NZ. Reports on a research project into student experiences in an online course - very useful if you're considering researching this sort of thing in your own context.
  • Online Learning communities: investigating a design framework - (Brook and Oliver) Academic paper presented at the 2003 ascilite conference, investigates the development of online communities and has a useful table showing elements and attributes that create a sense of community.


Building a vibrant online learning community is possibly the most important support strategy you can aim for in your online teaching, Not only does it reduce the amount of direct responsibility placed on you as the teacher, the overall impact is one where the combined efforts of the group will be more than the sum of the indivudal parts (synergy).

Think about the online learning experience you're preparing in this course.

  • How will you design the approach to best enable a learning community to develop? Are you planning any cooperative or collaborative activity?
  • How will you monitor (and assess) the development of this community?
  • When would you consider it appropriate to intervene in the way the community develops?

Pedagogy and technology

In this module you'll explore the relationship between the approches to teaching that you choose, and the online technologies available to you. By working through this module you will:

  • Review understandings about learning theories and how these inform your work as a teacher
  • Consider the various online pedagogies you may engage in
  • Consider the range of online technologies available to you to use
  • Complete a matrix activity to demonstrate your understanding of the relationships you see between pedagogical approaches and technology use.

For those with less time to spend on this module you may like to go straight to the matrix activity and attempt to complete it, using the other topics in the module to refer to as you need to.

An introduction to learning theories

A theory is an organised set of statements that allows us to explain, predict, or control events.

  • In education there are a range of theories which have been developed to assist us in understanding the craft we are involved in, and to explain some of the structures we operate within. Many of these apply universally, regardless of whether we are talking about distance education or conventional, classroom-based education.
  • Just as our approaches to teaching in a face to face setting are informed by appropriate learning theories, these same theories should inform what we do online. This section is intended to assist you in reviewing your knowledge of what we understand about learning and the theories that have been developed to guide what we do as teachers.

Watch this slideshow which provides a quick overview of some of the main ideas, while the list of links that follow provide more detailed explanations of these and other theories.

Links for further reading

TASK: a personal philosopy of teaching

This task has two purposes:

to help you 'unpack' the things you believe about effective teaching and learning, and to help you articulate these thoughts with other course participants
to provide a 'benchmark' in the course that you will be asked to refer to and reflect on at different points as the course progresses.
Everyone has their own view of what contributes to effective teaching and learning, and this will be informed and influenced by our understandings of learning theory, of the contexts and disciplines within which we teach and our personalities.

  • Summarise your personal approach to teachng in the form a brief personal philosophy of teaching and learning (approx 200 words) - making reference to the relevant learning theory(ies) that inform your approach.
  • Share a story from your own experience that is an example of a 'successful learning experience' (could be f2f or online) to illustrate your personal philosophy in action.

Online pedagogy

What do we mean by online pedagogies? Is there, in fact, such a thing - and how do they vary from other forms of teaching and learning (ie face-to-face).

In this course the term pedagogy is understood to mean the science, art and craft of teaching and learning. In other words, the decisions that we, as teachers, make in our planning and teaching of a lesson will involve aspects of disciplined (scientific) thinking, creative ideas and episodes, and will be informed by educational theory as well as our experience and practice (our craft).

The thinking you are asked to summarise in the task is about pedagogy - the practices the things that you do as a teacher in the belief that they will result in learning occurring. The theories and theorists referred to in the readings for this module have all informed, so some extent or another, the pedagogies we embrace in face-to-face classrooms, and must now consider in the online environment.

As we move into an online teaching and learning environment, many of the practices that have been employed in a face to face context are coming under the spot light. Teachers have begun to think more critically about their work, and question whether conventional practices can be applied to an online environment.

Pedagogical approaches

Below is a list of approaches to teaching and learning reflecting a variety of pedagogical thinking. This list is not definitive, but intended to prepare you for the task that follows. Take some time to read this list and..
use a search engine to find further information on any of the above that you may not be familiar with or want to know more about, and
add to the list any other approaches that are familiar to you, particularly those you use often in your current teaching.

  • Co-operative Learning
  • Learning Centres / Stations approach
  • Differentiated Learning e.g. Multiple Intelligences
  • Experiential Learning / Authentic Learning / Outdoor Learning
  • Activity-based Learning e.g. hands-on with manipulatives
  • Debates, Role-plays and simulations
  • Readers’ Theatre
  • Shared Book Approach
  • Quizzes
  • Games based learning
  • Problem-based Learning (PBL)
  • Adventure-based Learning (ABL)
  • Mindmapping
  • Student-on-Stage e.g. ‘Student as Teacher’ and Show-and-Tell
  • Cooperative learning
  • Inquiry-based Learning
  • Jigsaw approach
  • Buzz Group
  • Individual conferencing
  • Personal research

TASK - pedagogical approaches

This activity is a designed to be completed before undertaking the matrix activity.

Take a few minutes to make a list of all the teaching and learning approaches that you would typically use in the course of a week's teaching. Use the list above to help you. Your list may include a wide range of approaches, representing points at all extremes of the continuums listed earlier. For each approach you think of, write a brief statement which describes why you use that approach, including reference to the context. The table below gives you an idea of what we're suggesting:


You may find it helpful to download this template to complete this activity.

Technologies for online learning

In the online environment there are is an ever increasing range of technologies that may be employed. From the traditional Learning Management Systems (such as the one we're using for this course) through to the range of Web2.0 technologies, there is now a wide range of choice. These may be thought of in the following ways:

  1. Applications for organising, managing and sharing course content - including traditional LMSs, wikis and web sites.
  2. Applications for promoting interaction and participation - including synchronous and asynchronous technologies.
  3. Applications for creating and authoring content - including a range of installed and web-based applications.

To be an effective teacher in the online environment you will need to develop some familiarity with the range of technologies available in order to be able to make informed decisions about their use.

Some examples

The list below provides you with some examples of the sorts of technologies and applications you might choose to use when teaching in an online environment.

Applications for organising, managing and sharing course content

  • Learning Management Systems - e.g. Moodle, Blackboard, Ultranet
  • Wikis - e.g. WetPaint, Wikispaces
  • Blogs - Blogger, Wordpress
  • Social network systems - Facebook, ELGG,

Applications for promoting interaction and participation

  • Threaded forums (included in most LMSs),
  • Drop boxes
  • Audio conferencing
  • Video conferencing (Skype,
  • Webinars (Adoble Connect, Elluminate)
  • email
  • txting, pxting

Applications for creating and authoring content

  • Word processing - Word, Google Docs, Open office
  • Illustrations - Google sketchup,
  • Video - Teachertube, Youtube,
  • Slideshows - slideshare, Google show

Are there any of the ICTs in the list above are you not familiar with? If so, do a "google" search to find out a little more about them, or ask a question on the discussion board for clarification.
You may think of others you could add to this list - feel free to share them and a little of what you know about them from your personal experience in the module forum.

