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Say What?! Improving Online Class Discussion

This semester I’ve decided to use discussion forums for only half of my online class participation. I mixed it up to add some intrigue and interaction to the other weeks– my students are using NowComment.

nowcomment

NowComment is a Web site that displays articles and text content for students to read. The unique thing about NowComment is students can comment in-line to the text. Students can also reply to one another. NowComment nests the comments for a clean user interface experience. Students can also mark up the document with highlights and annotations.

This mode of communication has proven successful. Students enjoy the variety NowComment adds to the online class, in addition to the traditional online learning tools such as email and forums.

It also allows the students to interact directly with the content.

Most online classes have students read an article or book, then contribute to a different web page to discuss their findings. I’m guilty of this, like I said, I use discussion forums for half of the class participation. The problem with this traditional online discussion structure is that a student may not understand what their classmate is referring to in the text, unless it is directly cited. Nowcomment minimizes this confusion and lets students tag the statement in the text to comment directly to the material.

This tagging feature makes it better for everyone to draw connections to the reading and contribute to a dynamic online class discussion.

To use NowComment, you must have an account. However, the accounts are free for educators and students. Instructors can create a group for each class roster to easily invite a group of students to one document. The Web site uses email to inform students of a new document to discuss.

A negative impact of NowComment is that students must check their school administrated email accounts or provide the instructor with an alternative email. In addition, their may be technical difficulties such as the invitation being filtered to the Spam, Junk, or Trash folders.  For example, I have a student that has had technical difficulties all semester. She does not receive the initial NowComment invitation. I’ve had to delete her invite, then send her an updated invited for her to access the documents. We have no idea why these issues occur and why she is the only student with problems.

In general, the students are enjoying the conversation and are able to contribute successfully. I recommend this educational technology tool for anyone with flexibility to choose a means of communication and for those with text heavy class materials.

*Update* I was impressed how quickly the NowComment President reached out to me regarding this blog. He was very helpful in troubleshooting the invitation errors my student had. Kudos to a company that follows social media and proactively reaches out to it’s audience!

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Online Learning– Not just a Degree Mill

ComputerThere is a lot of debate regarding the benefit and motives of online learning programs.

For instance, Campus Technology writes about for-profit education in “Faculty Coalition: It’s Time to Examine MOOC and Online Ed Profit Motives“.

We need to consider that not every online program is built solely for the purpose of making money.

Online programs help working professionals and people hindered by geographical barriers achieve education when life obstacles make it difficult to attend brick & mortar colleges or programs on a regular semester schedule.

Military personal, executive leaders and managers, and stay-at-home parents are just a few examples of those with irregular schedules who may benefit from online studies.

It is the duty of the instructional designer, faculty, and program directors to ensure that online education practices sound curriculum development.

Three key pieces of information anyone considering online education should be aware of when selecting the right online program include:

1.) Will your transcript and diploma state “online” in the verbiage? If so, stay away! Your future employers and colleges (if you go for post-graduate and doctorate work) may see this and be scared off that your education was not “legit”.

2.) Are your professors the same professors you’ll have if you attended the class in person? Yes, great! That means you’ll be learning from the same intelligent people as those students who are on campus.

3.) Is the curriculum and syllabi the same as the curriculum for the on campus version of the class? Yes, fantastic! That means you’ll be learning the same content and completing the same work as those students who are on campus.

You should be able to ask an Admissions Counselor or Program Director these questions. If necessary, ask to see a copy of the syllabi for the different modes of class delivery (online, hybrid, on campus).

I love learning: I read, write, and share knowledge. If your end goal is to better yourself and you don’t need a certified credential, by all means, participate in MOOCs and other non-traditional learning opportunities. Just, don’t shell out a bunch of cash for “tuition”. If you’re paying for education, you should receive legitimate proof of your hard work by means of a diploma and transcript from a established educational institution.

Dynamic Online Education

Picture from onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com

Picture from onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com

Although my current position doesn’t afford me the opportunity to work in online education, I have had many years of experience in online education. As an Instructional Designer, I assisted faculty in adjusting their traditional classroom pedagogy for online instruction. I have also taken over 60 credits of online courses in my pursuit of an MBA in Technology Management. And lastly, I have designed curriculum for an online course that I instruct. Stating these credentials is essential for the point I am to discuss because it illustrates that I have different perspectives of online learning as an instructional designer, student, and instructor:

Online learning needs to be more dynamic.

I don’t mean that online learning needs to have synchronous course sections (which it should and oftentimes does), but there needs to be synergy between the delivery of the content and the contribution of students.

Take for instance a basic online course structure in a learning management system such as BlackBoard, Moodle, or Sakai. Students locate the required reading materials and lectures in a designated folder structure. They then move off that page to a discussion forum or assignment submission page and contribute to the class discussion.

If multiple readings are discussed within a given course lesson, it can cause confusion to the students because their discussion is not being effectively curated as it would in a traditional class or synchronous web conferencing session.

In addition, students may repeat the same general comments as their classmates (after probably reading their peers’ comments), therefore, not effectively contributing to the discussion. This results in students not being able to command the subject or demonstrate their understanding.

What I believe online learning should strive for is a re-design of the online classroom structure.

