A Failure to Communicate

It had been years since the church had even attempted to have a “missions convention” – an extended weekend dedicated to hosting and supporting missionaries.  The idea of hosting our first under the church’s new leadership was welcomed enthusiastically, and I volunteered to put the convention together.  There were to be many moving parts to such an endeavor, and I believed that I understood the process of coordinating them well enough to construct a successful weekend.

I began to coordinate the resources for the project, gaining commitments from three missionaries who would come as our guest speakers for the weekend and arranging their accommodations and meals, coordinating the advertising for the weekend, and even putting together a team of ushers so that all who came to visit during the services would be welcome and comfortable.  As the date approached, I shared my progress confidently with the missions team.  All was going swimmingly, until I got the phone call from a very upset chairman of the church’s ladies group.

There was a term with which I am now familiar that I had no understanding of back then: “stakeholder.”  Portny et al  (2008) define stakeholders as those “who support or are affected by a project.”  The latter half of that definition described the chairman on the phone with me.  In my enthusiasm for the convention, I had neglected to consider how the convention would impact the church’s other ministries, and in that neglect had inadvertently scheduled the convention during the weekend that had traditionally been reserved for the ladies’ annual Christmas bazaar and church tag sale.  They had done the bazaar for more than two decades, always on the first weekend of December – a history I was unaware of when I set the dates for the missions event.

I was painted into a corner.  By the time I received the call it was too late to cancel the missionaries – they would not be able to fill the weekend on just four weeks’ notice.  The ladies were adamant about holding their bazaar on its traditional weekend, and we were sadly left with a divided congregation for the weekend.  Many came to the missions convention, but it was not nearly the success it should have been, and could have been if I had communicated more effectively and in a more timely manner.  The debacle caused hostility between the missions and ladies’ ministries that took months to resolve.  Portny lists both poor communication and failing to involve stakeholders as pitfalls that need to be identified and corrected early in a project.  Had I known and followed his advice, the winter of 1995 would have been a warmer one around our little church.


Portny, S. E., Kramer, B. E., Mantel, S., Meredith, J., Shafer, S., & Sutton, M. (2008). Project management. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.


Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


Eye of the Beholder – Perceptions of Online Learning

“The value that online education offers to students is undergoing a perception change.”  So says Jesse Langley in a 2011 commentary on his Edudemic blog. This week, as part of a class assignment, I interviewed five people regarding their views on online education and why it could be an option.  All five cited convenience as a driving factor, but only two of the five spoke about quality and reputation as a primary consideration in their choice of an institution from which they would consider obtaining a degree. The general public seems to agree with my small sample size: in a 2011 Pew study quoted by Melissa Venable for, it was found that only 29% of adults viewed an online degree as of equal value to one earned at a brick-and-mortar institution.  That said, both the academic community and the business community are leading the perception change.  In the same study Venable quotes,  51% of college presidents (from both online and traditional schools) believed the degrees to be equivalent.  A year earlier, Rachel Zupek reported for CNN that 83% of executives viewed the degrees as equivalent.

Now, just a month ago, David Leebron, president of Rice University, stated that most students entering college should be prepared for a blended learning experience, utilizing face to face and virtual methodologies (Sataline, 2013). Langley (2011) adds that the change in public perception is “changing inexorably.”  I believe that as online education becomes more ubiquitous and as the quality of online education continues to improve, public perception will catch up to that of academics and business executives.

The best thing, in my opinion, that I as an Instructional designer could possibly do to improve societal perception is found in Dr. Ron Paige’s discussion post from this past week (Paige, 2013):  “Competency-based assessment is going to grown bigger by the year!  This is why I continually “hound” students to be able to apply what you know and be able to explain what you apply.” I have seen this principle in action through the course of this term as I have worked to create my first CMS-based course.  At the beginning of the term I, at the halfway point of my degree program, had not – and in my opinion could not – put together one of the courses I had been studying for the past year and a half.  Yet, as I began to “apply what I knew,” I found myself slowly but surely crafting a course of reasonable quality.  By term’s end, I have created a product I can be proud of, particularly for a first effort.  This to me is the essence of changed public perception: when one schooled online can produce at a level equivalent to one schooled traditionally, people will see not only the person but also the institution which trained the person in a more positive light.

