Sunday, January 27, 2013

Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink

"Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink" (Coleridge, 1798).

Sometimes I feel that way about instructional design. Tools to enhance distance learning abound, but it can be difficult to find the right tool for a specific application. When selecting technology, instructional designers have a responsibility to consider learner characteristics, technical requirements, learning objectives, learning theory and models. We have to ask ourselves what we need the technology to accomplish or facilitate - real-time dialogue, higher-level thinking, social presence, etc. - where the technology will "live - a CMS, a corporate website, in the Cloud, etc. - and potential benefits and limitations of using a specific technology for a specific application.

Here is an assignment I recently completed for a Distance Learning course. What technology would you choose? Why?

Selecting Distance Learning Technologies

In an effort to improve its poor safety record, a biodiesel manufacturing plant needs a series of safety training modules. These stand-alone modules must illustrate best practices on how to safely operate the many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor. The modules should involve step-by-step processes and the method of delivery needs to be available to all shifts at the plant. As well, the shift supervisors want to be sure the employees are engaged and can demonstrate their learning from the modules.

I would use Interactive Study Guides and video podcasts for this training project, both of which would be downloadable from the company’s media sharing website.

Description of Technologies

An Interactive Study Guide (ISG) is a “structured note-taking system that leads the learner through a series of concepts, and that requires some active and interactive involvement by the student” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 244).

A video podcast, or vodcast, is a downloadable video clip that be viewed from a computer or mobile device (

Media Sharing Sites are Web sites that facilitate the sharing of content and artifacts such as text, pictures, videos, presentations, and audio files” (Laureate, 2009).

Integration of Technologies to Achieve Training Objectives
Trainees would log in to the CMS, download the vodcast and view it at an agreed upon time, which would ensure that the training is available to all shifts at the plant. Each safety training module would be divided into three sections and comprise an ISG and a vodcast. The ISG would include an orientation to the module, a list of technical requirements, learning objectives, and recommendations for how to use the ISG during the training session.
  •  Section 1 of the vodcast would feature a subject matter expert explaining the features of a piece of machinery and the best practices for safe operation.
  • Section 2 of the vodcast would feature a video demonstration of a person operating the machine safely, accompanied by a voice-over that detailed the step-by-step operation of the machine. This would illustrate the step-by-step processes of safe operation.
  • Section 3 of the vodcast would feature a person operating the machine in an unsafe manner. Trainees would be instructed to use their ISG to note the errors and explain how to correct them. This would allow shift supervisors to confirm that employees engaged in the training and can demonstrate their learning.

  • The ISG is an essential tool of the distance educator for several reasons. The ISG:
  • Encourages efficient note-taking
  • Organizes course content in a way that is easy to follow
  • Can be used in all categories of distance education systems
  • Is an effective way to show relationships among ideas (Simonson et al., 2012

A vodcast facilitates asynchronous training and is especially useful for modeling and demonstration (
Emerging technologies not only enable customization of content, but also customization of the level of interaction by allowing the learner to choose when and how to interact” (Beldarrain, 2006). The use of vodcasts in combination with ISGs would facilitate a customized, learner-centered experience, as trainees would be able to:
  • Control the timing of their training
  • Control the pace of the training by pausing and replaying portions of the vodcast as needed
  • Use the ISG to record questions and key learning concepts for clarification and future reference


ISG: Ford Customer Service Division developed an ISG for their instructor-led distance learning course designed to train their technicians on the 2005 Mustang (Ford, 2004, p. Intro-1). Ford provided technology to allow trainees audio interaction (call-in) with the instructor, as well as detailed text and photographs in the ISG to support key learning concepts.

Vodcast: Collaborative Care Interactive used Flash animation to create an educational vodcast about diabetes (Conant, 2009). 


Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2),139–153. 

Conant, T. (2009). What’s bugging you? Retrieved from

Coleridge, S. T. (1798). The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.    
Ford Customer Service Division (2004). FCSD technical training interactive study guide: 2005 Mustang new model technician training. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009). Technology of Distance Education [DVD].
Baltimore, MD: Author.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a
distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review of EDU2.0 CMS

It took me less than five minutes to fall completely in love with EDU2.0 ( EDU2.0 offers many of the same features and Web 2.0 technologies as Canvas (e.g., mobility, open source, multimedia, Curricula and Proficiencies, Coverage and Tracking), but the way EDU2.0 integrates its functions seems a better fit for the way I envision using a CMS in my work. Most of my ID work is in the corporate setting, and EDU2.0 makes a point of being business-friendly. Users can customize logos and color schemes, enjoy unlimited Cloud-based hosting, and even choose their own URL.

EDU2.0 navigation is modeled after Facebook, which most users are likely familiar with. I absolutely love that the EDU2.0 user interface is “highly configurable, and it’s easy to disable almost any feature” ( This is particularly appealing to me because I design both ILT (instructor-led training) and self-paced course, and EDU2.0 flexes easily from one to the other.