Students should be able to comment on and discuss the content right on the content page. For example, a student viewing a video should be able to add relevant and important contributions to the video at the timestamp that is being referenced. A tool that I believe does this is Vialogues (I hope to research this further). Students should also be able to contribute to a reading in an in-text fashion, similar to Microsoft Word’s Comment feature, pinpointing exactly where the student’s insight is referencing. These tools exist, but how we can apply them to online courses must be championed and designed by Educational Technologists and Instructional Designers.

Online learning has advanced so much in the last 15 years: the stigma of online learning has abated, tools make it possible for students and instructors to connect in real-time, group work is possible with collaboration tools, and secure exam taking is possible without proctors.

However, we, as Educational Technologists and Instructional Designers, should keep online education advancing.

We must innovate and stimulate change for a more dynamic learning experience.

EduSoCal ’13 Presentation: Social Media in the Classroom

It’s a special treat for my regular followers, you’re hearing from me twice this week!

Capture

But it was an even better treat for myself, as I was able to collaborate and speak with other EdTech and Instructional Design professionals at EduSoCal 2013. EduSoCal, is “the premier face-to-face conference in California where you Meet/Share/Learn/Play with your local peers and colleagues working in the fields of Information and Educational technology.”

A follow-up post on the Keynote Address by Michael Wesch has been written. Wesch is a cultural anthropologist exploring the effects of new media on society and culture and his speech gave some valuable insight on Transformative Learning Theory and new media.

I presented on the topic of using social media in the classroom- “Help! My Students are 3,000 miles Away! Using Social Media to Interact with Online Students”. (View a PDF version of my presentation slides- EduSoCal13Presentation)

Video Syllabus

What do you do when you teach an online class 3,000 miles away from your students? Many would say, use Web conferencing to hold synchronous or live class sessions.

I would typically whole heartedly agree. However, not only am I teaching students located in Ithaca, New York while I am in Los Angeles, I am also working a full-time day job with at least a 90 minute commute. This means the earliest I’d be able to meet online would be 8 pm PST or 11 pm EST for my undergraduate students. In addition, five of my students are studying abroad in London. Therefore, unless I want to torture my students late at night or during the weekend, synchronous Web conferencing sessions are just not possible.

So, again, I ask, what does an instructor do when they teach students who are in different time zones?

My solution was simple. I created a “Video Syllabus” to introduce the course, the course environment, and my expectations in regards to requirements. I used lecture capture software that allowed me to record both my Web cam and my desktop, along with audio, at one time. I navigated to the online course environment to show exactly where the students needed to go to obtain relevant course materials. As I moved my cursor, the lecture capture system recorded the moves. This makes it easier for students to visualize where they need to go, as opposed to reading text directions.

In addition, having my Web camera record me as I spoke, allowed for a better interpersonal connection. Students liked that they were able to see me and put my face and voice together with the person who was lecturing and responding to Discussion forums. It shows that there’s an actual instructor involved in the course and not a random group of people hired as graders.

I saw a decreased number of emails asking for clarification on requirements compared to semesters when I did not us the video syllabus.

Social Media: Facebook and Twitter

Another hurdle I’ve faced is “how do I get my students excited in the content, when I’m 3,000 miles away?” This is an obstacle that many online instructors have to overcome. Since this course is only a one-credit course and my students are undergraduates, I decided to take advantage of the interests of the millennial generation by using Twitter and Facebook.

The class is designed based on discussion relating to topics of: Career planning, Professional Culture, Networking, Work Life, Professional Development, and Work Place Professionalism.

The Facebook Group is SEPARATE (as in I don’t friend my students) and PRIVATE (as in only those on the course roster are invited). Participation this term was optional. I had 90% of my students use Facebook, and of those, 100% were active. Twitter had a 75% user rate, with 80% of those users being active.

The Facebook and Twitter accounts also have varying levels of interaction from the Passive class announcements and reminders, to supplemental materials to be read, to the more interactive extra credit assignments, and the highly interactive Guest Speakers.

To engage my students, I created a Facebook Group and Twitter Feed and arranged for “Guest Speakers” to join us in our social networks for specific topics. The Guest Speakers have the flexibility to respond anytime during the week, which makes commitment from our guests much easier than having to travel to campus.

Students are required to participate in the Guest Speaker sessions by posting questions to the guests on the designated topic. The students read short biographies of our guests and have asked questions that result in the reflection of our guests’ career and education experiences. Most of our guests are Ithaca College Alumni, so there’s already a bond created and a frame of reference for the discussion.

Since the discussion posts have been lengthy, our guest speakers have preferred to use Facebook as the communication medium. Therefore, I’ve found other uses for our Twitter feed. Class announcements, such as due dates, are a basic use of the tool. However, students have been using the Twitter feed for Extra Credit. For example, students were asked to attend a Job/Intern Fair and collect a minimum of three business cards. To earn the extra credit, they needed to tweet a photo of each business card and state what the company was seeking in an employee. Not only did the photos prove they attended (since I’m off campus and cannot provide an attendance sheet), but the tweets also alerted their classmates of the opportunities available. Next term, I’d like to utilize Twitter for concise and dynamic discussion, but I need to work on aligning pedagogy with the tool in order to accomplish the goal.

I saw a pattern in the discussion, with 75% of questions occurring the first three days of the lesson, 5% occurring mid-week, and 20% of the questions occurring the last day. The fact that students participated from an early start makes me believe that they were excited about how the Guest Speaker sessions are conducted.

The big question is- How are you using Social Media and New Media? Comment below!

