Thursday, October 2, 2014

Training Face Off: Online vs. Traditional

I'm all for taking sides when it makes sense. That said, I usually find debates about online vs. traditional learning kind of pointless. Much like debates between work-at-home and traditional career moms - "best" and "right" are defined situationally, in context; there is no actual "best" or "right." Is eLearning as good as face-to-face instruction? Is it better? Is the learning as sticky? It depends on the situation.

Lorri Freifeld's Training Magazine feature Online vs. In-Class Success is refreshing because Freifeld recognizes the importance of context when designing instruction. Training isn't an either or proposition; it's a What is the best training solution for this specific constellation of learner characteristics, performance objectives and resources? proposition.

That is the fundamental question instructional design should answer correctly. Every time.

Sally Bacchetta
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

O Sole Mio

Much is made of the value of collaboration in online learning. Harasim (2005) categorizes collaborative learning as "the most powerful principle of online course design and delivery" [cited in Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p. 157); Draves (2002) calls it the "heart and soul of an online course." And Certo, Cauley, and Chafin (2006); Watson and Battistich (2006); Oosterhof, Conrad, and Ely (2008); and Frost (2013) are among the many who place collaboration squarely at the heart of online learning communities.But some people prefer to fly solo. Some learners find collaboration difficult (even stressful) and don't believe a group project allows for a valid assessment of individual effort.

Here's my question: If the learning objectives are not dependent on a collaborative effort, should learners be allowed to opt-out of group projects? What (if any) is the potential harm to the learner and the learning community? What (if any) are the potential benefits?

In your response include at least one potential disadvantage and one potential benefit for the learner and one of each for the learning community. Be sure to cite resources in your response.

You may download the rubric for this discussion here.



Certo, J., Cauley, K. M., & Chafin, C. (2002, April). Students' perspectives on their high school experience. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Draves, W. (2002). Teaching online (2 nd ed.). River Falls, WI: LERN Books.
Frost, S. (2013). The advantages of working in groups in the workplace. Retrieved from:

Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (Palloff, R., & Pratt, K., Promoting Collaborative Learning, Building Online Communities). Copyright 2007 John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used with permission from John Wiley & Sons Inc. via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Watson, M., & Battistich, V. (2006). Building and sustaining caring communities. In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 253-279). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cheating and the Online Environment

Cheating is an ongoing concern and a reality in both face-to-face and online settings (Oosterhof, Conrad, & Ely, 2008). If it is more common online there are at least two possible explanations: one, the physical separation inherent in online learning facilitates cheating among those who are so inclined (Rowe, 2004); and two, online instructors may assess students more frequently in attempts to validate student performance (Oosterhof, Conrad, & Ely, 2008), and more frequent assessment means more frequent occasions to cheat.

The nature of cheating has changed from copying answers from a student at the next desk to deliberately “crashing” a timed test to gain more time, hacking into instructor accounts and previewing assessment questions, and even changing grades in online student records (Cizek, 2001). Our society's reliance on test scores has risen dramatically over the last decade – driven at least in part by technologies that enable the administration and scoring of broad-scale assessments quickly and cost-effectively - and with that has come a disturbing trend of educators cheating and enabling or encouraging students to cheat (Cizek, 2001). In this climate, cheating (for some) has become a form of political or social protest: “Generally, there appears to be a growing indifference on the part of educators toward the behavior and even an increasing sense that cheating is a justifiable response to externally-mandated tests” (Cizek, 2001, p. 17).

The steps to be taken to minimize cheating in an online environment depend on the nature of and motivation for the cheating. For the purposes of this discussion, I offer three “global” strategies: creativity, judgments, and software.
Creativity in instructional design can reduce the frequency of cheating. For example, it is more difficult to cheat on a group project, performance assessment or essay test than on a multiple-choice quiz (Rowe, 2004). Designers can also “build in” security with frequent opportunities for assessment throughout the course or training. This can be particularly helpful in online learning where instructors don't have the benefits of face-to-face contact for assessing their students.

Humans are hard-wired to make judgments. Online instructors need to consider what they know about individual students (including their demonstrated abilities and the quality of their work) and group assessment norms and trends, and make judgments about whether cheating may have occurred. Also, instructors should consider the amount and type of work they assign. Some students report that they cheat because the workload is too heavy or the assignments are boring or meaningless (Stephans & Wengaard, 2001).

Software exists that can help increase testing security and minimize cheating. Assessment Systems Corporation is one company (I'm sure there are others) that offers test authoring, hosting, and psychometric services.