Identifying technologies to use

Use the format below to make your own list of technologies you feel comfortable with using, or that you'd like to become more familiar with. On the left hand side list the specific technology or application, and in the right hand column describe the specific ways in which you would use it as an online learning tool.


You may prefer to download this template to assist you with the task.

Matrix activity

Preparing the matrix
The activity builds upon the thinking you've done in the previous topics and provides you with the oppotunity to consider the appropriate use of the various technologies, based on the pedagogical approach that is intended.

Step One

Make a list of the various online technologies that you can think of. Your list should include examples of synchronous and asyncronous technologies, as well as the more traditional forms of technology that may be used in distance education (eg audio or video tapes, print-based media etc.) Be as specific as you can make it - for instance, instead of simply writing video conferencing, think of "point-to-point" video conferencing as well as "multi-point" (or "bridged") video conferencing. Your list might include:

  • point-to-point video conferencing
  • audio conferencing
  • discussion board
  • print material

Step Two

Make a list of the various pedagogical approaches that you use or would like to use in your classroom. Think of it in terms of the various kinds of learning activities that your students might be involved in during any given week, for instance:

  • independent research
  • group project work
  • interviewing an expert
  • peer mentoring

Step Three
Use the two dimensional grid below (download template here).

Down the left hand side write in your list of pedagogical approaches, and across the top, the various technologies you've identified. Your matrix should look something like this:


Completing the matrix

Fill in the various dimensions of the matrix in one of the following ways:

(a) use a simple key to identify where there is a match between the technology and pedagogical approach. Use a key like:

  • ideal for this purpose
  • could be used but would require special support or modification
  • not suitable

(b) write a specific example of use in the spaces where you think there is an appropriate match between the technology and the pedagogical approach.

Promoting online interaction

In this module you'll be introduced to a range of approaches to designing online learning experiences. By working through this module you will:

  • consider the importance of interaction in teaching and learning, including its characeristics and types, and how we can promote it in an online environment
  • understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous interaction and some of the techologies used
  • think about the significance of questionning as a strategy for initiating and sustaining interactivity in the online environment.

For those with less time to spend on this module we recommend you skim this module and refer back to it when working through the module on activities for online learning to help inform decisions there.

The importance of interaction

In all of the literature about 21st Century learning there is general agreement about the importance of interactivty in learning, supporting the notion of the learner as a 'participant' in the learning process, not merely a 'passive' recipient of information.
Interactivity is an essential condition for shaping information into knowledge - whether as an individual or socially constructed in groups and communities.
One of the criticisms of online teaching and learning is that many teachers have felt constrained by the technology and limited by their own experience resulting in the online environment being used primarily as a conduit for content, and a move back to a sort of 'textbook online', where learners are expected to learn simply by reading and absorbing information.
This chapter contains a number of pages that introduce you to some ideas about interaction in the online environment and how we can be more deliberate in planning for purposeful interactivity that will lead to successful learning.
This includes:

  1. Understanding the characteristics of interaction and how any particular context for online teaching will provide a different 'mix' of these characteristics.
  2. Thinking about the different types of interaction that can occur, including human-to-human interaction as well as non-human interaction, and how these can be accommodated in our onlne teaching.
  3. Exploring the relationship between resource and discourse elements of online teaching and learning, and how we need to be consciously designing our approach to include a balance of both.
  4. Thinking differently about distance, in particular, the theory of transactional distance in which distance is not thought of in terms of physical separation of teacher and learner, but in terms of the extent to which the teaching-learning relationship is individual and dialogic.


As you read through the pages above, think about how your own ideas of interaction in the classroom have been challenged or affirmed. What new thoughts or ideas have emerged for you?

Characteristics of interaction

There is a lot that has been written about interaction in teaching and the conditions under which interaction occurs. What has emerged in recent years is an understanding that the term interaction can mean many things to many people, and that our understandings and expectations of interaction may change depending on the circumstances.

Trenholm (1986) proposed a model which identifies six characteristics of interaction: number of persons, proximity of interactants, nature of feedback, communication roles, adaptation of messages and the goals and purposes of the instruction. These are summarised in the following diagram based on Trenholm's model.


By considering the nature of the interaction occurring in or expected of a particular teaching/learning situation we can identify a position on each of the continuums provided. Consider the following two examples:

Face-to-face example - based on a traditional whole class setting, with a formal lesson.


Online example - based on an online course with no face-to-face contact, and similar goals and purpose.


The examples above illustrate an approach with similar intent (i.e. formal communications, specific adaption of messages and structure goals and purposes), but very different in terms of the proximity of students which in turn impacts on the nature of the feedback (assuming this operates in an asynchronous mode.) Of course, this could change of the online provision was enabled via video conferencing or another synchronous technology.

The Trenholm model is very helpful in identifying what makes interaction in one context different from another, and will be very useful in the module on pedagogy and technology when you'll consider the choice of technologies to use inyour online teaching and learning. Since different forms of information and communications technologies offer different levels of interactive opportunities, it is important that we match the appropriate technology with a particular pedagogy.

You can read a more complete explanation of Trenholm's model here.

Implications for online teaching

Reflect on the significance of Trenholm's model in your current teaching and learning context. Is there anything you can take from this that may help you re-think some of the interactions that occur in your teaching - both planned and unplanned?

Consider the dimensions of 'proximity' and 'feedback'. Can you see how important these become in an online environment, when there is a separation between learner and teacher - and between learner and learner - that needs to be 'bridged'?

Promoting online interaction

Consider which interactions to include

When you're designing an online course you should think in terms of the types of interaction you want to include:

  • learner to teacher
  • learner to learner
  • learner to guest/expert/community member
  • learner to tools
  • learner to content
  • learner to environment

Try to include a variety of activities with all kinds of interactions throughout the course. The table that follows has been adapted from Reigeluth and Moore, and illustrates in detail the types of possible interactions.

