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.