Video Syllabus: Reaching Students from 3,000 Mi

Ithaca to LA

What do you do when you teach an online class 3,000 miles away from your students? Many would say, use Web conferencing to hold synchronous or live class sessions.

I would typically whole heartedly agree. However, not only am I teaching students located in Ithaca, New York while I am in Los Angeles, I am also working a full-time day job with at least a 90 minute commute. This means the earliest I’d be able to meet online would be 8 pm PST or 11 pm EST for my undergraduate students. In addition, five of my students are studying abroad in London. Therefore, unless I want to torture my students late at night or during the weekend, synchronous Web conferencing sessions are just not possible.

So, again, I ask, what does an instructor do when they teach students who are in different time zones?

My solution was simple. I created a “Video Syllabus” to introduce the course, the course environment, and my expectations in regards to requirements. I used lecture capture software that allowed me to record both my Web cam and my desktop, along with audio, at one time. I navigated to the online course environment to show exactly where the students needed to go to obtain relevant course materials. As I moved my cursor, the lecture capture system recorded the moves. This makes it easier for students to visualize where they need to go, as opposed to reading text directions.

Virtual SyllabusIn addition, having my Web camera record me as I spoke, allowed for a better interpersonal connection. Students liked that they were able to see me and put my face and voice together with the person who was lecturing and responding to Discussion forums. It shows that there’s an actual instructor involved in the course and not a random group of people hired as graders.

I already see a decreased number of emails asking for clarification on requirements then last term, when the video syllabus was not used.

This technique of pre-recording lectures for students to view before class is also known as “the Flipped Classroom” or backward designed classes. Hmm.. perhaps that will be a topic for a future blog!

I only have plans on using this one recording this term. But I may consider creating recorded lectures for future terms. Another thought I had was to replace my “weekly email” with a “weekly video”.  I’ll let you all know how it goes once I design, create, and implement regularly occurring class recordings.

Social Media use in the Classroom

It’s been awhile since my last blog… but for good reason. This Instructional Designer is now also an Instructor! I’ve started teaching an online course on Professional Development. It is a required course for Communication Management and Design students at Ithaca College; which also happens to be my Alma Mater.

Since I’m currently located in Los Angeles and Ithaca College is located in Upstate New York, one of the hurdles I’ve faced is “how do I get my students excited in the content, when I’m 3,000 miles away?” This is an obstacle that many online instructors have to overcome. Since this course is only a one-credit course and my students are undergraduates, I decided to take advantage of the interests of the millennial generation by using Twitter and Facebook.

The class is designed based on discussion relating to topics of: Career planning, Professional Culture, Networking, Work Life, Professional

Using Facebook Group for Guest Speakers

Development, and Work Place Professionalism. To engage my students, I created a Facebook Group and Twitter Feed and arranged for “Guest Speakers” to join us in our social networks for specific topics. The Guest Speakers have the flexibility to respond anytime during the week, which makes commitment from our guests much easier than having to travel to campus.

Students are required to participate in the Guest Speaker sessions by posting questions to the guests on the designated topic. The students read short biographies of our guests and have asked questions that result in the reflection of our guests’ career and education experiences. Most of our guests are Ithaca College Alumni, so there’s already a bond created and a frame of reference for the discussion.

I see a pattern in the discussion, with 75% of questions occurring the first three days of the lesson, 5% occurring mid-week, and 20% of the questions occurring the last day. The fact that students are participating from an early start makes me believe that they are excited about how the Guest Speaker sessions are conducted.

twitter-bird-light-bgs

Since the discussion posts have been lengthy, our guest speakers have preferred to use Facebook as the communication medium. Therefore, I’ve found other uses for our Twitter feed. Class announcements, such as due dates, are a basic use of the tool. However, students have been using the Twitter feed for Extra Credit. For example, students were asked to attend a Job/Intern Fair and collect a minimum of three business cards. To earn the extra credit, they needed to tweet a photo of each business card and state what the company was seeking in an employee. Not only did the photos prove they attended (since I’m off campus and cannot provide an attendance sheet), but the tweets also alerted their classmates of the opportunities available. Next term, I’d like to utilize Twitter for concise and dynamic discussion, but I need to work on aligning pedagogy with the tool in order to accomplish the goal.

In the future, I plan on introducing Web conferencing sessions into the class in order to have synchronous communication with my students. By doing so, I aim at creating a “classroom experience” by using an eBoard to annotate lesson notes and Voice Over IP to discuss important concepts. I may also have my students present a team project over the Web conferencing tool in order to get them comfortable with how dynamic the professional workplace is in its use of technology….. but more about that later…

Presentation at the Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning 2010

It’s amazing what digging into older computer files reveals. I recently located the Poster I developed for the Sloan-C International Conference on Online Learning 2010. I’ve decided to share this nugget of information with you. A PDF version (better quality image) can be found at WebCampus Poster.

The topic of the Presentation was the Quality Audit (QA) Process used by Stevens Institute of Technology’s WebCampus Department to evaluate the use of technology and interaction in its online courses. By conducting the QA process  on individual courses, WebCampus hopes to A) provide feedback to assist the instructor in adjusting their teaching pedagogy to create a more effective online learning environment and B) collect data regarding Best Practices in Online Learning.

The Quality Audit Process is something close to my heart, mainly because it was one of my first major tasks at Stevens Institute of Technology. I was asked to conduct a Quality Audit of an existing and currently running online course. I followed the process using the already established Quality Audit Form (seen center of the Poster).

