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Posts Tagged ‘e-learning

This is a continuation of the design advice I started offering yesterday on the design of e-learning and teaching resources.

The five main points were:

  1. Send consistent messages. Do not send mixed signals.
  2. Give learners a compelling reason to consume your resources. Do not assume the user wants to consume them.
  3. Give your learners choices. Do not assume the user is stupid by providing defaults.
  4. Design with student perspectives. Do not design for teacher eyes only.
  5. Make your resources social and open. Do not make it hard to share elsewhere.

4. Design with student perspective
STonline is still designed for a physical newspaper first and the desktop computer second. There is little thought for mobile access and consumption.

Content consumption and creation are increasingly mobile. You need only collect data among your learners to determine this. Alternatively, mine open data sources like SingStat or rely on research by comScore or other similar groups.

The learners of today, both youth and adult, are mobile. Your eyes tell you this every day; your mind should convince you of that with data from reputable sources.

The graphic above is from the WSJ and illustrates how reliant the major social media platforms are on mobile (orange bands). The only exceptions are LinkedIn (arguably an older person’s platform) and Tumblr (arguably a platform that is struggling with an identity).

My contacts in emerging economies confirm what I know from my own travels and research: Mobile is king. Serve the new king: Design for smaller screens, bite-sized content, and interstitial [1] [2] and just-in-time learning.

5. Make your resources sharable
Ideally make them free, open, and social. But if not, make them usable elsewhere for use and manipulation by the learner.

STonline does not design its headlines for easy sharing on social media. If you try to tweet a resource, you are likely to run over the 140 character limit. The MOE Press Releases website is even worse with long titles and equally long attribution add-ons.


If the blurbs do not go past 140 characters, they come so close that you cannot add your thoughts. You can only pass along as intended. This goes against the grain of the sharing, reusing, and remixing culture of today’s learner.

If copyright or the nature of content is an issue, then provide tools or options that allow users to collaborate and manipulate the information in private platforms. Learning does not take place simply in controlled consumption, but in its deconstruction, reflection, and reconstruction.

The latter three processes tend to happen more naturally in open and social spaces, not in tightly regulated ones. As a parallel, consider the benefits of rote chanting over the social negotiation of meaning.

What I have shared is not rocket science. These are the low-hanging fruit of lesson and e-resource design. These are within easy reach of any instructional design or teacher. The fruit are ripe for picking.

If we are sharp enough, we can learn important lessons from current media outlets about how not to design e-learning and teaching resources.

Five Ball by Dricker94, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Dricker94 


Here are just five lessons from two online newspapers in Singapore. I present them as bullet points below and brief-to-the-point-of-indecent explanations thereafter.

  1. Send consistent messages. Do not send mixed signals.
  2. Give learners a compelling reason to consume your resources. Do not assume the user wants to consume them.
  3. Give your learners choices. Do not assume the user is stupid by providing defaults.
  4. Design with student perspectives. Do not design for teacher eyes only.
  5. Make your resources social and open. Do not make it hard to share elsewhere.

1. Send consistent messages
TODAYonline published an informative and important piece on the use of big data in hospitals in Singapore.

However, the paper saw it fit to publish photos that did not really illustrate the story. They were not the worst photos. They were not even stock photos. But they were awkwardly posed photos that did not add to the story. Such photos are quite common public relations posters or pamphlets and are painfully awkward.

Images are very powerful. Publications like the Boston Globe’s Big Picture and National Geographic leverage skillfully on this.

Carefully chosen images can not only reinforce a message, they can also be the message.

Words may leave room for some interpretation and debate; photos are visual and require interpretation and generate debate. Used skillfully, images do not push content; they pull it from participants and can be used to negotiate meaning.

2. Provide compelling reason; do not compel
I used to click on links that STonline tweeted. But I would be led to pages that auto-loaded and auto-played embedded video advertisements in the Twitter web browser.

Not only were these advertisements loud and alarming, they also consumed huge portions of my data plan. I was compelled to view them and had to manually stop them from playing.

Instead of first pushing the who, what, where, when, or how of content, educators should start with the WHY of a lesson. The WHY provides the impetus for learning.

3. Give your learner choices
Of late, the auto-play videos seem to have gone away from the STonline pages when viewed with Twitter. However, they have been replaced with another design sin.

If you are reading on a mobile device and listening to music, the STonline site somehow reduces the system volume of the mobile device. You cannot override this default behaviour.

STonline assumes that I cannot read the news and listen to music at the same time. This takes away user choice and control.

If you do not design choice for learners, you are assuming you know best. You are not the only authoritative source of information, no matter how highly you think of yourself. You are certainly not their overbearing parent. Give them choices.

More tips in Part 2 tomorrow.

I had a delayed reaction to Sir Ken Robinson’s keynote last Friday’s at the BETT 2015 conference. It was sparked by something I read when I returned home.

Video source

SKR shared this video of technology being used to enable the physically disabled to create art. It was a wonderful example of combining technology-enabled creativity which was a theme of SKR’s keynote.

But I wonder about an unintended message that this example sends: That technology is used for the extreme or the exceptional instead of the everyday. The fact that SKR wondered how “social” social media was underlined that point.

We do not need both those messages to be broadcast. They are already prominent and do not add much value or change to education.


My reflection was prompted by a notification from my son’s school about their e-learning portal (excerpt above). One of the lines in the letter was “The e-learning portal has been enhanced with commercially produced simulated lessons and worksheets…” [emphasis mine].