Types of interaction

Human Interactions Types of Activities
  • Collaborative problem solving. IAs a teacher, you post a problem to be solved by individual learners.)
  • Self-regulated learning. (a web-based conferencing environment may require participants to manage their time, process information, plan and manage their resources, and evaluate their own work. Learners can seek help when they need it.
  • You and the learners participate in the collective activities and knowledge sharing.
  • You observe, monitor and provide feedback to learners.
  • You facilitate group processes by responding to questionable situations, such as discussion problems, group dynamics issues or misunderstandings.
  • Learners access group knowledge an support through collaborative problem solving.
  • Learners complete group work to improve their social and critical thinking skills.
  • Learners design a website for an instructional programme.
  • Learners discuss real-life situations with practitioners in the community.
  • Learners collaborate with guests on projects to gain diverse expertise,
  • Learners work together with community members to solve problems and share knowledge.
Non-human interactions Types of Activities
  • Learners manipulate software (changing contents, values, and/or parameters to verify, test and extend understanding.)
  • Learners operate software (text copying and pasting, file transferring, image grabbing, brain-storming, outlining, and flow charting.)
  • Learners communicate using the software (promoting discourse, sharing ideas, reviewing work, asking questions, and collaborating.)
  • Learners work with and make sense of the information available on the web, in books and in databases.
  • Learners work with resources and simulations (web-based searches, image libraries, source documents, and online databases.


Consider setting up your own database of activity ideas for promoting interaction in your online experiences. Use the framework above to organised the activities (learner-learner, learner-content etc.)

Spend some time searching the web for useful examples.

Promoting online interaction: resource-discourse

When many people think about distance education their first thought is about what they remember from the traditional print-based materials that are used in conventional correspondence education. Even when the WWW came on the scene, many people immediately jumped to the conclusion that all they needed to do was present their (previously print-based) resource material online and that would suffice. You can imagine the disappointment of a number of university professors who, armed with a little knowledge of HTML, proceeded to put all of their course notes online and invite their students to read them as a substitute for attending lectures, only to find that noone bothered. The hard lesson was that in many cases they were simply substituting one poor method of course provision with another.

A useful distinction can be made between the resources and discourse that is planned for and used as part of any distance education transaction. Here, resource includes anything that is provided for the student to read, view or listen to and thereby gain some understanding or insight in relation to the course content. Discourse describes the range of activities that involve discussion and dialogue between and/or among course members. This distinction can be summed up in the following diagram:



Transmission Model - in a transmission approach the resource that is provided is designed to convey everything the student needs to learn about and with, the main intention being the simple "transmission" of knowledge from the teacher to the student. In some cases this content may be structured, ie organised under sub-headings, chapters, searchable etc., and in other cases it is simply made available "as is" in an unstructured way.

Learn by doing - influences here go back to John Dewey and others who acknowledge that deep learning is only achieved when there is some sort of engagement with the content by the learner. In the years since Dewey there has been a considerable amount of research and development in the areas of instructional design, leading to such strategies as the Keller approach, guided questioning using Bloom's Taxonomy, in-text questions and the use of icons to suggest activity etc. The influences of this approach can be seen in the structure of much of the print resource developed for Correspondence Courses in the past 15 years.


With the introduction of a range of telecommunications technologies, there is an increased opportunity for course members to participate in a range of discourse opportunties that were not previously available in the purely correspondence approach. These include things such as email, discussion boards, internet relay chat, audio and video conferencing etc.

The availability of these technologies does not, in itself, guarantee success, however. Within the discourse area there are several pedagogical approaches that will, in turn, influence the choice of technology and the way it is used.

Knowledge Construction - the key to this approach is the discourse that is primarily between the student and the teacher, with an ongoing dialogue designed to challenege and provoke,, resulting in the construction of personal knowledge on the part of the student.

Social Constructivism - possibly the most powerful aspect of the modern telecommunications technologies is the ability they give students to interact with each other. The research of Vygotsky and others indicates that learning is most powerful when it is constructed in a social context, when students exercise the ability they have to challenge each other and to jointly construct meaning based on the experiences they have.

Critical community - the other significant dimension on the discourse side of the equation comes from the field of critical theory, where the abilitly to think and act critically about an issue or subject is the most important thing, and groups of learners are able to simply challenge and interrogate a theme or issue in this way.

Various references to each of these dimensions will be explored further in other parts of this course - for now, the distinction between resourse and discourse is an important one to think about and consider.

The Barrel

The thinking about the relationship between synchronous and asynchronous communications, and the resource-discourse dimensions of interaction has been developed into an interactive diagram affectionately known as "the barrel" because of its shape
Click here to launch the interactive Barrel diagram, and then click on the 'play' button to interact with the various elements of the diagam


Take a few moments to ponder the way in which this course has been created. Can you identify the elements of the course that fit into each side of the model? Can you identify the parts of the course that promote each of the discourse strategies?

Promoting online interaction: transactional distance

Thinking differently about distance

In the module titled pedagogy and technology you reviewed some of the theories about teaching and learning that can inform our . In addition to these mainstream theories there have been several theorists who have focused specifically on distance education. Central to each of their theories is the notion of interaction between the teacher and the learner, and in some cases, between the learners themselves, and how this is dealt with to overcome the issue of physical separatin. The theories deal with ideas of interaction within the text, interactions among and between learners, and interactions using various technologies.

One of these people is Michael Moore, an American distance education theorist whose theory of transactional distance has been gaining a renewed interest recently as the focus moves away from thinking of distance education as a separate discipline, to notions of open, flexible and blended learning where the technologies and approaches traditionally 'pioneered' by distance education are now being increasingly used in mainstream education as an alternative to the large lecture format.

The basis of Moore's theory is his focus on the degree of interaction as a measure of 'distance' in education, as opposed to thinking simply about physical separation. In Moore's view, an individual in the middle of a large lecture format, with no opportunity to respond to what is being said, and simply acting as a 'receptacle' for what is being taught, is affected by 'distance' to a much larger extent than an individual participating in an audio conference with a group of others, each of whom may be separated by several hundred kilometres.

Moore states:
"We concluded that in a theory of Distance Education, distance was not to be measured in physical terms, in miles or in minutes, but in the extent to which a particular teaching-learning relationship was individual and dialogic"
(from Stewart, Keegan & Holmberg (1988) "Distance Education: International Perspectives" London: Routledge)

In one of his earlier works, Moore provided a classification of the media used in the teaching and learning process. Moore identifies three key interactive components that have to work together to shorten the transactional distance and provide for a meaningful learning experience:

  • dialog, or interaction between learners and teachers
  • structure of the instructional programs
  • autonomy, or the degree of self-directedness of the learner .

The first two components are emphasised in his classification diagram below:


Moore applies his thinking about distance in relation to "telematics teaching and learning". Telematics is a term used to refer to the sort of teaching and learning that is facilitated by the use of telecommunications technologies, including what we refer to as teleconferencing. Moore uses two variables in his classification - structure and dialogue He identifies four Types of programme based on combinations of these two variables. The following diagram summarizes Moore's classification of telematic teaching programmes:


While Moore's work was initially presented back in the 1980s, pre-web and web2.0 - his ideas about distance and the implications for how we design for interaction and participation in that realm remain relevant today as we begin to explore more opportunities for online teaching and learning.


