A few years ago the design of eLearning seemed so obvious to me — align a systematic process, a team, and a technology platform to create courses to support resident or distance education. So much has happened in the online space the last couple of years that has shattered my thinking as it relates to the technology platform choice … I still think any project must be supported by the strategic alignment of factors (you know, something like people, process, and tools), but the notion of selecting a single eLearning design and development environment seems very difficult and confusing.
Friday, several colleagues and I spent close to two hours in our conference room talking about all of this. We were getting together to explore those three elements and discuss how we should move forward to support our new eLearning efforts. When I was the Director of the Solutions Institute we created a four-tier instructional design model that was supported by our Digital Design Document tool set that our team would use to manage the creation of eLearning. In the world of the web back then, it seemed OK to build courses that were page turners — really just textbooks on the web with a few interactive (Flash) activities thrown in. Today that just seems wrong and the team on Friday came to that conclusion. If we are going to really build a model for eLearning that we are proud of then we are going to have to think very differently about how we go about doing this. Over the last two years we’ve worked really hard to bring new tools to our campus to support digital expression — we came around to the notion that to do this right we should be promoting and leveraging those platforms in new ways.
What I struggle with is the idea of what is a really good eLearning environment these days? In my mind, a handful of pages of content that link and embed objects that drive student and faculty to engage in conversations (on or off line) seems to be the goal. With that said, why not design those content pages in a blog so students and faculty (and maybe people from the outside) can have conversations in context? Why are we still struggling with what the right eLearning tool set looks like when we are sitting in a world with dozens of content creation tools? The model we are trying to avoid consists of tons of static text pages that prompt students to leave the content and jump into a discussion forum to interact — I’ve never liked that, but now the technology supports what I am after … the opportunity for conversation at every level of a course experience.
So, at the start of our meeting we were exploring an eLearning design, development, and delivery tool … it is a powerful web-based environment, but it just didn’t seem to fit where our thinking was taking us. The group started by saying we should adopt and adapt it, but as the conversation grew we came around to a different conclusion — that what we needed was an environment to create and save the design information of the course (you know, a digital design document) and an easy way to connect content that is created in blogs, as podcasts, digital movies, or whatever else. We need a project management and communication environment that can be used to support a distributed team and a collection of content management tools to deliver the results from. This is all new thinking, but I am trying to piece together in my mind a path towards aligning the people, process, and the new set of technology tools we’ll need to get to the next level of eLearning design strategy.
I would love to hear from those of you out there who design courses and what works for you … what are the right tools and approaches? Think of a design environment that a team (with specific roles) is asked to create scalable eLearning materials … what are some examples of people ditching the all in one design/development environments to create courses that are made up of small pieces? Can we legitimately ask our faculty to work with us to select and deliver killer learning environments using the platforms we constantly talk about? Any thoughts for me?