Many factors contributed to my own growth throughout the term: engaging in rich discussion about online learning in our discussion posts, creating the Learning Model Matrix early in the course, and understanding the different learning theories all come to mind.   However, two important takeaways will have what I believe to be the greatest influence on my success as an instructional designer: first, the need to identify a particular learning theory and allow it to guide the creative process.  In my case, I worked with Keegan’s equivalency theory (Simonson et al, 2012, p.52), and as I crafted each part of my course project, I asked myself whether the element I was creating would give my learners the same quality of learning outcome they would have received if sitting in a classroom with a teacher.  The result was a more directed, far more cohesive orientation course than I could have created otherwise.

I am more a proponent of distance education now than when I first made the choice to attend college this way because I have experienced firsthand the quality of Walden University’s MSIDT distance program.  Advocating for ever-evolving, ever-improving online programs will help ensure that those who follow will continue to have the positive experience I have had.  I am not yet ready to step in and take that job as an ID – there remains work to be done both in my understanding of and application of the principles of instructional design – I am confident that EDUC 6135 will be a number I long remember as pushing me much closer to the mark.


Langley, J. (2011, November 10). The Changing Perception of Online Education – Edudemic – Edudemic. Retrieved from

Paige, R. (2013, October 26). Discussion Post. Retrieved from

Sataline, S. (2013, September 18). 3 Ways Colleges Are Adapting to Online Learning – US News and World Report. Retrieved from

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

Venable, M. (2011, September 7). Review: The Digital Revolution and Higher Education – Online Retrieved from

Zupek, R. (2010). Employers on online education – Retrieved from


Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Uncategorized


From F2F to Distance – A Learning Transformation


In the video segment above, I told you briefly about what we’re doing in today’s blog post – specifically, offering tools for you to be more effective in your facilitation of online discussion.  But…

Before you go to the tools, let me offer you some words of advice:  just as you plan for your current face to face training sessions, you will need to plan for the learning experience.  Having said that, I offer words of wisdom from the experts.  Michael Simonson and his team, in their book Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (2012, p. 151), counsel: “The instructional environment should be viewed as a system, a relationship among all the components of that system – the instructor, the learners, the material, and the technology.” If you have not either created or facilitated online learning before, it is important to remember that your planning is an investment that will save you untold frustration later on.

There are two aspects of that planning I would like to key on in this post:

First, you must plan differently from a face to face session – your goal is not to duplicate the classroom.  Desmond Keegan, cited by Simonson et al (2012, p52), proposed that it is neither necessary nor advisable to attempt to duplicate the classroom experience.  His Equivalency Theory states that what should be accomplished is equivalent outcomes – that the learning results of an online class should be the same as if the learner had attended face to face.  Understanding this is both challenging and liberating to you!  It is not to say that elements of your classroom will not migrate; they may simply take a different form! Discussion, for example, while not as spontaneous in an asynchronous online environment, can be much richer, since you can require that learners take the time to research and substantiate their views.

Second, it is absolutely critical that you define your learning objectives before you begin.  Otherwise, it will be easy for you to get caught up in the technology or to simply get sidetracked.  If either of these things happens, your learners will again miss out on the rich learning experience you want for them.

One bonus word of advice:  your role will also change!  In the classroom, you have generally been the focal point, the center of attention.  In the distance learning world, you must become more of a facilitator (Simonson et al, 2012, p. 195). Dr. George Piskurich (n.d.), in a video segment for Walden University said of virtual facilitators: “

 The Tools

Tools for You

This is a lengthy but comprehensive guide to understanding and planning for online teaching, provided by the University of Missouri.  Intended for faculty members new to online instruction, it offers a wealth of advice and instruction on what it will take to be a successful online facilitator.


This excellent article by Vance Durrington, Amy Berryhill, and Jeanne Swafford will offer tips for you to keep your learners engaged and interactive in the online environment.  Given the dissatisfaction you’ve had with your classroom discussions, pay particular attention to the “Learning Environment” and “Asynchronous, Instructor-mediated Discussion Strategies” sections

Once you’ve watched this video from, you’ll have a much better understanding of the online learner, the purpose and use of online discussion, and how to avoid some common pitfalls online facilitators make.


Tools for You To Share With Your Learners


This three-minute video will help your learners understand prior to taking online courses what makes online learners successful.  It was created by Gordon Goertz for a Masters class in Distance Learning at Walden University.


This excellent guide, offered by Lehigh University, will give your learners clear direction and real expectations for their online discussions.  They will come away with an understanding of what makes for successful discussion and how they can contribute to it.

Lauren Moseley of WKU offers an introduction for students who are new to online discussion.  While it is designed for students of WKU and will contain some information particular to the university, your students will learn about what makes for effective, high quality discussion posts.