When I provided the feedback to the Instructor, I was blown away by his response email. To say the least, it was very negative. As a new employee, I handled the situation the best I could. I assessed the situation and addressed the instructor’s concerns as diplomatically as possible. But more importantly, I realized the Instructor was also “blown away” by the Quality Audit. He was not informed that the Audit would take place or given a reason for why it was conducted.

Once I realized this, I adjusted the Quality Audit Process to include a “Pre-Audit” phase. This includes emailing the selected Instructors and informing them of the benefits of the Quality Audit while assuring them that the information gathered would be in no way used during their employee review. Since changing the process (and since this poster was created), roughly 200 course sections have been Audited, and I have not received any negative responses to the QA taking place.  Consider the lesson learned- Open Communication is necessary for acceptance of constructive feedback.

Being an Instructional Designer…

21x1qERPR4L._This article discusses what it’s like to be an Instructional Designer from the viewpoint of a young professional at the start of career.  It answers the questions, “What Excites You About Being an Instructional Designer?”, “What Difference does Instructional Design Make?”, and  “What do You Hope to Achieve through Doing Instructional Design Work?” It will be published in the 7nth edition of “Designing Effective Instruction”.

What Excites You About Being an Instructional Designer?

There are many exciting things about being an instructional designer. One that excites me most is how versatile the field is; almost every company and every industry needs an expert that can help develop and implement effective training practices. For example, Fortune 500 companies need training experts to work with Human Resources, instructional designers can be employed in the restaurant industry for establishing training procedures, or professors in an online program can benefit from the skills of an instructional designer. This variety of opportunities results in a dynamic field for instructional designers. In my own experience, I work with different Subject Matter Experts and content within an online higher education program, which makes my every day work refreshing and exciting, yet the change of content provides new and rewarding challenges.

Another reason why it’s exciting being an instructional designer is that it provides opportunities to work with both people and technology. At times, I work with instructors and professors who are not always confident in applying technology and learning tools to their online courses. Being able to break down difficult concepts so that they can see how technology can benefit their teaching strategy is rewarding, especially when implementation and understanding of the technology are a success.

It’s exciting to assist in adjusting pedagogy so that learning is more effective and appealing to different learning styles. I advocate for the learner so that they achieve their learning objectives in a way that is appropriate for their capabilities. Today’s diverse student body and work force has resulted in a variety of learning needs, including those with impairments. Instructional design plays in integral role in assuring that all learners have a chance to succeed in their educational goals.

Finally, with the advancement in learning technologies and the drive of learners to obtain knowledge, instructional design is exciting because of the chance of innovation it affords. In my work, I’m asked to evaluate new technologies to determine if use would be beneficial to the overall learning goals of the institution. As an instructional designer, I enjoy being a part of a driving force of change in education.

What Difference does Instructional Design Make?

Utilizing instructional design principles and models can result in significant change in the overall learning process. Instructional Design bridges the gap between content and learning by evaluating the current state and needs of a learner and setting appropriate goals for instruction. In addition, instructional design results in the creation of an “intervention” to facilitate the newly defined instructional goals.

Instructional Design focuses on the learner, the instructor, and the dissemination of content by adjusting pedagogies that result in efficient, effective, and appealing learning situation for a variety of learning types. Learning is no longer a one-way street where learners are “talked at” and asked to recite material verbatim. Instructional design makes a difference in establishing the best way to articulate and assess learning.

What do You Hope to Achieve through Doing Instructional Design Work?

My goals in doing instructional design work include improving the way learning is done by advocating the needs of the learner. I also hope to improve learning by inspiring instructors, trainers, and professors on how they can branch out from the typical course lecture (talking head) to a greater interactive course environment. In doing so, I hope to stimulate effective learning that leads to an overall retention and success of adult learners.  On a greater scale, I hope to take part in innovative research that continues to shape how learners, instructors and content interact.

Effects of Interactive Multimedia in E-Learning On Learners and Developers

The following research article was published in “Effects of Interactive Multimedia in E-Learning on Learners and Developers” (2008). Papers from the 5th Annual Conference for Undergraduate Research in Communication. Julie Tausend also presented on the topic and was awarded the distinction of Best Communication & Technology Paper at the 2008 Conference for Undergraduate Research in Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) on April 18, 2008, in Rochester, New York.

To view a PDF version of this file please see this link: Effects of Multimedia on eLearning

 Abstract

            The e-learning, or electronic learning, field creates a dynamic environment that stimulates learners through self-directed training. The e-learning field applies theories of constructivist learning, action-orientation, McGregor’s theory Y, and activity theory.

E-learning accomplishes self-directed learning by utilizing animation authoring tools to develop interactive multimedia. Interactive multimedia is media that uses multiple forms of information content and information processing to inform or entertain the user. The use interactive multimedia in e-learning affects both the learners and the developers. Learners are affected positively because interactive multimedia promotes motivation that accelerates learning, enables knowledge transfer through retention, and provides manipulative experiences unavailable in a normal training environment. Negative implications include problems resulting from self-guidance, diminished media richness, and issues regarding technology compatibility. Developers are affected positively by interactive multimedia because its use results in uniqueness and consistency of work, content quality, and the ability to update training quickly. Negative effects faced by developers are social implications and technical issues. Generation differences and learning differences caused by the dynamic workforce must be highly considered by developers, as well as technology advances that result in the need for continuous training, technology compatibility, and system maintenance. All of these dimensions are analyzed through industry research and publications that have led to recommendations and noted practices.