The discussion of Moore's theory has been provided in order to get you thinking about the different ways in which we might regard the idea of "distance" in distance education (and open, flexible and belnded learning). You are encouraged to take a moment to reflect on what is written here, and think about your own teaching and learning in your classroom.

Can you think of aspects of your programme in which your students experience the sort of 'distance' referred to by Moore?
Think about your own experience on this course. What elements of this course increase and/or decrease the 'distance' you experience as a learner?

Synchronous and asynchronous dimensions

The barrel diagram referred to elsewhere in this module provides a basis for understanding the difference between synchronous and asynchronous interactions.
For many face-to-face teachers, the notion of interaction in the learning process implies something that must be done synchronously - where the participants in the interaction are in the same place at the same time! With the development of telecommunications technologies, particularly video conferencing, many teachers are conceding that it is possible to maintain an interactive teaching and learning situation despite the physical separation of the participants. (Very odd to think how recently this acceptance has been, given the length of time we have been taking for granted the interaction accorded us by the plain old telephone!)
A more difficult thing has been to persuade many teachers of the interaction that can be developed with asynchronous technologies. The discussion forums used for IQ115 are a good example of this sort of interaction. The IQ115 moodle site is another place for interaction, albeit rather formal and public - but interactive all the same, in that parts of it are changing and growing with us as we learn together and contribute to it. In some ways we can liken the use of the web site to the charts on a classroom wall which display the evidence of our group work or class discussions.

Synchronous and asynchronous technologies

The broad range of technologies available for use in the global classroom provides us with a lot of choice. Each of the technologies that we have available can be categorised as either "synchronous" or "asynchronous". For those who haven't heard these terms before, here is a simple definition:

  • Synchronous - means at the same time, occurring simultaneously. An everyday example of a synchronous technology is a simple telephone call. To participate, each person on the call is required to do so "in real time".
  • Asynchronous - means time-independent. Communication is not dependent on simultaneous exchanges. An everyday example of an asynchronous technology is email. The message you send to someone can be read and responded to at a time that suits them - maybe minutes, hours (or even days) after you've sent it.

The diagram below has taken many of the common technologies and presents them in a classification according to whether they can be used synchronously or asynchronously.


Some scenarios

Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario One

You and your class want to establish communication with a class in another country where you have been able to establish a link with another teacher, and where a common research topic has been agreed on. Your consideration of which technologies to use may be summarised as thus:

Technology Advantages Disadvantages Decision
  • students able to access from home
  • cheap, readily available (internet-linked computer available in classroom)
  • promotes reading skills
  • can exchange research documents as attachments
  • allows class activity within existing school timetables
  • requires same applications at each end to open attachments
  • may disadvatage less able readers
  • takes time to establish a feeling of "knowing" the other class members. 
Use this as the main means of communication. Need to establish protocols for sending attachments to ensure they can be read.
  • adds an extra dimension of "knowing" the other person(s)
  • allows for spontaneous discussions
  • appeals to aural learners - opportunity for poorer readers to participate.
  • expensive - involves international toll call
  • difficult to involve large groups in a single call
Plan to incorporate a single audioconference as part of the exchange - perhaps at the end of the unit once students have gotten to "know" each other via email.

Scenario Two

You are in a small, rural school with a subject specialisation in senior physics. However, there are only two students in your school who want to take the subject, making it unviable to allocate a full class teaching load for this on the time-table. You hear of several students at two other schools in your region who want to take physics at this level, but don't have access to a suitably qualified teacher. Your principal is happy to support the idea of you teaching the whole group of students as a virtual "class", and asks you to come back with a proposal. Your consideration of which technologies to use may be summarised as thus:

Technology Advantages Disadvantages Decision
video conferencing
  • has an "intimate" and immediate feel about it
  • simulates the spontaneity of a regular class
  • useful for high degree of interaction
  • expensive
  • requires participants to be online at the same time (poses difficulties for timetabling)
  • Not as engaging for students who simply want to get on and work at their own pace
Use video conference link once a fortnight for tutorial purposes. Ensure that there is plenty of work for students to do
Managed learning environment
  • excellent medium for sharing information in a variety of formats (text, graphics, sound etc.)
  • can be updated easily
  • inexpensive to access
  • potential problems with different browsers unless conventions are observed
Create a course web site with password access. Use a course management system (eg Moodle) if available.

Use this as the main vehicle for conveying course content and course materials.


Are you clear about what is meant by the terms 'synchronous' and 'asynchronous'?

The scenarios above explore only a few of the advantgages and disadvantages, and only a few of the possible technology choices. You may wish to tease these out more with other members of the course via the discussion board.

Alternatively, take a scenario that is relevant to your current situation - perhaps related to what you are thinking about for your second assignment. Carry out the same exercise in deciding which technology - or combination of technologies - is most appropriate in your circumstances.

Questions are key

The importance of questions
When people really want to learn something, they ask questions. They ask questions to become skilled in using a new tool or computer application, or to figure out the norms of courtesy in another culture, or to master the fine art of parking a car. It is not surprising that for many, questioning is at the very heart of learning, the central skill in the teaching-learning process. Teachers have been described as "professional question-askers," and history records great teachers such as the Greek philosopher Socrates in terms of their unique questioning skill.
This is particularly true in the online environment. A common complaint of online teachers is that the immediacy of the face-to-face connection with students is lost, and thus it becomes more difficult (impossble?) to 'read' the mood of the class, or to be able to tell whether a student has 'got it' simply by the expression on his/her face.
The effective use of questions is a key strategy in overcoming this difficulty - and as with face-to-face teaching, the same rules apply in terms of using open rather than closed questions, and of promoting higher order thinking.

Purpose of questions
Effective question asking is a skill that takes time to learn and apply. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that questions can have both a positive and negative impact on student learning.
The negative impact comes when learners are bomarded with 'interrogative' questions that leave them feeling they must 'guess what's in the teachers head'. Such questions are generally 'closed' and don't result in any genuine or lasting understanding or development of new thought.
Positive impact comes through the intentional use of quesitons to prompt higher order thinking, and to stimulate a sense of 'inquiry' and personal question asking in the learner.
Teachers use questioning as part of their teaching for many reasons, but often to:

  • maintain the flow of the learning within the lesson
  • engage students with the learning
  • assess what has been learned
  • check that what has been learnt is understood and can be used
  • test student memory and comprehension
  • seek the views and opinions of pupils
  • provide an opportunity for pupils to share their opinions/views and seek responses from their peers
  • encourage creative thought and imaginative or innovative thinking
  • foster speculation, hypothesis and idea/opinion forming
  • create a sense of shared learning and avoid the feel of a ‘lecture’
  • challenge the level of thinking and possibly mark a change to a higher order of thinking
  • model higher order thinking using examples and building on the responses of students

Whether online or face-to-face, these purposes of questionning remain the same. In our online teaching, however, we don't have the same luxury of being as spontaneous in our question asking (particularly in the asynchronous environment), and so a little more thought and planning is required.