The language is telling. The lessons are simulated. Does that imply that they are not as real or as good? Why was there a need to reassure parents that real lessons happened in classrooms?

The letter also mentioned the two purposes of e-learning: 1) promoting independent learning, and 2) emergency learning (“should there by a national crisis resulting in school closure, pupils will have access to online assignments”).

How are students learning independently if they have to wait for teachers to tell them to do online homework? Are they not already learning independently by watching YouTube videos whether their teachers and parents are aware or not?

Why is the “e” in e-learning still associated with emergency or extra?

I will tell you why. Very few people challenge the conventions that in integration of educational technology must be special. Not many thought leaders take advantage of the stages they are put on to push those buttons hard.

This is not a slight on SKR’s talk. I enjoyed it immensely. But he pushes the let-our-children-create-and-be-creative agenda. He was not the person to illustrate how to do this with technology transparently.

The technology does not have to be on a grand scale like the one in the video. It does not have to simulate lessons. It is already in the hands of learners even as they walk around with heads bowed while doing the Blackberry prayer.

Most people cannot look beyond the surface and creatively take advantage of the wonderfully ordinary. I would like to show them how.

A talented Singapore teacher and ICT mentor, Raynard Heah aka @teacheah, has created videos on e-learning for teachers in his school.

I was privileged to be part of his latest installment.

In the video below, Raynard asked three of his colleagues and me three questions:

  1. What is e-learning?
  2. What are some common mistakes teachers make when implementing e-learning?
  3. How might teachers get a good start on e-learning?

Video source

That said, I do not like watching myself on video. But I can learn by looking for what not to do next time.

Like how I should keep my hands from flapping around so much. Maybe I can attach lead weights to my arms and hide them under my sleeves.

Or how I could have been more animated. (Feeling tired right before the shoot was no excuse as I could have given myself a shot of caffeine or something.)

If I am passionate about something, it should be more obvious. I gave honest answers to the questions but they might have sounded tired.

On hindsight, there is one other non-example I should have given about e-learning. The “e” in e-learning should not be thought of as emergency or extra.

That mindset relegates the activities to something you pull out of a hat when the school has to close due to something like SARS or reduces it to an afterthought.

That mindset makes the design of e-learning hurried, its implementation curried (too hot to handle), and its evaluation buried!

Ever so often I am asked what “e-learning” means.

I tell people three things:

  • You can look it up online
  • It means different things to different people
  • It is easier to tell you what e-learning is NOT

E-learning is not e-doing or e-teaching.

It is not the creation of busy work for students to do during artificially created e-learning days or weeks. The “e” does not stand for emergency or extra.

E-learning does not exclude a blending with face-to-face instruction or learning.

E-learning should not be an attempt to recreate the same kind of teaching you could do face-to-face. After all, if learners will not put up with hour-long lectures, why should they bother when they are in the comfort of their rooms, beds, or even toilets?

E-learning is just learning. With resources that are online and readily available. The resources may also be curated or created, not just by the teacher but especially by the learner.

Don’t believe my definition of e-learning?

See bullet point 1 and 2. Look it up. Discuss. Then see what you learn without me trying to teach you.

In a Straits Times article, a Year 1 junior college student complained about the downside of e-learning.

At the risk of beating an old horse to death, I’ll say this: What the student described is e-doing, not e-learning.

This is teach less learn more gone wrong. It is teach less, do more, learn nothing, give e-learning a bad name.

How do we solve this problem? Take away the e-doing and the attempts at e-teaching and focus on the learning instead. It is not WHAT to learn but HOW to learn that matters in e-learning.

Another way to deal with the problem is to integrate e-learning into everyday learning. This could mean designing blended forms of learning, avoiding dedicated e-doing days or weeks, and incorporating or taking advantage of informal opportunities for learning.

Collectively, these actions require a rethink and redesign of e-based learning so that it is seamless when viewed against other forms of learning. Given the right circumstances, this relook could serve as a catalyst for redoing the rest of the curriculum.


I could probably look at John Connell’s revised slides on “Good eLearning and Bad eLearning” and pick up something a bit different every day.

For example, there were lots of quotable quotes, mostly by famous people, but my favourite was probably the simplest one in slide 63: Young people across the world today are possibly less bound by received wisdom than any generation in history. It reflects how connected the world is today and begs the question of how education must change.

My favourite slide is also the one that hints at the changes (slide 75):

What should education look like?

  • A place where learning is the focus rather than teaching
  • A place where faculty and learners learn together
  • A place for social learning (and solitary learning!)
  • An entry-point for collaborative learning
  • An immersive environment stretching far beyond the campus walls
  • An open-learning environment built on negotiation and mutual respect
  • An extended community resource

I also like the creepy treehouse syndrome as described in slides 77-79. This is when a professor requires his/her students to follow him/her on Facebook or Twitter. I do not make my student teachers friend or follow me. I just let them know that I have a treehouse, creepy or otherwise, that they are free to visit.

But if you want a few answers to what good e-learning is, you have to read the summary at slide 90:

Good e-learning:

  • is built on careful consideration of the purpose of the learning
  • recognizes the changing relationships between teacher and learner, and between learner and information
  • avoids the worst features of creepy treehouse syndrome
  • recognises the cultural, ideological and political impact of education
  • permits the learner genuine and increasing autonomy in their learning as they grow and learn
  • enables learners to nurture rich, heterogenous personal learning networks
  • makes room for conviviality in learning

That is a tall order. No wonder we have a fair bit of bad e-learning, a lot of e-doing and not so much e-learning!

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