Purpose

            The purpose of this report is to analyze current practices in the e-learning industry regarding the use of interactive multimedia as a learning tool. The analysis will look at the effects that the tool has on the learners (end-users) and developers (instructional designers).  The purpose is to identify both positive and negative effects of using interactive multimedia in e-learning as they relate to learners and developers.

Definition

The e-learning industry refers to the effective integration of a range of technologies across all areas of learning. E-learning technologies are designed to support learning by encompassing a range of media, tools, and environments. It allows for both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments. E-learning acts as a catalyst for authentic and meaningful learning experiences. (Bassoppo-Moyo, 2006)

An important characteristic of e-learning is its interactivity, which is possible through animation authoring tools. Interactivity can be broken down into four levels: simple clicking/activity, making basic choices, problem solving, and creation. These levels can be used sequentially, primarily to build learner confidence in the content or the instruction, or they can be used to complement one another. Thus interaction is a strategy to engage learners through a hierarchy of tasks beginning at the basic level of navigation and ending in a more dynamic interaction of creating in real-life stimulations. (Aldrich, 2005; Roy, 2006)

Interactive multimedia is engrossing because there is the opportunity for deep involvement, which captures and holds learner interest. Interactive multimedia is also engrossing because it is multi-sensory by incorporating sounds, images, and text. It is individualized, allowing users to navigate through information to build their own unique mental structures based on exploration. Interactive multimedia is also engrossing because it facilitates collaborative creation through project-based learning that provides opportunities for authentic collaboration. (Mishra & Ramesh, 2005)

The current applications of e-learning include the means of instructional training in fields that have limited accessibility such as microscopic research and limitations due to travel such as environmental training for the armed forces, as well as a multitude of other fields. The use of animation software to create interactive multimedia provides stimulation, activity, and visibility.

Applicable Theories

There are many different learning theories that can be applied to instructional design. The learning theory that is best applied to e-learning is the constructivist theory, which is a theory of learning where humans construct meaning from current knowledge structures. Constructivist theory is important to e-learning because the goal of e-learning is to train adult learners by increasing knowledge and adding to their schemas. Therefore, e-learner is learner-controlled because learners must apply their current knowledge. The learner is in control because they can decide how much training is needed by what they already know. In this way, e-learning is designed to be “adjustable” by the learner, if a learner knows they need more instruction, they can continue the training. However, if a learner is proficient in the subject, they can move ahead more rapidly. In other words, learners’ prior knowledge determines the pace of the e-learning course. Thus, according to the constructivist learning theory, instruction plays a less important role. (Harris, 2002; Mishra & Ramesh, 2005; Schroeder & Spannagel, 2006)

Another applicable theory to e-learning is action-orientation, which is a learner-centered pedagogy that emphasizes the importance of learners’ activation. Through activities based on the interaction with their environment, learners construct knowledge. E-learning establishes activity through interaction multimedia because learners are participating in active learning instead of the typical passive learning in traditional training settings. Learners are active because they navigate through the training, complete tasks, apply their knowledge, and conceptualize in a “live” environment. The action-orientation theory is applicable to e-learning because an important feature of e-learning is immersing the learner in the training. (Harris, 2002; Mishra & Ramesh, 2005; Schroeder & Spannagel, 2006)

Both learning theories, constructivist and action-oriented learning, are based on the primary assumption that learning in general is an active and constructive process, which ought to be self-directed, situated, and embedded in social interaction. (Mishra & Ramesh, 2005; Schroeder & Spannagel, 2006)

Not only are learning theories applicable to e-learning, but communication theories are as well. Specifically, e-learning utilizes McGregor’s Theory Y communication management theory because it states that humans are creative, inventive and curious. In the e-learning environment, learners are motivated and curious to complete the real-life tasks. Another characteristic of Theory Y is that workers can exercise self-control and self-direction, which is applicable to e-learning and interactive multimedia because self-guidance is a defining asset.

Finally, the activity theory is applicable to e-learning and interactive multimedia. Activity Theory is a tool for the study of doing. Objects of the Activity Theory are activity and task, such as the interaction and real-life situations involved in e-learning. The outcome is the transformed learning and teaching. In Activity Theory, stakeholders (learners, developers, etc.) and technology are dynamically interrelated. This is evident as e-learning uses subject matter experts to develop content that is easily editable. Also, the learners themselves illustrate Activity Theory’s interrelation, because in e-learning, the learners control the function of the course.  Learners control the function of the course by choosing when, where, how, and how much they learn. Activity Theory also focuses on user experiences, which is the ideal method in e-learning: interaction. This interaction produces internalization and externalization. Learners internalize the mental processes of and perform external behaviors (completion of tasks) that transfer to the workplace. These actions and goals become operational and habitual. The ability to transfer internalized behaviors to the workplace supports the activity theory because the theory also considers the social settings/relations that shape learning dynamics. The norm that is associated with e-learning is that it must have evident benefits on the learners’ work life. In summary, the Activity Theory states that active subjects (learners) use tools (interactive multimedia) to interact with the world (simulations) to achieve their goals (performance improvement) in the work place (social setting). (Benson & Whitworth, 2007)

