First steps in Instructional Design!
Our scenario this week is to create a best practices guide for a training manager who wants to increase the communication levels among his trainees. He wants to try something new by changing the face-to-face format the classes have been in, into a blended learning format. This seemingly would provide more opportunity for trainees to interact face-to-face and online, or would it?
When converting a face-to-face course into a blended or 100% online course, what should be done first? What aspects must you consider when making this big change? What does the instructor need to do differently in an online setting than in a face-to-face course? And, what considerations need to be given to students who are learning online for the first time?
Before any of these questions can be answered, and especially before someone starts converting an in person course to a distance learning course, the first step of the ADDIE process needs to be done. A needs analysis of the problem must be conducted to see if “instruction should be part of the solution” (Morrison, Ross, Kalman, & Kemp, 2011, p. 30). Just because a manager “wants to try something new” by converting to a distance learning format doesn’t mean that that it will solve the communication problems between the trainees. However, if the problem has been determined, through a proper needs analysis, that a blended model would enhance communication between new trainees, then the instructor should proceed. In addition to a needs analysis, an instructor should consider these other pre-planning strategies in order to begin converting the program:
1) Do not simply dump the face-to-face course materials online and expect the course to take shape. In order for distance learning to be effective and to meet the learning objectives, a special emphasis needs to be placed on the initial planning phase (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).
2) The planning phase must account for an interaction between the components of the course in order for student learning to occur. These components are “the learners, the content, the method and materials, and the environment, including the technology” (Simonson et. al., 2012, p. 152). It is in the efficient and effective interaction of these components that quality learning experiences occur.
3) The face-to-face materials may need to be revised into more visual representations of the content, rather than simply using printed text (Simonson et. al., 2012).
4) Know who your learners are. Developing a pre-test and building introductory, ice-breaker activities will go a long way to ensure your learners will not be bored with material they already know or are not engaging with classmates online because they feel they do not have a personal connection with them (Simonson et. al., 2012). Also, when you know who your learners are, you can develop materials that are specifically tailored to that group.
5) As the goal of this training manager is to increase the quality of communication among trainees, planning for asynchronous discussions, which is “one of the most effective techniques to promote interaction in distance education”, would be a vital step in increasing collaboration (Simonson et. al., 2012, p. 156).
6) Many students may be new to a distance learning environment and training should be provided on how to use the CMS and other online tools such as the discussion forum. Students also may not be aware of the significant role they play in online learning. The instructor must make them aware that successful learning cannot happen without their participation in an online environment and creating a learning community involves both learner and instructor participation (Simonson et. al., 2012). The instructor can create scaffolded, collaborative learning experiences that ease unfamiliar students into discussion settings and group collaboration, allowing them to discover the benefits of student-centered, online learning for themselves (Simonson et. al., 2012).
7) Lastly, the instructor must be aware of the difference between his role in face-to-face instruction and in online facilitation. In a blended classroom, especially with a heavy online component, the instructor’s role will be that of a facilitator, instead of a traditional teacher. With strong pre-planning of course layout and materials, and a knowledge of the training manager’s new role, an effective blended learning environment with an emphasis on communication among the trainees, would be in place.
Enhancement of Original Training Program
As mentioned previously, the original course materials might not suffice in a blended environment. They would need to be redesigned with an emphasis on visual presentation in order to be effective online. However, putting the original course materials online in the course CMS would be a great resource that students are able to access in addition to the regular materials, at their convenience. In addition to online discussions to enhance communication among the trainees, the instructor should consider creating a group project. This could not only benefit the trainees with enhanced communication skills, but would help build working relationships after the trainees have finished their training and are on the job together. Using a Wiki for this collaboration would be a simple and effective medium for a project in a blended learning setting.
Training Manager’s Role Change
The manager’s role would change from that of presenter to that of a facilitator of learning (Simonson et. al., 2012). The training manager must carefully consider the implications of this and what it means for the course design. It places a greater emphasis on a clear and organized syllabus, the quality of materials, the pre-planning of the course, the interaction of the students, and the learning community as a whole, which includes the teacher and the students. The training manager’s goals of increasing communication among trainees would be very well served in a blended learning environment with the addition of discussions, group projects, and the shift toward student-centered collaborative learning. However, the manager would need to be aware of the increased demands on his time for interacting in the online component as well as of the design of the materials on the front end of the course. The instructor also needs to know that his input throughout the course discussion is crucial in keeping his learners engaged.
Steps to Encourage Trainees to Communicate Online
The manager must take several important steps to ensure that trainees will communicate with each other effectively online. The trainees need to be aware of online etiquette when using the discussion forums and in group projects. “Students can be held accountable for their actions only if they know what is expected of them” (Simonson et. al., 2012, p. 223). Once etiquette guidelines have been established, students need to know the expectations for the frequency, amount, and quality of the discussion forum posts. Students also need to have clearly defined roles within their group projects to avoid confusion. Ice-breaking activities can also help in establishing a strong learning community inside and outside of the classroom. If the students know each other, and have “feelings of empathy and belonging”, this promotes motivation and learning (Simonson et. al., 2012, p. 49). And, as mentioned previously, when the training manager encourages and challenges students in the discussion forum to consider new concepts and ideas, this helps to contribute more to enhanced online communication.
Morrisson, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2011). Designing effective instruction (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.