The power of design on flexible learning and digital network literacy

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Otago Polytechnic


Leigh Blackall, Bronwyn Hegarty, Terry Marler

Project notes

Notes about project processes and progress can be found on a separate page called: Project notes

Ethics documentation

Guideline(s) the project will use

  • TD11 Should staff use a team approach to develop and teach the course?
  • TD12 Is the design of learning informed by research on effective eLearning?
  • TO9 Are staff encouraged to participate in networks and learning communities involved in reviewing, developing or sharing good practice in the use of e-learning?

Brief outline of the project

This project will support development of a course in Otago Polytechnic's Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching (GCTLT) called Designing for Flexible Learning. It is under development and will be run for the first time in 2006. The intention of this course is to better inform flexible learning development with wider ranging pedagogical frameworks, practices and models, and align more appropriately the various information and communications technologies for use in online learning.

by Aussiegal

The project will be conducted in three phases:

  1. An exploration of exemplar case studies in the guidelines to examine design models.
  2. A research evaluation of the effectiveness of: the GCTLT course called Designing for Flexible Learning and the relationship with the three guidelines. Including the influence of strategies for networked learning and learning communities on levels of digital networked literacy and self-efficacy for eLearning.
  3. Setting up or working into established networked learning communities for continuing professional development.

Ideally, educational theory and models should inform the structure of online course development and implementation. In reality, however, particularly with the pervasive use of Learning Management Systems, the templates and features these systems provide tend to drive the design of online courses. In other words current and emerging pedagogical frameworks and models, especially for online learning, have to fit pre-determined LMS structures and features rather than the reverse (Siemens, G. (2004). Learning Management Systems: The wrong place to start learning.

Historically the use of LMS for institutionalised online learning may be attributed to management concerns over staff levels of digital network literacy and self-efficacy with eLearning, and the need for a system to standardise information and communication around online courses. But as those two issues evolve and Internet based information and communication becomes generally demystified, pedagogical frameworks and models can re-emerge as the focus for facilitating learning rather than the inevitable limitations of specified technologies and systems.

Digital network literacy

While still emerging as a new form of literacy, may be defined by the following statement: "...the set of abilities and skills where aural, visual and digital literacy overlap. These include the ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute them pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms" (The New Media Consortium (2004). A global imperative: The report of the 21st Century literacy summit.

Self-efficacy in eLearning

This is defined as:

"The belief people have in their own abilities to perform in particular areas related to eLearning. The higher the level of self-efficacy the more confident one is to deal with challenges in eLearning " (Hegarty, B., Penman, M., Brown, C. & Coburn, D. et al. (2005). Ministry of Education, New Zealand. Approaches and implications of eLearning adoption in relation to academic staff efficacy and working practice. Universal College of Learning & Ministry of Education.

Alignment with institutional profile/charter/strategic plan e-learning goals and objectives

This project matches the strategic goals in the Otago Polytechnic Profile 2006-2008 to:

  • provide relevant, flexible and accessible learning opportunities which build capability, are stimulating, challenging and foster life long learning
  • engage in applied research and practical problem solving which complements the applied focus of our curricula
  • to develop an environment which stimulates creativity and supports innovation in all that we undertake
  • to provide equal opportunities to participate and succeed in relevant learning for all people whatever their ethnicity, age, or abilities and with regard for their needs.
  • to attract, retain and develop capable, qualified and experienced staff to ensure excellence in all of our endeavours.
  • provide for successful, enjoyable, memorable and high quality educational experiences for all of our learners and engage with our various communities in ways which are mutually beneficial,
  • build capacity and enhance the quality and relevance of our programmes and research activity

Effective design and knowledge about pedagogical principles for the use of technology in learning environments is critical to meet these goals.

Consequently, this project will contribute to the Tertiary Education Strategy 2002/07 in several ways: strengthen system capability and quality; strengthen research, knowledge creation; enabling students and learners to access excellent and relevant tertiary education; enhancing capability and information quality to support learning teaching and research. .

How the innovation is to be sustained

The process used for the research evaluation will inform future effectiveness evaluations of eLearning development which can be incorporated into budget planning for new course/programme development. The project will also provide an impetus for further research and add to the institutional research outputs and PBRF funding options. The networked learning and learning community spaces will be maintained and facilitated by an ever growing body of professionals involved in flexible learning.


Brief outline of milestone Completion date Start of project 1-7-2007 Exploration of exemplar case studies 30-11-2007 Research evaluation and setup of networked learning and learning community space 1-7-2008 Case study published on guidelines website 1-12-2008 Completion of project 1-12-2008

Case Studies

Example 1: Practical skills for veterinary nurses (CDrom)

Example 2: Designing for Flexible Learning Practice

Example 3: Facilitating online learning communities

Poster depicting outcomes of the project

This is the poster which was presented at both the HERDSA 2008 and DEANZ 2008 conferences. Design by Sunshine Connelly.

Project Case Study

Content for this is being developed on the PDFL Project Case Study page.