 Positive Implications on the Learner

Interactive multimedia is media that uses multiple forms of information content and information processing including: text, audio, graphics, animation, video, interactivity to inform or entertain the user. Interactive multimedia provides several benefits for learners in e-learning. Interactive multimedia promotes motivation, which accelerates learning; enables knowledge transfer through retention; and provides manipulative experiences unavailable in a normal classroom environment. (Aldrich, 2005; Jackson, 2007)

Motivation is critical for e-learning. If motivation to learn is low, very little learning will occur. If motivation for learning is high, it will occur even when materials are poor. Motivation occurs with interaction because interaction stimulates more than one sense to enhance retention. (Aldrich, 2005; Allen, 2003)

Interaction improves retention because it involves both visual and auditory senses to stimulate both learning and recall. According to Birnbrauer (1986), people learn 11% from hearing and 83% from seeing. Retention is 70% after 3 hours from material heard only, which decreases to 10% after 3 days. Retention from material seen only is retained 70% after 3 hours, but decreases to 20% after 3 days. Material both heard and seen is retained 85% after 3 hours and 65% after 3 days.

Another positive effect of interactive multimedia in e-learning is that learners have the opportunity to manipulate experiences. Overt participation and practice are significant aids to comprehension and application. Learners learn more when they are able to handle tasks and questions with a high rate of success. (Aldrich, 2005; Birnbrauer, 1986; Lee & Owens, 2000)

Animation interactive multimedia accelerates how people learn because learning occurs in context, activity, and reflection. Effective learning occurs when the learner actually works with the subject (interacts with it). Interaction helps to replicate real life and thus aids in transfer of knowledge. The purpose of interactivity is to embed learners in a situation that allows them to experience a real-life activity and to obtain feedback on that activity to improve their skills. Activity involves learners; frequent activity results in in-depth learning experiences for each learner, not just for selected learners or volunteers (raising of hand). E-learning ensures learning because each learner must achieve and demonstrate competency in order to complete the training. Demonstrating competency is a moral implication because it is the learner’s choice to be motivated to perform. Therefore, it is important that e-learning training offers “something for everyone” in order to encourage motivation. (Brennan & Lockridge, 2006; Learning Styles, 2006; Luther, 1992; Roy, 2006)

Developing deeper meaning and lasting understanding enables knowledge transfer. If meaningful experiences and the knowledge they convey are easily forgotten, they might as well not have occurred. Time spent in training is expensive, so it is important that there is an evident cost-benefit. Learners need to be able to show their upgraded skills in the workplace. Knowledge management is how groups of people make themselves collectively smarter. E-learning makes knowledge management possible because it allows access to information, reusability, easy sharing and transmitting. E-learning makes shared experiences through its collaborative tools as learners collectively exchange questions and thoughts about the nature of a problem. (Allen, 2003; Horton & Horton, 2003; Jackson, 2007; Mishra & Ramesh, 2005)

However, psychological or psycho-sociological obstacles are present in knowledge management systems. One obstacle is knowledge “hoarding,” which is very predictable in an environment in which rewards are based on an individual’s accomplishments and possession of unique knowledge. Another psychological obstacle in knowledge management projects involves embarrassment. Most people don’t like to admit they don’t know something. However, these psychological obstacles occur minimally in e-learning communities because anonymity is present. (Suler, 2004; Wallace, 2004)

Anonymity, which is where people you encounter can’t easily tell who you are, is a prevalent concept in e-learning because interactive multimedia is a one-on-one environment. There are the same options and same performance criteria for all learners. E-learning is blind to racial, cultural, and sexual differences because it offers no more or less learning support to any individual. Offering learning support to any and all individuals regardless of their demographics is an example of the Kantian ethical framework, as the framework emphasizes equality as a moral right. (Allen, 2003; Luther, 1992; Suler, 2004)

E-learning promotes disinhibition because those normally shy in training can become more extraverted. This is because there is no identity or physical visibility in e-learning training. According to the dissociative anonymity, nobody knows who they are, so learners can express themselves more openly. There is no age, culture, or gender present in e-learning. This results in an equal opportunity for learners to voice themselves.  What influences others in the e-learning field is skill in communicating, persistence, and quality of ideas. (Suler, 2004)

E-learning promotes communication and interaction from those that are typically shy. Asynchronous communication, communication across space and time, promotes the interaction of naturally introverted people because they are more comfortable when they have space and time for contemplation before engagement.

The accessibility of e-learning is also a positive effect because there is no waiting or traveling. Learners can begin training the moment they need it without having to wait for a training seminar. E-learning also supports just-in-time learning, which means learners can access the learning at their own convenience. Accessible learning results in making learning more widely available to a broader range of people that would normally be unavailable to participate in traditional training. Another issue that is supported with e-learning is that learners can pace the training at their own needs, those that work faster are not held up by slower participants. Another benefit is that learners do not need to travel in order to participate in training. Minimal travels and shorter learning time results in less time away from productive work and lower training costs. (Wallace, 2004)

Negative Implications on the Learner

            Negative implications that interactive multimedia has on the learners include the problems resulting from self-guidance, diminished media richness, and issues regarding technology compatibility.