Effective questioning practices online
There is more than enough written about questioning and questioning strategies for you to read and discover for yourself, and it is not my intention here to repeat a lot of that. Instead, the list below provides some useful tips for you to think about in terms of the use of questions as a strategy for teaching in the online environment.
The table below provides a summary of key ideas to be considered when using questions in the online environment. The principle in the left hand column draws from the research and experience of face-to-face teaching, while the middle column considers the application of this principle in an asynchronous environment (forums, text etc.) and the right hand column considers application in the synchronous environment (video conference, audio conference, webinars etc.)

Principle Asynchronous application Synchronous application
Effective questions are clearly phrased, reducing the possibility of student confusion and frustration. Ensure that questions embedded in text are clear and unambiguous. Same applies to questions asked in online forums. It often helps if the key questions that will guide a synchronous discussion are presented in writing before the session. During the session, consider using the whiteboard area in a webinar environment, or a 'back-channel' such as skype to write the questions that are being discussed.
A major problem occurs when a teacher asks a series of run-on questions, while attempting to sharpen the focus of the original question. Make questions specific and clear with a single focus. Ask one question at a time and wait for response - avoid the run-on situation at all costs as this confuses students and they don't have the luxury of eye-contac with others to confirm how they're feeling (nor do you!).
Teachers should wait at least three to five seconds after asking a question that requires higher-order thinking (wait-time I), and three to five seconds after a student response to provide precise feedback (wait-time II). Wait time is automatically a feature of the asynchronous environment - but waiting too long can be deadly. Online teachers should ensure they respond to student contributions in forums on a regular basis - and let students know how long this is likely to be. Same principle applies in synchronous environments as in face to face situaitons. Avoid banging out a second question just because there seems to be a delay in responding - students need time to consider their response.
Effective teachers encourage all students to respond, rather than depending on volunteers, or answering the question themselves. Longer wait time, probing questions, and a pattern of expectation for student responses are all helpful strategies in promoting student responses. Invite responses specifically where required. A useful strategy in asynchronous forums is to pose a question and invite each student to post a reply with their name in the subject line. When asking a question in a synchronous forum it can be useful to direct it to a specific student - use their name before you ask the question so they are tuned in to what you are about to say. Where more than one response is being sought, indicate in advance who will be asked, i.e. "I'd like to hear from Sue first, then we can hear from John, followed by Rachel..." etc.
The research on student call-outs suggests that although call-outs need to be controlled, their response can be a helpful technique in promoting student participation among reticent and low-socioeconomic students. While calling out in class can be a problem, the opposite can be true in the asynchronous environment - students need to know how to get noticed. Consider strategies such as having an open discussion forum for questions, a direct email address for the teacher (and other students), a twitter or skype back-channel for inter class exchanges etc. Establish clearly what the protocols for 'call outs' might be in the synchronous environment. Most webinar applications have this feature built into the tools provided. In a video conference or audio conference visual or audio cues can be agreed - and as with the asynchronous environment, it is very useful to have a back-channel avialable for comment and response.
The research on the effectiveness of higher-level teacher questions, those questions on Bloom's taxonomy that require analysis, synthesis or evaluation, is mixed. However, the consensus is that higher-level questions encourage higher-level student thinking. Use a framework such as Blooms taxonomy or the SOLO taxonomy to plan your question asking approach. Share this with students so that they learn how to ask these sorts of questions.

Remember to consider other question asking scaffolds such as the six thinking hats and PMI frameworks in how you organise and frame your questions - be explicit with what you are doing and why.

As for the asynchronous environment.
Teacher feedback should be specific and discriminating. Students should be acknowledged for their contribution, praise should underscore genuine accomplishment, while criticism and remediation should point out areas in need of improvement (focusing on the behavior, skills, and knowledge, rather than the individual). These principles apply similarly in the online environment. Teacher feedback must be timely, specific, and provide prompts for next steps thinking or action where appropriate.

Research evidence from online teaching demonstrates that the most significant factor in student non-participation and non-completion is the lack of or poor quality of teacher feedback.

Sam applies in the synchronous environment. One further trap exists here - avoid giving too much feedback. Teachers are good at talking, and the temptation exists to dominate the airwaves in an online discussion - often to compensate for the lack of eye-contact with students.
While researchers consider the frequency of teacher questions (well into the hundreds a day) as too high, there is an increasing emphasis on the need to encourage more student-initiated questions–an indication of student involvement and increased student comprehension. Establish areas where students can ask (and answer) their own questions. A forum is useful here - either a general FAQ area or associated with particular modules. Encourage the sense of online 'community' where learners are encouraged to seek help from each other and respond to one another's questions in these forums. Often helpful to set a question asking activity prior to the synchronous session, so that students have thought about and asked the questions they want to have answered in the video conference or webinar.

Further reading:
The following resources may be useful to you if you are looking for further ideas around the use of questions to promote interaction in learning:

  • Questioning Strategies (PDF) -a two page table listing a range of questioning strategies and explaining what is involved and the benefits that may be gained. While these strategies are not specifically designed for online work, they can be applied in a range of ways online to help promote learner interaction.
  • Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools: Unit 7: Questioning (PDF) - a publication from the Department for Education and Skills in the UK, offering offers some practical strategies that teachers use to engage pupils through questioning. The techniques suggested are tried and tested; they draw on both academic research and the experience of practising teachers.


  • Can you think of any other principles of effective quesioning in the face to face context that could be applied online?
  • Can you think of any other specific activities that could be listed or referred to as examples in the synchronous and asynchronous columns in the table above?

Introduction to Instructional Design

In this module you'll be introduced to a range of approaches to designing online learning experiences. By working through this module you will:

  1. understand the difference between instructional design and learning design
  2. use the hamburger metaphor to develop understandings of the three key elements in learning design
  3. reflect on these approaches as they apply to what you currently do in your teaching situation

If you are working through this module with limited time it is suggested you go straight to the 'hamburger metaphor' and work backward through the other chapters as you have time.

The key to success in teaching and learning in the online environment is PLANNING. There's an old saying in teaching - "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!" This is even more important in the online environment where you do not have the luxury of being able to provide 'impromptu' lessons.

When we move into working together in the online environment it is essential that adequate thought is given to all aspects of the process, as many of the things that we might otherwise do "off the cuff" in the classroom will turn around and be the very things that upset our online experiences. The term "instructional design" is commonly used to describe the planning and teaching process as it applies in this context.