Collaboration is essential for developing social presence and reducing transactional distance. EDU2.0 offers a wide range of built-in collaboration tools including groups, forums, blogs, chat rooms, wikis, and video conferencing via Skype (

AND, EDU2.0 tops it all off with a free 30 day trial! Ain’t love grand?

Sally Bacchetta

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review of Canvas CMS

The fields of instructional design and distance learning are in turbo-growth mode, with new technology (and improvements to "old" technology) barreling out from every direction. I've just recently begun exploring CMS (Content Management Systems), also called LMS (Learning Management Systems), and I've decided to share my very informal reviews here. First up, Canvas (

I liked Canvas right away. The site is attractive, and the intuitive navigation enabled me to feel comfortable and competent almost immediately. Canvas cleanly blends Web 2.0 tools and other technologies into features that distance learners want and need, like:
  • Mobility – “Users can receive Canvas notifications via Facebook, SMS text messaging, email and other communication channels” (
  • Outcomes to Objective – “With Canvas, you can connect each learning action to a specific goal—which means results are demonstrated in clearly measurable ways” (
  • Managed Hosting – “Canvas eliminates the time and expense of setting up, configuring and maintaining your own servers” (
  • Analytics – Built-in tools help designers and instructors evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction and specific content, which I could use to demonstrate ROI and justify my design decisions to clients, and more importantly, make changes as necessary to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Open Source – Software can be tweaked and freely shared with others.
One of the most attractive features to me is Integrated Multimedia, which makes it easy to “Insert audio, video, text, images and more at every learning contact point” ( I should say it seems easy. I can’t really tell without signing up for an account, which brings me to the major limitation I find. Canvas only offers a free two-week trial, which is not long enough for me to complete either a client project or my own exploration, which is a shame. I would be more likely to segue from a free trial to a paid membership if I were given more time to explore the system.

Sally Bacchetta

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On Wedemeyer's Theory of Independent Study

Charles Wedemeyer (1981) rooted his Theory of Independent Study in the ideal of learner freedom. Wedemeyer characterized independent study as one in which:
  • The student and teacher are separated.
  • The normal processes of teaching and learning are carried out in writing or through some other medium.
  • Teaching is individualized.
  • Learning takes place through the student’s activity.
  • Learning is made convenient for the student in his or her own environment,
  • The learner takes responsibility for the pace of his or her own progress, with freedom to start and stop at any time (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p. 44).
Does Wedemeyer’s construct meet the criteria of a theory of distance learning? Based on my examination of relevant literature I believe it does. Effective theory guides our practice and renders instruction more effective for the learner (Saba, 2009). If I use Wedemeyer’s ideals as guidance, I will design instruction that is individualized, fosters learner autonomy, and provides appropriate support (teaching), all of which may make the instruction more effective for the learner.
Garrison (2000) categorized theory as something that “will explain and anticipate distance education practices for a broad range of emerging educational purposes and experiences” (Garrison, 2000). Wedemeyer’s theory is fluid enough to have informed what was current practice at the time as well as inform current practice today. Wedemeyer’s contribution to the Articulated Instructional Media (AIM) project in 1964 demonstrated his theory in practice and the value of it to both explain and anticipate emergent educational imperatives: “it was proposed that a unique system be developed for a new type of institution . . . made possible through course design utilizing media and technology and . . . supported by counseling and resource and learning centres” (Sherow & Wedemeyer, 1990, p. 18).
Is Wedemeyer’s theory relevant to distance learning today? My research review suggests that it is. His theory comprises four elements of distance learning: teacher, learner or learners, method of communication, and instructional content (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012), which closely resembles a currently accepted definition of distance education: “institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (Schlosser & Simonson, 2009, p. 1).
Although he emphasized the importance of learner autonomy and self-responsibility, Wedemeyer also stressed the unique and important role of the teacher in distance learning (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). This distinguishes his theory from one of distance self-study and demonstrates relevance for instructional design today, as the preponderance of evidence underscores the importance of a teaching presence in distance learning (Swan & Shih, 2005; Meyer, 2003; Wu & Hiltz, 2004), and Garrison (2007) asserts a causal relationship between teaching presence and “ student satisfaction, perceived learning, and sense of community” (Garrison, 2007, p. 67).