The premise of e-learning is that learners self-guide through the training. This is problematic for those not used to being a self-directed learner, are uncomfortable by the lack of an instructor or are not comfortable relying on objectives. These variations on learner’s preferences may result in a hesitancy and reluctance to learn. Those whose learning style requires more structure and guidance may become frustrated. Some less-experienced or less well-disciplined learners may also make poor decisions about how much information they need, resulting in information overload. Also, e-learning may be time-consuming for first-time learners because the instructional systems are more complex than conventional training thus requiring more time to master. (Learning Styles, 2006; Mishra & Ramesh, 2005; Piskurivh, 1993)

A negative effect of e-learning is that the media richness associated with face-to-face communication diminishes when communication goes electronically. The diminishing of media richness can be resolved by using multimedia such as adding visuals to text. The lack of nonverbal cueing, a technique that is rampant in traditional delivery systems, poses a great challenge to online assessment. The Opportunities and Limitations of Corporate E-learning (2005) film addresses this issue in stating that “social implications of a classroom environment keep learners from walking out, whereas the online environments causes attention problems.” Learners can get confused, or lost in cyberspace if instruction is on the web, or even get distracted by the environment. Therefore, animation software is important in creating interactive multimedia to increase the chance of participation “attendance.” Animation and interaction promote curiosity and a fun learning environment. Dolasinski (2004) also supports this view by stating that “people learn best when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. People also learn more when both the analytical and creative sides of the brain is engaged (p. 4).” (Bassoppo-Moyo, 2006; Brennan & Lockridge, 2006; Rennecker & Godwin, 2005)

Another negative effect of interactive multimedia in e-learning are the technical issues involved. Learners need to be able to access computers with exact software capabilities to view and play the multimedia. Computer capabilities including bandwidth that affect online speeds may prevent many learners from accessing multimedia efficiently or reliably. Assuring accurate computer facilities, as well as the initial purchase of e-learning training, can be very costly.  Also, there is a high cost and difficulty of converting current traditional training and instructional materials into e-learning for corporations who opt to use their own materials. (Horton & Horton, 2003; Wallace, 2004)

 Positive Implications on the Developers

            Interactive multimedia created by animation software benefits developers from a marketing standpoint. Key benefits that will be looked at include: uniqueness of work and optimization through consistency, quality of content through regulation and development of unique experiences, evidence of accomplished objectives through measured performance, and the ability to update and modify e-learning in a timely way.

Morris (2006) stated that with instructional design, a developer could take a system and apply the same system to all instruction across all content areas. In other words, the systems approach is used to bring a common process to develop any instruction in the same way. This results in developers creating “signature” work that can be marketed. Once a developer establishes a process for developing an e-learning course, it is beneficial to use the same process through all courses to assure consistency in design and structure. The systematic approach to instructional design is also a way to organize instructional experience so that learning is optimal. It is optimal because learners become aware of patterns and are able to complete courses with minimal functional problems. Developers use a systematic approach to accomplish two things: trademarked e-learning that is unique and e-learning that optimizes learning because of consistency; both are marketable traits. (Harris, 2002)

Another “marketable trait” in e-learning is the content quality that is now being produced due to industry standards. National standards associations have emphasized the overall dimensions of quality of the educational experience through regulations of the industry. Standards and regulations have resulted in the disengagement of instructional design corporations that created ineffective learning environments because they are unable to compete.  The film The Opportunities and Limitations of Corporate E-learning (2005) also supports this because the panelists stated that the instructional design field is fairly new, and therefore adjustments to how the field works have evolved. (Bassoppo-Moyo, 2006; University of Washington, 2005)

A way that developers can uphold the quality of the educational experience is to provide valuable content. Providing valuable content is accomplished through the use of animation software to create interactive multimedia. Interactive multimedia are capable of illustrating interconnected processes within complex systems, enabling nanovisualization and manipulation of the microscopic, embodying new experiences that cultivate cultural empathy, and making the unseen and unknowable tangible. Developers are able to provide content and product that normally would not be possible. In other words, interactive multimedia creates increased valued content because it enables developers to create visuals and graphics for things that are too small, too complex, or too far away for a typical learner to see daily. (Jackson, 2007)

Establishing better content through interaction can be fruitless if learning is not verified. Therefore, another benefit is that the creation of interactive multimedia provides better ways to measure performance and assessment in e-learning. Such examples include quizzes, concept mapping, and activities that give immediate feedback that is both negative (counteracting) and positive (amplifying). This is because the interactives created help engage the learner and provides a tool to demonstrate a learned skill. By demonstrating and tracking learner performance, developers have “proof” that their training is accomplishing its objectives. This proof makes e-learning more substantial in the view of the corporations purchasing it. (Dolasinski, 2004)

Animation software and server connections allow for changes to content in only a few minutes as opposed to other multimedia vehicles, which require hours or days to change. This is beneficial to developers, because time is a valuable commodity as success for knowledge-based workplaces relies heavily on the continual upgrading of skills. Therefore, it is beneficial for developers to make changes to instruction as quickly as possible to avoid losing business. (Dolasinski, 2004; Luther, 1992; Wallace, 2004)

In summary, animation software provides marketable and valuable instruction because it allows for developers to create unique works that are content-based and modified in a timely manner. It also allows for tracking of learner performance to assure accomplishment of objectives.

 Negative Implications on Developers

            There are several negative effects that interactive multimedia have on developers. Social implications including generation differences and learning differences caused by the dynamic workforce must be highly considered. Technical issues also affect developers negatively because technology advances result in the need for continuous training, technology compatibility, and system maintenance.