Instructional design is considered a discipline in its own right. Much of the theory about instructional design stems from the early days of educational technology where the emphasis was largely behaviorist, and focused on maximizing learning through the careful design of learning materials and episodes. The field has grown considerably over the years, and is now experiencing a resurgence of interest from people becoming interested in how to best utilise the WWW for teaching and learning, and others involved in more open and flexible learning courses.

The ADDIE instructional design model

The ADDIE model provides a traditional approach to the instructional design process. It's key phases are represented in the diagram below:


As you can see, this, traditional approach, views planning from a systems perspective - regarding the process of planning as a series of steps to be completed in sequence. In some of the references below you will find this approach called "Instructional Systems Design" for this reason.

A key emphasis of this approach is on instruction and instructional methods. Proponents of instructional design methodologies are always seeking to make the instructional processes more effective, as reflected in the question "how can I teach better"?

The following assumptions may be linked to the use of traditional instructional design methodologies:

  • learning is the result of the transfer of knowledge from a teacher to student
  • for learning to occur, certain prerequisites must be addressed before further steps are taken
  • learning 'pathways' can be anticipated and 'mapped' for an individual or learning activity

Links to instructional design sites

The following links will take you to dozens of sites with information about the instructional design process. It is not intended for you to look at all of the material available here, but take some time to browse just some of the sites available.

  • Instructional Design - site is designed to provide information about instructional design principles and how they relate to teaching and learning.
  • Instructional design in eLearning - article by George Siemens in eLearnSpace - the embedded links are worth following for more background information on instructional design and ID models.
  • Instructional systems design - lots of links here for those who are serious about learning about instructional design, its history and the major influences and theories etc.

The importance of interaction
The analysis phase is the starting point for the instructional design process. In this phases the following areas should be addressed: (click on the link)

Conduct Needs Assessment

Define Characteristics of the Learner

Define the Learning Environment

Conduct Needs Assessment

Doing a needs assessment is an extremely important part of the instructional design process. It can be very complex, or it can be flexible enough to allow you to get just the information you need. It's the tool you use to identify "the gap" between what your students already know and what you want them to know. Filling that gap with instruction that meets the needs of your learners is what ID is all about. To perform a needs assessment, you can use questionnaires, surveys, interviews, observation, or any sort of tool to collect data about your learners. Questions can be open-ended and broad, or they can be specific, asking the learner to rate something. You then use the data you collect to assist you in the rest of the ID process.

Some of the things you may need to consider here are:

At what level is this course to be pitched?

What are the pre-requisite skills required in order to participate?

What will the students already know?

What are the 'gaps' in their skill/knowledge?

What external influences affect the curriculum for this course? (eg. External examinations, unit standards, industry expectations, government policy etc.)

What internal influences affect the curriculum for this course? (eg knowledge of teacher, availability of resources, workload issues.)

Define the Characteristics of the Learner

Assessing learner characteristics is another important "front-end" part of the ID process that can go hand-in-hand with the needs assessment. This part helps you assess who your learners are and where they are on the knowledge spectrum in the specific area of instruction. You don't want to teach over the heads of beginners or bore advanced students with information aimed at novices. Assessing learner characteristics also tells you the participants' preferred method of learning and the best delivery method to suit that style. As with the needs assessment, you can use questionnaires, surveys, interviews, or other information-gathering techniques.

The following table shows the type of things you might need to understand about the learners on your course:

What do you need to know about your learners?


  • how many learners are you likely to have?
  • how old?
  • what sex and race?
  • any personal disabilities?
  • occupations (if any)?
  • how do they feel about the subject of the programme?
  • what knowledge and skills do they have already in that subject?
  • what misconceptions or inappropriate habits?
  • what personal interests and experience might they have that are relevant?
  • why are they learning?
  • how might your programme relate to their lives and/or work?
  • what do they want from the programme?
  • what are their hopes, fears, anxieties etc?
  • where, when and how will they be learning?
  • who will be paying their fees or expenses?
  • how much time will they have available?
  • what access will they have to media/facilities?
  • what access to human support - tutors, mentors, peers?
  • what are their beliefs about learning?
  • what learning styles do they prefer?
  • what learning skills do they have?
  • what experience or open/distance or flexible learning do they have?

These are only a few suggestions - you may well think of a number of others.

Based on the information you gather, you will then be in a position to make a number of course design decisions which will be addressed further in the next phase, but are illustrate here in the following table to show how significant this information can be:

Knowing my learners - some implications


My learners...
  • Are paying the course costs themselves
  • Have a fixed amount of time available for studying the course
  • Will not see any obvious reason why they should study the materials supplied
  • Differ from me in the way they use certain key terms and ideas
  • Begin by making explicit and exploring our differences
  • Are predominantly male, with some female learners
  • Try to make my language and examples equally welcoming to both sexes
  • Will have a background of experience in learning in f2f classrooms
  • Are competent in the use of computers, but will vary in their experience with on-line technologies

So I must...

  • Try to avoid expensive media and communications charges
  • Be strict about how much material I include, and organise material in such a way that it is accessible in 'chunks'.
  • Emphasise how the information might benefit them
  • Begin by making explicit and exploring our differences
  • Try to make my language and examples equally welcoming to both sexes
  • Make examples and practical applications appropriate to school and classroom settings
  • Make examples and practical applications appropriate to school and classroom settings
  • Ensure that there are different pathways and levels of support available in the course design

And so on...

Define the Learning Environment

The learning environment is also an important pre-planning consideration. This information will depend on what sort of course is being planned For a predominantly face-to-face course, the 'control' over the learning environment rests largely with the course provider, who also provides the venue. As the course becomes increasingly distant or flexible in its delivery, the locus of control in terms of the learning environment is increasingly shared. A course planned for a group of students, meeting together in the same place at the same time within a structured physical environment equipped with specialist resources will vary greatly from the same course planned for a group of distance students who are free to choose their own time and place of study, and who may not have ready access to the range of resources or specialist equipment required. It is not uncommon to find distance students having to make time for study at the kitchen table at times when it is not required for family meals. The impact of this on time of study, length of study time, and concentration can be immense. Similarly, within a more structured system such as the CANTAtech programme issues such as lack of supervision, liaison with remote schools and classes etc become important to consider.

As a start, you may choose to find answers to the following by questioning your students or their supervisors, or simply by using the knowledge you have about the learning environment:

  • describe the physical learning environment - table space, lighting, ventilation, chair etc
  • what equipment is available (computer, printer, fax, modem etc.?)
  • access to supervisory assistance?
  • access to reference materials?
  • frequency of mail delivery?

Having gathered this sort of data, you are then in a position to be able to make decisions about your course that will take account of these factors, in the same way as you did for the learner characteristics in the previous section.