References (n.d.). Conducting effective online discussions. Retrieved from

Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006, March 18). Strategies for Enhancing Student Interactivity in an Online Environment – Technology News – redOrbit. Retrieved from

Faculty Guide to Teaching and Learning With Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Gallagher, E. (2006). Improving the Discussion Board – Lehigh University. Retrieved from

Goertz, G. (2013). Successful Distance Learners. Retrieved from

Moseley, L. (n.d.). Participating in Discussion Boards. Retrieved from

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

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


Evaluating the “Open Course”

Yale Open Course:  MUSI 112: Listening to Music

When I opened the link to the Yale Open Course web site, the first course in the carousel was MUSI 112: Listening to Music.  I have a very eclectic music collection and have music playing several hours daily in my home, so I was drawn to the title immediately and opened the course. The “front page” of the course was extremely inviting, with a photo of the professor placed where the learner would be immediately drawn to it.  He was standing teaching a class, piano to his right and whiteboard with musical notes to his left.  The page was divided into four uneven quadrants, each with a defined header, and had four links across the top: “syllabus,” “sessions,” “survey,” and “buy books.” I read the content in the quadrants and did the next natural step: I clicked on the syllabus link.

I was quite literally excited as an aspiring instructional designer by what I found there.  The syllabus began by naming the professor, then proceeded to  offer a description of the course, list the texts used for the course, detail the requirements of the course, and even offered a breakdown of the grading. “Wonderful!“ I thought.  Simonson et al (2012, p. 151) state that “teaching at a distance requires planning and organization”  and this site, two clicks into my exploration, felt extremely organized.  This trend continued with my next mouse click: Sessions, which brought me to a listing (with active links) to the 23 sessions which comprise the course.  This course has been meticulously planned – while true, there is a phrase missing from this statement: planned “for the distance learner.”  I began the first session and very quickly realized that although the material was meticulously organized, it was not organized with the distance learner in mind.

Returning to Simonson (2012, p. 153), I find a list of five bullet points around planning for distance learners.  The first of these reminds the designer that “courses previously taught in traditional classrooms may need to be retooled.”  This was the major miss in Yale’s course.  Although as a music lover I found the professor’s introductory lecture interesting, the lesson was simply that:  a lecture.  A stationary video camera had been set up in a classroom and the lecture recorded with the camera focused on the part of the platform where the professor would spend the bulk of his time.  To the upper left of the window was what may have been a projection screen, and there was either a screen or board off to the right of the window which was referred to by the professor but not within the distance learner’s field of vision.

Simonson’s tips (2012, p. 153) referenced above gave three other points on which the Yale course failed:  there was no revision of traditional ways to illustrate points; there was no hint of interactivity, at least in the two lessons I watched; and there were no activities at all , much less group activities.

M. D. Roblyer and Leticia Ekhaml, in an article for the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration (2000), offer a scoring rubric to determine the level of interactivity of any given distance learning course.  The rubric allowed for scoring of four aspects of interactivity, each assigned point values.  A link to the rubric is provided below.  A higher score – nearing the 20-point maximum for the rubric – would indicate a higher level of interactivity, and by implication a greater chance for learner engagement and thus success in the course; a lower score would obviously indicate the opposite.  The Yale course earned the lowest possible score, a single point, in each of the four categories.

For a learner in the physical classroom, this music course would be a fascinating excursion into what makes music work and how a listener to even the most current of pop music could enhance his enjoyment and appreciation.  Merely recording the in-class session and uploading it to an open course web site did not make it a distance learning course.  While the lectures could and likely would be interesting up to a point, it is my conviction that the distance learner would ultimately lose interest due to the lack of interactivity in the modules.



Open Yale Courses | Listening to Music. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. D., & Ekhaml, L. (2000). How Interactive are YOUR Distance Courses. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and Learning at a Distance; Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.


Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Uncategorized


Blog Post: The Case of the Haggard History Teacher

The Scenario (from Walden University, EDUC 6135 – Distance Education Week 3 Assignment)

“A high school history teacher, located on the west coast of the United States, wants to showcase to her students new exhibits being held at two prominent New York City museums. The teacher wants her students to take a “tour” of the museums and be able to interact with the museum curators, as well as see the art work on display. Afterward, the teacher would like to choose two pieces of artwork from each exhibit and have the students participate in a group critique of the individual work of art. As a novice of distance learning and distance learning technologies, the teacher turned to the school district’s instructional designer for assistance. In the role of the instructional designer, what distance learning technologies would you suggest the teacher use to provide the best learning experience for her students?”