Course management systems that are used to create e-learning training vary in type and delivery approach from institution to institution. This means that when an instructional designer changes jobs, there is a need for extensive training. This can be problematic for those with limited time schedules or those limited in current technology trends, such as older generations. Technology advancement is a social implication that affects training for developers because of generation differences. Training developers that have been in the field for years do not always have the same knowledge of new technologies as recent graduates and those in the “digital generation”. The digital generation is characterized by multiprocessing, multimedia literate, knowledge navigators, and prefers discovery-based learning. The advances in technology have resulted in social implications because of an increased competition among the different generations. There is the possibility that older generations may be “replaced” by the digital generation because of their enthusiasm to learn new technologies independently. In summary, increased advances in technology and competition among developers have resulted in a need for continuous training. (Bassoppo-Moyo, 2006; Jackson, 2007)

Another technological effect is software compatibility. Software must be prepared, ordered and learned to develop interactive multimedia. The ever-changing advancements in technology have led to a need for constant upgrades and training. There is also the possibility of software malfunctions and maintenance costs. Not only do developers need to be aware of how software affects their design process, but they must also take into account that the learner must have compatible software to view interactive multimedia. Therefore a preliminary assessment of learners and possible adjustments to e-learning materials is necessary to assure compatibility. (Birnbrauer, 1986; Horton & Horton, 2003)

Another technical issue that has negative implications for the developer is administering assessment instruments for e-learning courses. This is because there is it is difficult to ensure that those being assessed are who they say they are. It is difficult if not impossible to reliably ascertain a participant’s identity when communicating over a geographically dispersed environment. Assuring one’s identity across the Internet is difficult to do because a learner can easily have someone else complete the training for them. This is negative for the developer because the lack of learner identification can affect system integrity. It affects system integrity because if a learner does not complete the training themselves, they may not be able to transfer their learned knowledge and skills to the workplace. Therefore, the e-learning training looks ineffective in the eyes of the corporation and may affect future purchases of it.

Developers must understand the dynamic of today’s workforce when developing training. This is because each group brings its own influences and preferences to the workplace. People learn in many different ways. Training needs to use many different styles to help people connect with the material. A social issue to be concerned with is adult learning. Adults have their own reasons for learning; they already have busy lives and rich networks of social interaction. Therefore, e-learning would seem a great ideal for lifelong learning, however it must work for all ages. The user group that prefers interactive, non-linear and dynamic entertainment experiences known as the “digital generation” and are more acceptable of e-learning training. However, it must also work for those with various levels of technical exposure and interest. This brings to the table the question: how do they make interactive simulations geared toward older generations?  Caring about learner’s motivation and learning styles is another example of the Kantian ethic. Developers must have a real care for how people learn to provide a useful experience. (Dolasinski, 2004; Horton & Horton, 2003; Jackson, 2007; Learning Styles, 2006)

Recommendations & Practices

After analyzing industry works and research, several recommendations for e-learning practices have been deducted. They include practicing front-end analysis, utilizing subject matter experts to assure quality content, aligning structure with objectives, addressing goals, and product testing.

Perform front-end analysis on audience needs to assure design principles align with their performance abilities. This is because audience is not a one size fits all. Cultural and educational background should be considered when developing content. Therefore, recruitment (Lee & Owens, 2000)

Another recommendation is the use of subject matter experts to assure quality content. Many times, interactive multimedia is used solely for the purpose of entertainment. Along with the recommendation of subject matter experts, Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives should be utilized to avoid the “bells and whistles” of interactive multimedia. The basic level of Bloom’s Taxonomy Start is comprehension knowledge, followed by analysis, application, and advanced level of evaluation synthesis. Create objectives that give information, give a problem, and provide evaluation. (Birnbrauer, 1986)

E-learning with interactive multimedia must be created on solid instructional design principles because quality and thoroughness of the design and delivery are the foundation for providing positive e-learning experience. Therefore, the use of the instructional design ADDIE model is applicable here.

Consistency in objectives, don’t added flashy animation unless it contributes to the objectives.  Multimedia technologies must be congruent with the organizations learning model and actual teaching practices as well as with students’ expectations and capabilities for autonomy and self-direction. (Mishra & Ramesh, 2005)

Self-motivation on the part of the learner makes e-learning work. To be truly successful, learners have to have a clear understanding of the benefits their online training program will have on their career. Therefore, clear and attainable goals must be established in the course introduction. (McNally, 2003)

A recommendation that I have is not only evaluation of learners, but also of instructors, developers and managers. By doing so, their responses would be essential in determining the value and merit of an e-learning delivery system and interactive multimedia. Training should align with corporate goals and mission to instill a purpose. Training should match organizational goals as well as current issues facing the company. (Bassoppo-Moyo, 2006; Dolasinski, 2004)

A technical recommendation is to perform a systems audit to assure that learners have the needed viewers. This can be accomplished by establishing an introduction that provides downloads and upgrades from necessary software. During the development phase of the instruction, developers should test and test again to ensure compatibility across operating systems and browsers. (Horton & Horton, 2003)

Critique of Research

The research focused largely on the instructional design area with a focus on design methods such as the ADDIE model and Blooms Taxonomy as well as learning theories involved in the process. The research took a more psychological view of interactive multimedia. One of the issues that were not addressed is evaluating the effectiveness of an e-learning course. Another is the lack of examples from a management perspective. There were few references to the effect of e-learning on corporations including return on investment and the possibility of creating e-learning in-house. As the e-learning field is fairly new, and technologies are consistently advancement, it is plausible to state that research is currently shifting focus and developing. As a student of communications interested in the e-learning field, the research was intriguing and thought provoking.

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