Define goals and objectives

Your instructional goal is the aim of your instruction--what you want the participants to get from your educational program. Initially, it can be broad and encompassing, like learning how to play the flute, mastering basic algebra, or performing brain surgery (yes, in this case, it is brain surgery), etc. You can then move toward more specific categorizing.

Objectives vs. Goals (aims)

A goal (aim) is a general statement of either:

What the learner might learn OR

What the learner might do

Objectives are more specific statements about what the learner will be able to do (or do better) as a result.


Goal : "To introduce students to the instructional design process"

Objectives: "The learner should be able to..."

List the five stages in the instructional design process

Identify the main areas of development within each stage

Explain the importance of the analysis stage as a pre-requisite for the rest of the process

Apply the instructional design process to their own teaching and learning situation.


There are many good references available for teachers relating to the formulation of objectives for teaching, and it is not my intention here to try and write yet another text on the topic.

The significant thing here is to appreciate how important the setting of good objectives is to the open-distance-flexible learning field. Classroom-based teaching is often criticised for the lack of clear objectives in a lesson, resulting in students engaging in a form of "guess what's in the teacher's head" game. While a very experienced teacher may be able to "go with the flow" in a conventional classroom and still achieve quality results for his or her students, such an approach simply won't work in distance education. Successful open and distance learning requires the development of objectives which are made explicit at the beginning of the course, and which can be used by the learner to help inform his or her approach to the course, and assist in clarifying expectations and measures of success.

URLs for Instructional Objectives

Try these sites for further information if you want help here: - writing instructional objectives - some useful links from the office of Instructional support at the University of Georgia. There are some interesting tips here on writing objectives for distance and on-line instruction, as well as some ideas on how to develop these through to the events of instruction.

Define pedagogical approach(es)

Reviewing and categorizing the information you're going to cover in your educational program is called "content analysis." It's the process of identifying the essential information that learners have to translate into knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and of making learning more easily manageable. The first step in content analysis is to take the whole of the subject matter, select what's relevant to your instructional goal, and then break that down into manageable "chunks" of information. Ultimately, you'll deliver these chunks of information in some form (lecture, demonstration, videotape, etc.).

The table below compares two different pedagogical approaches and gives examples to illustrate the design decisions that could apply in each situation:

Subject Centred Approach
  • Review your own knowledge of the proposed subject - by personal brainstorming, making lists, diagrams etc.
  • Discuss the subject area with experts/clients - eg through interviews or group brainstorming
  • Read existing materials pitched at what you regard as your learner's level
  • Read more advanced material about the subject
  • Review films, tapes and audio tapes, and articles in newspapers and journals
  • Analyse courses and packages on similar subjects
  • Study any relevant exam syllabus and question papers fro the past
  • Identify and analyse the key concepts and principles of the subject

Learner Centred Approach

  • Ask learners what topics/issues they would like to see tackled
  • Discuss with learners their existing understandings and feelings about the key concepts of the subject area
  • Analyse the knowledge, skills and attitudes displayed by 'master performers' (or at least 'acceptably competent performers)
  • Recall or enquire where previous learners have had difficulties or fallen into error in the subject
  • Think of learning activities that learners logically must (or just usefully could) engage in
  • Consider learner's development or attainments as a result of the learning might sensibly be assessed
  • Consider other people's reports of learner's work on related courses from previous years
  • Establish and analyse the aims and learning objectives

One of the major issues that faces many distance educators is that of how to translate classroom-based approaches to the distance environment. This particularly applies to times when students are involved in group work or so-called 'interactive dialogue' with the teacher. Many teachers in this position make assumptions about the processes which operate in such circumstances, and believe (often without foundation) that the only way they can get students to engage in such ways at a distance is to involve the use of (expensive) synchronous communications. This very important issue is explored in more detail in weeks 12 and 13 of this course, where the idea of matching pedagogical approaches with the appropriate technology is introduced.

Define introduction, body, and conclusion (using events of instruction)

Most classroom teachers are well used to the idea of planning a lesson sequence that contains an introduction, body and conclusion. Many common planning formats also differentiate between the activity of the teacher and the activity of the student throughout the lesson. These are all very useful planning strategies and have their usefulness in planning for instructional events. In distance education, they become even more important, because, unlike the classroom lesson, a distance student may not choose to approach the lesson/unit in the planned (linear-sequential) way the course designer had in mind.

We all know of people who read the last chapter of the book first, to see what happened and then decide if they'll read the whole thing. Or the person who spends lots of time reading the book's reviews, the dust jacket comments and profile of the author before undertaking to read the book. Then there are those who simply (on faith?) pick up the book and read it from cover to cover.

The same applies to distance learners. There will be those who go straight to the assignment tasks and then trace through the notes to glean what they think will be important to them in completing the assignments. Others will want to come to grips with the course as a whole, consider the context, background and 'ethos' behind it, and those who simply start at page one and work their way through, completing assigned tasks as they encounter them.

It is important that your course design caters for all of these learners. Otherwise you'll find you begin to receive all sorts of complaints from the vocal ones, and course withdrawals from the quiet one.

The best way of defining the events of instruction for a distance course (regardless of the way in which it is to be delivered) is to design a course map. A course map is simply a graphical representation of the course, illustrating the various components, how they are linked and the relationship of the assignment tasks to them. The course map may also show the relationship of the various resources and media to the sequence of activities to be completed.

The course map for this course is provided in the form of the modules that can be accessed through the menu/ More guidance is provided through the assessment timelines and rubrics that provide you with a complete picture of what is required to complete the course.

Other course maps may show the course as a series of progressive 'chunks' like this one, with each 'chunk' related to one of the course assignments:


Or as a series of clusters like this, where the content may be tackled on any order, with each 'cluster' of content relating to one of the course assignments.


Whatever method is chose, it is important that learners have access to the course map from the start of the course, to allow them to plan how they are going to approach the course, and what time they are going to allocate to it.

Define assessment strategy

Reference was made to the assignments as an important aspect of the design phase in the previous section. Too often, courses are developed by people with a passion for the content of the course, and that becomes the focus of their attention in assembling the learning materials etc, The selection of an assessment task(s) is left until the end to think about.

Recent developments in instructional design theory are moving towards the idea of defining the assessment strategy first, before moving onto developing the events of instruction. The rationale for this move give priority to what it is that the learner must do in order to demonstrate that they have met the learning outcomes for the course, and then develop a range of learning activities and events which will enable them to acquire these skills and understandings.

The assessment strategy refers to the formative and summative assessment task(s) the learner must complete to be marked by the teacher. These do not apply to the 'learner response activities' that may be embedded in the text of the course, which are designed to promote learner interaction with the text and other resources, but are not required for assessment purposes.