The Solution

The history teacher in this week’s example is faced with a two-fold challenge.  First, how does she give her students a look at the artwork in an exhibit at a museum a country away, and do so in a way that is engaging to her students?  To simply show them pictures of the art would be tiresome for many and unendurable for some!  When it comes to performing a virtual “tour,” the first technology tool that may come to mind is the use of a Virtual World – commonly referred to now as virtual reality.  Simonson et al (2012, p.132) observe that virtual worlds have “exciting potential for…experiences in other places and times that would otherwise be inaccessible”, a seemingly perfect fit for this teacher!  Yet, in the same paragraph, Simonson’s team note the limitations of bandwidth required for such an enterprise and the immense amount of time it could take to create such a tour.

This brings us to a second technology – one I believe to be perfectly suited to the high school history teacher’s desire for an engaging tour experience for her students, is prezi (  Prezi takes the best aspects of an older technology, PowerPoint, and recreates the “slide-by-slide” experience into an interactive delight!  Using prezi, the school’s ID could create a floor plan of the museum, and as the students click around and through the floor plan could be treated to views of the museum pieces and even, depending on what was available from the museum, even short video segments taken in and around the exhibits!  For an excellent example of how this might look, please visit Cutco Cutlery’s online demonstration of their product at, one of Prezi’s 15 most popular prezis as of this writing.  Pay special attention to “slide” 5, the first segment to show video, and notice exactly how the viewer gets to the video! This slide in particular demonstrates how to bring the learner “into the museum” – a big win for our teacher.

The tour, though, is only one aspect of the teacher’s challenge.  The second, named above, is to find a way for students to work together on a group critique of certain pieces from the museum collection.  I recommend having student groups each set up a wiki – noted by Simonson et all (2012, p. 129) as “an excellent tool for collaborative online writing assignments and group activities.”  Using the wiki concept, our teacher could break the assignment into its component parts, having the students first contribute individually to the wiki (which would allow her to grade them individually), and then compile their findings into a group critique (enabling her to grade their ability to collaborate and compile their ideas). Wikis have been used for some years now to enable both students and educators to collaborate and build on each other’s work.  Here is a link to a wiki about wikis:

I can’t wait to see how our history teacher’s class turns out!  Can you?


Cutco Demo. (n.d.). Retrieved from

educationalwikis – Examples of educational wikis. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2013, from

Prezi – Ideas matter. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.


Leave a comment

Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


Distance Learning: An Evolving Definition

The year was 1976.  I, as a then 17-year-old moving into my senior year of high school, was selected to participate in a pilot program at Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport, CT.  A group of seniors from around the area would be allowed to take their first “freshman” college course as what I recall the college calling “off-campus” students.  We would take a short session each week in the evening on campus in classroom, but the rest of our time and work would happen on our own.  There were three “classrooms”:  first, the actual classroom, where we would spend 1-2 hours once a week; second, our own desk at home where we would complete the bulk of our reading and writing assignments; finally, a teletype room.  This was quite literally a closet at my high school with a keyboard and printer – no screen – where I would interact with the college computer!  The course was in the basic computer language, and I still recall sitting at that teletype playing a simple programming game called “50” with the computer!  That was distance learning to me then.

I completed a college certificate program in 1985 after an on-again, off-again college career.  Fully 17 years later, I discovered that I was but one single course away from completing a bachelor’s degree!  I contacted the school I had attended years earlier and arranged to do the course by “distance learning.”  In this case, I had reading and writing assignments which were emailed to me by an instructor, along with a short knowledge check I had to submit as I completed each chapter in the book.  I emailed everything back as I completed it, and six weeks after beginning the course was done.  Again, I considered this to be distance learning.

Two years ago, I enrolled at Walden, expecting a similar experience to the one I’d had back in 2003.  This was not the case, though.  Now, I was expected to work on a weekly timetable and collaborate with other students.  Within the weekly timetable, I was more or less free to operate on my own schedule – a boon to one such as me who works a constantly varying schedule at my job.