Should the definition of cheating evolve along with the tools we use to produce work in an online environment? A week ago, I would have answered, “No. Cheating is cheating is cheating and it's wrong.” But Maher (2008) has changed my thinking. “If a student is going to talk with a bunch of other students and network with them to exchange information to produce a paper, isn't that a skill that we want them to take to the workplace? If I can find someone who is working in advertising and who knows how to push a product, and they can collect information from other sources and borrow and steal and put it together and reshape it, isn't that a skill that I want them to have?” (Maher, 2008).

So perhaps the definition of cheating should evolve to fit with current notions of “work” and “learning”. But where, then, is the line between “collaboration” and “copying”? Maher has this to say: “... say that you're going to do something else that you can look at other people's projects, but the way I assess what you're doing is going to take into account that you're going to look at what other people are doing. Your work still has to be original, but to get inspiration from other people and to craft your work in response to theirs or alongside theirs is not something that's necessarily a problem.”I love that idea on its own, and I love it even more when I overlay Cizek (2001): “From the broadest perspective, it may be useful to entirely reconceptualize testing so that successful test performance can be more consistently and directly linked to student effort and effective instruction, and so that unsuccessful performance is accompanied by sufficient diagnostic information about students’ strengths and weaknesses” (p. 10).



Cizek, G. J. (2001). An Overview of Issues Concerning Cheating on Large-Scale Tests. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Council on Measurement in Education, April 2001, Seattle, WA.

Maher, S. (2008). Interviews. Retrieved from

Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Rowe, N. (2004). Cheating in online student assessment: Beyond plagiarism. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 7(2). Retrieved from

Stephans, J. M., & Wangaard, D. B. (2001). Teaching for integrity: Steps to prevent cheating in your classroom. Retrieved from

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Technology and Multimedia in Online Learning

Introduce a technology to an online learning experience, and you tee up the question, What impact does this technology have on the online learner/learner group/facilitator?” Obvious answers are that technology:
  • Enables students and facilitators to communicate conveniently across geographic boundaries<br>
  • Facilitates the development of technical skills<br>
  • Offers opportunities to enrich learning with interactive multimedia design elements
But do technology and multimedia actually change the value proposition of online learning? They can; whether or not they do is a function of instructional design and facilitation.
The greatest challenge in assessing an online engaged activity is determining the quality of thought expressed” (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 29). This is a critical need, and technology can help here. The Discussion Analysis Tool “also known as ForumManager (Jeong, 2003) evaluates patterns in online interactions” (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 29). ForumManager analyzes the quantity and depth of discussion entries per participant. That's one tool. Instructional design is another. Aligning discussion board activities with Bloom's Taxonomy encourages critical thinking that can improve learner success and satisfaction.

As I (and others) have said before, the primary consideration to be made about implementing technology for online learning is whether or not the technology supports achievement of learning objectives. Cool whiz bang multimedia that does nothing to enrich learning is merely a fancy and costly distraction. Technology that requires too much of learners - either because the tech is too time-consuming or user-unfriendly, or because the learner group lacks requisite experience with the technology – undermines the very learning process it is supposed to support.<br>

The craft of instructional design is as fluid as technology itself, and will continue to evolve in response to learner need and emerging technology. Our charge is to make sure our decisions are driven by learner need, not by our interest in technology.<br>

Conrad, R. & Donaldson, J. (2011). Engaging the online learner; Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jeong, A. (2003). Sequential analysis of group interaction and critical thinking in online threaded discussions. American Journal of Distance Education, 17(1), 25-43.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gaming to Increase Your Training ROI

Gaming is in its heyday, fueled by a confluence of accessible technology and the business case for learner engagement. If you've heard it once you've heard it a thousand times: fully engaged learners synthesize content, make deeper connections, retain learning, and improve their performance better than those who are not engaged. And in both face-to-face and online training spaces, well-designed games and activities are key for increasing learner engagement with opportunities to interact with core content and peer groups, and that interaction is essential for learning to occur. 

Whether you are working with a freelance instructional designer or designing training games in-house, this is the time to increase your training ROI with games and activities that: 
  • Align with learning objectives, learner characteristics, and expectations
  • Are rooted in course content
  • Offer opportunities for learners to practice core skills, get feedback, and improve their skills over time
  • Are manageable within the learning context (with regard to time, resource, and skill limitations)
  • Promote learner satisfaction and enjoyment

Like much of business, training is migrating online, and "e-learning" doesn't even come close to describing the range of training possibility that exists today. Instructional designers are dropping sales representatives into simulated realities to develop their skills in realistic scenarios; delivering just-in-time messaging to help them effectively manage customer objections; and giving employees exciting opportunities to develop essential skills in collaboration, communication, time management, and problem-solving with activities accessible from a variety of mobile devices. 
Training initiatives are vital and expensive. A qualified instructional designer understands the relationship between gaming and learning and can design training that ignites your trainees and gives you (and them) a solid return on your investment.


Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and
resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Schreiner, E. (2013). What are the benefits of games in education & learning activities? Retrieved from

Shank, P. (2006). Activities aren't optional. Online Classroom, 4-5. Retrieved from the Walden Library using the Education Research Complete database.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Setting up an Online Learning Experience

Starting well is essential for a successful online learning experience, and it doesn’t happen automatically.  A skilled facilitator spends the time necessary to achieve social, cognitive, and teaching presence from the outset (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010) and continues to actively support learners throughout the course according to their individual needs and learning styles.

Having a comprehensive understanding of available technology enables the facilitator to select the best technology for a particular application and to effectively coach learners who have not mastered the technology. Without technological clarity, a facilitator may overload herself and the learners with unnecessary tasks or technology that interferes with learning (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

It is essential to clearly communicate expectations to learners. Most adult learners are goal-oriented, and mastery of skills boosts their confidence and improves their self-esteem (Malamed, 2013). Learners need to understand expectations so they can take steps to meet them and feel satisfied with their online learning experience (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010).

When setting up an online learning experience, facilitators should provide an opportunity for learners to share biographical information. This fosters openness and community, and also provides a frame of reference for the facilitator when interacting with learners in discussion forums. When a facilitator uses student names and references relevant biographical information, this personalizes the learning experience and promotes learner engagement (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

Conversely, facilitators need to be aware that some learners are reluctant to share personal information for fear of being stereotyped (e.g., by race, gender, ethnicity, geography, relationship status, etc. (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). Personal information should be invited, not required. As well, when designing ice breakers and discussion prompts, facilitators should allow learners to choose from activities with varying degrees of openness.

Great beginnings lead to great middles and great endings!



Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer) (n.d.) Launching the Online Learning Experience [DVD] Baltimore: MD.

Malamed, C. (2013).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Online Learning Communities

How do online learning communities significantly impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses? Compared to traditional education, online learning communities offer more opportunities for learner-to-learner engagement (Laureate, n.d.). Through online learning communities learners exchange ideas and information with more and further flung peers than is possible in traditional educational settings. This aggregation of multiple intelligence (Gardner, 2003) exposes learners to different learning styles, which can increase student satisfaction and both real and perceived learning (Gilbert & Han, 2002).

What are the essential elements of online community building? The goal on an online learning community is “a sense of co-created knowledge and meaning” (Laureate, n.d.). Essential elements are those that support that goal, including:
• Orientation to online learning and to the course
• Navigation that is intuitive and clear for learners with varying degrees of technical ability
• Presence of the facilitator or instructor early and often
• Invitation to students to post a bio of themselves
• Feedback that is timely, specific, and supportive (Laureate, n.d.).

How can online learning communities be sustained? The long-term health of an online learning community depends on robust and ongoing co-creation of learning experiences in which learners and facilitators participate and evolve to the fullness of their abilities (Laureate, n.d.).

What is the relationship between community building and effective online instruction? Having been a member of an online learning community for 14 months, I know that community is a prerequisite for effective online instruction. You don't have to take my word for it: “Knowledge is literally the set of connections between entities, or the adjustment of the strengths of those connections,” (Downes, 2012) and “Experiences with the environment are critical to learning,” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).

What did you learn that will help you become a more effective instructor in the future? I learn most about this by example, and I will seek to replicate the successes of some of my online professors who are:
• Organized – Online learning is fast-paced and intense. Instructors with excellent time and project management skills afford their students the best opportunities to interact with information and each other and thus, make deeper connections with the course material.
• Present – Online instructors who establish social presence in the community set a tone of openness and collaboration. Instructors who are present are able to probe for understanding and challenge learners to reflect deeply on course material, so they can enrich the group discussions.
• Clear – Instructors who give clear direction enable students to deliver as expected and experience mastery of course material.

Sally Bacchetta

Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and Connective Knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks.

Ertmer, P. and Newby, T. (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from an Instructional Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), pp. 50-72.

Gardner, H. (2003, April 21). Multiple intelligences after 20 years. Paper presented to the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. Retrieved from

Gilbert, J.E. & Han, C.Y. (2002). Arthur: A personalized instructional system. Journal of Network and Computing Applications, 22(3), 149-160.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Online Learning Communities [DVD] Baltimore, MD