The approach of defining the assessment strategy first, then building the course content around that is proving to be useful in terms of maximising the flexibility with which a learner may approach the study. By placing the assessment strategy at the centre of the instructional design approach, the learner may then choose to:

  • Select the aspects of the content that s/he feels are most importance to the completion of that task
  • Leave out parts of the content they already feel knowledgeable about
  • Study the content in any order they choose
  • Be more flexible in their use of resources (since the same texts may not be required by the whole class at the same time)
  • Develop the assessment task progressively during the course, rather than simply come to it at the end. (Imaginative approaches are now being developed where the assessment strategy involves the 'weaving in' of elements of the assessment task into all facets of the course content.

You may well be able to add to this list. Further ideas and strategies will emerge for you as you work through the next three stages.


Once the design phase has been completed, the process of developing the course materials can take place. The development of materials must match the goals and objectives specified in the Analysis and Design phase. Materials may include:

  • Course book
  • Student handbook
  • A/V supplements (Video/audio tapes, photographs etc)
  • Multimedia elements (CD ROMS, computer disks)
  • Online elements (Web page, mailing list, e-mail)
  • Telecommunications (audio/video conferencing)

Too often courses are developed simply on the basis of the medium selected. For instance, it is not uncommon to hear someone say "I've put my course on the web", (what ever that means), without any discussion about whether that may be the most appropriate means of delivery. Alternatively, some correspondence programmes are still in existence, despite the fact that elements of the course may now be better suited to a different form of materials development.

Reflective Activity

The issue of how we decide which sort of technology to use was covered in more depth in the Matrix task where you looked at matching technology to pedagogy. Now might be a good time to review the task you completed, and to view what was done by others, to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the different resources types that are available to you.


At the implementation stage we are thinking about the distance course in operation, including:
How students interact with instructor
How students interact with other students
How students interact with materials
Assessment strategies.
One of the key ways of promoting interaction in a distance course is to ensure that there are appropriate activities included, so that the learner is encouraged (forced?) to engage meaningfully with the materials s/he is reading.

Helping Learners Get Benefit from Activities

Despite our best intentions, learners don't usually tackle all the activities we place in the course materials. (Think about your own involvement in this course!) so how can we make it more likely that they'll at least tackle those that will most benefit them? Here are some suggestions:

  • Ensure the activity is clearly relevant to learner's work/life
  • Make clear how each activity contributes to an objective
  • Tell the learner the purpose of activities;
  • In general
  • In individual cases
  • Indicate the time needed for an activity
  • Suggest how big an answer is appropriate
  • Ensure variety
  • Avoid non-essential writing (use tick boxes, etc)
  • Use visual cues to emphasise activities (icons, different fonts etc)
  • Avoid vague activities (ie "jot down a few ideas about...")
  • Avoid "busy work" (trivial and Mickey Mouse activities)
  • Provide for satisfying feedback. eg
  • Correct answers if there are any
  • Sample answers if many could be correct
  • The results of a choice they have made
  • Other people's responses (eg via mailing list sharing etc)
  • Sympathy about difficulties they may have had
  • Comments on issues raised by the activities

How Might Learners Make Their Response?

With different sorts of activity, learners might be expected to make their response in a variety of forms. Here are just a few...

  • Just think about their response (no record)
  • Tick boxes on a checklist
  • Answer a multiple choice question
  • Complete a table
  • Fill in blanks left in a sentence
  • Write a work/phrase/number in a box or in the margin
  • Write our the steps in a calculation
  • Make a tape recording
  • Take photographs
  • Add to a graph, chart, diagram etc.

Assessment Strategies

Too often, the design of an assessment strategy is left until the course materials have been developed. Current thinking on instructional design suggests that the assessment strategy should be considered in the initial stages of the course design, and the materials, teaching strategies etc be developed around that.

This idea has some merit! There is considerable research around into how learners interact with their learning materials that shows how a great many learners approach their course materials by looking at the assessment task(s) first, then scanning the course materials to select what they believe they will need in order to complete the task.

There are two ways of approaching this. One is to create multiple assessment tasks that require the learners to complete all elements within the course design. The other is to simply create one or two key assessment tasks that will address all of the learning outcomes for the course if they are completed appropriately.

Just as there are many forms of activities that can be set for students, so too with assessment tasks. The days of an essay as the only form of assessment are gone. (although the essay will remain a very effective assessment tool that should not be dismissed altogether!) With the advent of modern information and communications technologies, it is possible to devise a range of assessment strategies that could include:

  • Group assignments developed collaboratively via e-mail
  • Create a photographic essay using a digital camera
  • Create a digital movie (eg iMovie)
  • Develop a multi-media presentation (powerpoint show or "Flash" animation etc)
  • Maintain a 'blog' throughout the course (as a reflective journal)
  • Create a web site
  • Produce an audio or video tape essay

In addition, there is an opportunity to consider both formative and summative assessment tasks. For instance, the development of thought and ideas discussed in a properly threaded e-mail list conversation could be analysed and used as part of the assessment of a course, together with the final assignment presentation. The idea of a 'developmental' essay is also gaining popularity in DE fields. This involves the ability of a student to make several submissions of an essay to a teacher/lecturer for comment and feedback before the final version is submitted.


Throughout the whole process there should be an ongoing evaluation of instructional effectiveness. This should include the following:

  • Student achievement
  • Attitudes & participation
  • Revisions made based on the evaluation.

It is important that student achievement, along with student attitudes and participation in the course is monitored closely. In many distance courses certain patterns of behaviour among students begin to emerge which suggest certain things to the skilled instructional designer. For example:

  • Course withdrawal at a certain point in the course by several students
  • Selection of certain assessment tasks and not others (when options are provided)
  • Misinterpretation of course information or assessment task information
  • Frequent requests for assistance from students at various points in the course

Indicators such as those above may lead to the course being revised or modified in some way to alleviate the problem in the future. For example:

  • Identify potential 'tough spots' in the course and provide additional support for students to help them through
  • Simplify language used and include clearer instructions
  • Ensure all dimensions of the course are addressed equally

Evaluation Techniques

For distance education the process of evaluation should be no different from face-to-face teaching. A variety of strategies can be used, all of which need to be considered carefully to ensure they are manageable and not too intrusive in terms of the demands they make of students.

Some of the evaluation data can be collected independently of the students, eg

  • Ability of students to meet deadlines
  • Completion rates of assessment tasks
  • Participation in e-mail list conversations
  • Requests from students for support

Other data will need to be collected directly from students. These may include:

  • A study 'journal' kept by students
  • Telephone interviews
  • Taped 'reflections'
  • On-line survey instruments


Think of the course evaluation techniques that you currently employ in your face-to-face teaching. Which of these could be used in a distance scenario? How?

Can you find any good examples of evaluations of online courses and activities on the web? Why not share them with us on the forum?