First steps in Instructional Design!



Yesterday was my third wedding anniversary, and the card I wrote to my husband, who is a native French speaker, was unfortunately mostly in English. I can put together a few odd sentences and I can grasp the basics of a simple conversation, but I should be doing so much better. I have long considered taking a French class after my master’s degree is complete, however, I recently enrolled in my first open source online course in French in order to get the ball rolling plus vite, so to speak. I enrolled in Carnegie Mellon’s French I ( Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative “offers online courses to anyone who wants to learn or to teach” (Carnegie, n.d.). They believe in “proactively engaging students to put new knowledge into practice and to assess their own progress” (Carnegie Course Features, n.d.). Their online courses are built upon several sound instructional design principles, including clearly stated learning objectives and a belief in providing immediate and detailed feedback within their diverse course activities, however, there is a distinct lack of connectivity to other students enrolled in the course or access to a teacher with whom to interact, both of which are fundamental aspects of distance learning theory (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).


This course does an excellent job of providing a range of activities to suit a variety of learning preferences. They provide authentic conversations in French speaking settings with interactive multimedia activities based around cultural knowledge, conversation building, vocabulary building, listening comprehension, and reading skills. One component that is especially strong is the feedback. For the many interactive activities, feedback is provided based upon the correct or incorrect selections made. According to Perraton’s Synthesis of Existing Theories, “feedback is a necessary part of a distance learning system” (Simonson et. al., 2012, p. 51). Knowles’s study of Andragogy states that adult learners also like to be aware of when they meet learning objectives (Simonson et. al., 2012). OLI does this by dividing the units based on the learning objectives, so that when a student successfully finishes a unit, they know they have met the objective. They also include a list of the objectives that were taught at the end of each week’s lesson to summarize the learning. Students are able to examine the objectives on the list and revisit any areas they feel they should review. The objectives are also clearly stated, according to Perraton’s theory, in the beginning of the week’s lesson, along with a syllabus, course plan, and suggested timeline (Simonson et. al., 2012). Through the various multimedia activities which are well-suited for auditory and visual learners, the clear display of learning objectives, to the strong feedback component of the course, the course has been thoughtfully and carefully designed using many distance learning theories and principles. This is definitely not an example of “shovelware” in that the “online activities … have specific pedagogical or course management purposes” (Simonson et. al., 2012, p. 134). However, for its many strengths, Carnegie Mellon’s French I is lacking in student to student or student to professor interactivity that characterizes student-centered learning that “so strongly promotes active learning, collaboration, mastery of course material, and student control over the learning process” (Simonson et. al., 2010, p. 123).


Although it is lacking in this major aspect, it is clear that this course was not designed with the intent to have an instructor moderating or students interacting with one another. It serves the purpose of a student accessing the content for free, anywhere and at anytime they wish. For that fact, making the course connected with a professor or other students would be difficult, but not impossible. I think, at the very least, if they added Web 2.0 tools to connect classmates together, it would greatly improve the quality of what is already a good course. The obvious piece missing in the puzzle of online language learning is the practical aspect, which is speaking what you have been learning in a realistic and authentic manner. With the addition of a Web 2.0 tool, such as an online conferencing tool or chat room, students could connect and practice with one another, thus activating the content they have learned on a higher level in their minds. I am lucky in the fact that I have a native speaker living at home with me to practice what I am learning, however, few are in that position who are learning another language. The next best thing to having your own private tutor at home might be being connected to a peer tutor who is also studying online and who also is searching for someone with whom to practice their new skills.


Open courses, such as Carnegie Mellon’s OLI, are an excellent way to learn content or a new skill in the convenience of your home, often for free. However, they are not perfect in the fact that the learner is often isolated and not able to practice what they are learning, especially in a language, in an authentic context. If open courses were to add the element of Web 2.0 to their classes, it might be the missing link in the chain to high-quality learning that has been somewhat missing.


Open Culture –

Carnegie Mellon’s OLI Course Features –

Carnegie Mellon Univeristy (n.d.). Open Learning Initiative. 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.


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This entry was posted on August 2, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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