Sally Bacchetta

Garrison, D. R. (2007). Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching
 presence issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 11(1). pp. 61-72.
Garrison, R. (2000). Theoretical challenges for distance education in the 21st century: A shift  
 from structural to transactional issues. The International Review of Research in Open and 
 Distance Learning.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009). Theory and distance learning [DVD]. Baltimore,
 MD: Author
Meyer, K. A. (2003). Face-to-face versus threaded discussions: The role of time and higher-
 order thinking. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 7 (3), p. 55-65.
Schlosser, L., & Simonson, M. (2009). Distance education: Definition and glossary of terms (3rd 
 ed.). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.
Sherow, S. & Wedemeyer, C. (1990). Origin of distance education in the United States. In
 Garrison, D. R. & Shale, D. (eds.), Education at a distance: from issues to practice (p. 7-22).
 Melbourne, FL: Krieger.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a
 distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Swan, K. & Shih, L. F. (2005). On the nature and development of social presence in online
 course discussion. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 9(3).
Wedemeyer, C. (1981). Learning at the backdoor. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Wu, D. & Hiltz, S. R. (2004). Predicting learning form asynchronous online discussions. Journal
 of Asynchronous Learning Networks 8(2), pp. 139-152.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Defining Distance Learning

Prior to this past week, it had never occurred to me to define distance learning. It was like flirting; although I never tried to define it, I had a functional notion of what it was and believed I knew when I was doing it. Then I started this class, and I realized that although distance learning (and flirting) is ultimately individually defined, there are in fact distinct inclusion criteria that must be met in order to qualify as genuine distance learning. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

First, I want to offer my best definition of distance learning as I understood it prior to beginning this course.
Distance learning is learning in which:
  • The learner may self-select areas of inquiry.
  • The learner accesses instructional materials and completes assignments independently.
  • The learner may receive feedback from an instructor, facilitator, or electronic medium.
 The information I have digested this week has both narrowed and expanded my understanding of distance learning, and I now realize that some of what I used to consider distance learning was in fact “self-study at a distance,” (Distance Education: The Next Generation, 2012), and there is more to distance learning than I previously thought.

I would now define distance learning as learning in which:
  • The learner is separated from the instructor and classmates by physical distance and/or time.
  • The learner accesses instructional materials and completes assignments independently or in collaboration with classmates, using applicable media and other technology.
  • The learner, instructor, and classmates frequently interact via multimedia, in person, or both.
  • The instructor provides feedback to the learner and challenges the learner to link previous knowledge with new learning.
  • The instructor encourages the learner to take an active role in the learning process.
  • The instructor challenges the learner to demonstrate understanding through analysis, presentation, and application of new learning.
  • The instructor provides opportunities for the learner to engage in self-reflection and meta-cognition.
  • The learning experience is as equivalent as possible or reasonable to a traditional learning experience.

When I reflect on the evolution of distance education to date, I can’t help but believe that the future of distance learning is robust, multi-dimensional, and somewhat inconceivable. Robust in that emerging technologies become more deeply embedded in our lives almost every day, and as those technologies broaden the human experience, we come to expect greater breadth and depth, it becomes our new normal. “In addition to economics and politics, the growth and impact of distance education is directly linked to the availability of new technologies,” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012. pp. 17-18.). Multi-dimensional because as technology continues to bring diverse information to us faster and easier than ever before, we come to expect more of the same, only better. We expect to be able to tap into information all the time, and we expect it to come faster, easier, more customized, and more mobile. And flexible. And interactive. And engaging. Oh, and “smart.” Inconceivable because “life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards,” (Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-1836).

I don’t seriously consider the possibility that distance learning will extinguish in the foreseeable future. Technology has diminished our perception of the distance between hemispheres and made real the notion of being able to study virtually any area of inquiry virtually. According to the Sloan Consortium Survey (Allen & Seaman, 2010):
  • The majority of chief academic officers believe that the learning outcomes in online courses will equal or exceed that of face-to-face courses within 3 years.
  • The overall growth rate for enrollment in online courses is expected to be 20%.
  • Given an option, students will enroll in online courses.

How far will distance learning evolve, and what will the experience be? That, of course, remains to be seen. I believe that all parties involved (instructors, learners, instructional designers, and other resources) contribute to the continual evolution of distance learning, specifically the form, function, delivery, and evaluation of distance learning. “One challenge to ID is to determine how learners interact with the various e-learning instructional models and the contexts in which they do so,” (Moller, Foshay, and Huett, 2008. p. 74), which will play a role in shaping the future of distance learning. 

The Mind Map below is a graphic depiction of my understanding of distance learning. It is designed to show some of the important ways I, as a distance learner, connect with instructors, technology, and classmates, and how we harness variables such as technology and experience to enrich our connections and the learning experience. 

Allen, I., & Seaman, J. (2010). Learning on Demand: Online education in the United States, 2009. Wellesley, MA: Sloan Consortium.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009). Distance Education: The Next Generation [DVD]. Baltimore, MD: Author

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Distance Learning

As readers of this blog already know, I am a freelance writer and instructional designer, currently earning a Master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology at Walden University.  This semester I am taking Foundations of Research and Distance Learning. I look forward to sharing what I learn with you and hearing from you about what challenges and engages you in instructional design. 

Make a great day!

Sally Bacchetta