For me, all three of these experiences fit what I would consider a definition of distance learning, since in each case I was for the most part not located on a physical campus.  For me, prior to this class, that was the only requirement for the definition: distance learning simply needed distance!  I learned from a distance, period.  Dr. Simonson, in his video presentation “Distance Education: The Next Generation” (n.d.), gave me the biggest change and the first of the two major changes in my understanding of the subject when he added the notion of distance teaching to what I had already considered.  There was to be a more active involvement by the instructor than I had previously understood to be necessary.  The second major change in my definition, considered by Moller, Forshay, and Huett, in their 2008 article on the implications of internet technology on instructional design, is one I have already alluded to – namely, collaboration among learners.  I now see this as an integral if not yet fully necessary part of the definition of distance learning.  The social dynamic of the classroom can now be to an extent recreated by online collaboration, enabling learners to learn from each other as well as simply from a text.  In the words of Moller et al, this could “hold the promise…of reconceptualizing learning from a one-shot fixed term to an ongoing event that is intermingled with the actual work processes.”

It is my opinion that the both of these changes to my own definition will become more prominent as technology continues to evolve.  Consider the simple fact that even in the short five years since Moller and his team wrote the article referenced, learners have gained the ability to videoconference among themselves without any expensive hardware or software!  Most is free and available to anyone with a smartphone or tablet!  Verizon and VGo have even developed a way for someone who cannot physically be present in an actual classroom to be there virtually.  The ongoing developments in technology will, in my opinion, lead to evolution of how distance learning is both viewed and used in the years to come.


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

Simonson, Michael. (n.d.) Distance Learning: The Next Generation. Retrieved from Laureate Education.

Link to Verizon “robot student”:

My Distance Learning: Mindmap

My Distance Learning

1 Comment

Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


Reflection on Learning Theories


Fundamental to George Siemens’ theory of Connectivism is the notion that “knowledge” is based on a core of conditions that are fluid and continuously changing (Siemens, 2004).  My understanding of learning, its styles and influences, was static eight short weeks ago.  I was a visual-kinesthetic learner, and that was that.  If you let me see it, touch it, and practice it, I learn it.  From the start of the current study I have been forced to take a look at myself in the light of hard science and learning philosophy, and like Siemens’ Connectivist, have found my “conditions” shifting under once solid footing.


The single most surprising element of the term has been the multitude of theories, each with value, that have been presented.  Coupled with that is the understanding, from Bill Kerr’s (2007) blog, that “these _isms do not stand still. They evolve, they listen to criticism and move on.”  There has been no one theory, from behaviorism to constructivism, from multiple intelligences to cognitivism, that is in itself adequate to explain the differences between learners, how they learn, and what makes any given learner successful and another unsuccessful.


While my understanding of my own learning process has evolved over the past eight weeks, I can confidently conclude that it is primarily cognitive in approach.  Ertmer and Newby (1993) derive from Jonassen’s 1991 work and build on it to determine that such an approach is concerned primarily with the acquisition and organization of knowledge. “How do I gain and process knowledge?” is a question for the cognitive learner.  As I reported in a blog post last week,

D. Scott Smith’s (2008) “case study in situated cognition” describes an almost ideal learning environment for me: table teams working together, solving complex problems and learning together.


The one constant I find among learners – myself included – is that there is equilibrium to learning.  There is a delicate balance among theory, methodology, capacity, and motivation.  I propose that for learning to be successful, each of the four must be considered.  The theory held determines how one views the learner; methodology involves the implementation of theory; both of these legs to the table involve the teacher.  Capacity is the learner’s ability to absorb, process, and implement learning; motivation, obviously, is the learner’s willingness to do so.  Like any four-legged table, these must exist in balance.  Over-emphasis on any of the four results in instability and loss of learning.  The same is true of learning theory, learning style, instructional technology, and motivation.


As I move forward in instructional design, I will have much to consider from my study of learning theories.  I have already used the mind mapping technique in one of my sales skills workshops, giving sales reps a “mapped” technique for qualifying customers. Rising to the top in terms of practical use is Keller’s ARCS motivational technique. The simplicity of the model, with its emphasis on attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction (Keller, 2006), will factor strongly into each of my course designs.


There is still much to learn.  It is likely that as I burrow deeper into the soil of learning, I will uncover new roots, new fruits, a rock or two, and new understanding of learning.  The landscape continues to change and evolve, and theories will no doubt continue to come to the fore, as they have over the last years.  From visual-kinesthetic to cognitive learner, my metacognitive process goes on, and I will continue to “think about thinking.”





Ertmer, P., Newby, T. 1993. Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Weekly, Volume 6, Number 4.


Keller, J. 2006.  What Are the Elements of Learner Motivation?  Retrieved from


Kerr, B.  2007. _isms As Filter, not Blinker. Retrieved from


Siemens, G. 2004. Connectivism:  A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved from


Smith, D.S. (2008) A Case Study in Situated Cognition.  Retrieved from



Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Uncategorized