Momenta Learning

A blog on topics related to Elearning, online education, and instructional design.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What Is Really Chunking?

I have seen many posts on the “so and so numbers of things that instructional designers or elearning professionals must do”, and many include the “chunking of information”. But what do they really mean by that? Displaying on the course lesson page a maximum number of words out of the total? Displaying a whole section? Making short videos? Short audio bites? Or just as many word as you can pack on the page? It can get confusing (at least to me) as to what really chunking means.
It has been proven for a long time that we can retain in working memory a number of “items”, which really mean concepts. In order to learn a new concept, it is important to first see the big picture of what we are learning (top-down), and not to worry about the details at that point. Then we can learn the interconnected concepts (the chunks) that serve as the foundation for what we want to learn so that, at the end of our study session, we are able to put the pieces together for the big-picture chunk of information (bottom-up). The point where these small chunks meet with the big picture idea is called the context where we are learning. Every time we need to remember that particular concept, we will recall this whole chunk of information, including the details, so that we would not have to use rote memory to remember all this information.
In terms of content for elearning, the above explanation applies to both text and media. A long video erodes attention the same way a long page with text does. We can only concentrate (focus our attention) for a few number of minutes (it varies but it could be between 15 - 25 min), then it becomes difficult to maintain concentration on the content. And this is the way I conduct my course design: presenting one idea as a chunk belonging to a bigger picture in the form of one lesson, section, page or whatever you want to call it, then as the learner move across the course where more chunks are being covered, this learner will arrive to the point where the context is presented and the learning of this new concept then takes place.
My favorite example is an online class in statics (because I am an engineer) where you want to cover the big picture subject of static equilibrium. Of course, the large picture is statics, the mechanics of bodies at rest or in constant velocity, but the subject of interest is static equilibrium. Within this subject you need to cover the static equilibrium of particles, then of rigid bodies, and within these two subjects there are a multitude of other subjects that need to be covered in order to understand how to analyze bodies in static equilibrium. The course must provide the context where all these chunks meet so that the learner can understand when to analyze a body as a rigid body or as a particle, when to use a vector approach or when to use a graphical approach to solve for forces acting on a body, and son.
The important point is this: don’t present your learners with two different concepts that they need to understand, present those concepts gradually so that they can master one before moving on to the next one. Also, I would recommend immediate assessment after they have covered the subject so that reinforcement occurs, and add a walk-through example so that they can understand how this concept is applied. In order to provide this context, another walk-through example (or case scenario) can be pertinent and a little more assessment to finally reinforce the material learned.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blended Learning for Associations

It is true, and has been said over and over, that not all subjects can be integrated for elearning delivery. This is mostly related to the nature of the subject and not limitations on technology or resources (although sometimes, it is). When you manage an elearning program for an association, you need to consider the nature of the training or education being offered.
Most associations currently have a heavy load of onsite courses for training of their members for CEUs or other types of certification. This means that a lot of logistics go into the organization of these training courses. Many have content that is related to hands-on or equipment training, which forces the course to be offered as onsite only. In other cases, the subject matter expert (SME) has taught this course for such a long time that there is some resistance at the idea of making their course elearning available.
Another situation is that the manager just doesn’t know how to conduct an onsite to elearning conversion. It is often the case that elearning managers for associations were placed in that position just because of their managerial skills and not so much for their elearning or instructional design expertise.
The above cases are very good candidates for blended learning implementation. The concept of blended learning has been around for quite some time and has been mostly used in K-12 and higher education settings. The idea is to have learners undertake series of activities, assessments, and content review using both onsite and online tools (not necessarily in equal proportions). For associations, the best solution is the use of online tools to deliver assessments and activities as well as some content in the form of video, audio, or text and images. Then learners take on other parts of the course in a designated site. Hands-on training, equipment features and functionality can be set up in this way. If the certification assessment requires proctoring, then the learner can take this final step at a designated testing site. The same goes for certification that requires the learner to show the mastering of some skill in front of an expert that is grading the performance.
Striking the balance, between what goes online and what is being implemented on site, is the issue with blended learning. As the saying goes, you don’t want to use a lot of either one, but 50-50 is not the answer either. And it is not only due to pedagogical issues what decides what part of the course goes online, it might be economical ones that finally decide that some part of the program is offered on site. For example, creating demonstration videos of equipment, or technical procedures depicted using animations require a large initial investment. Of course, once this investment is made, you will probably have two years worth of content, at which point you will probably need to reshoot the whole thing. If the investment is recovered before the end of the shelf life of that course, then you might want to consider making this investment, otherwise you will be better off making this an onsite requirement.
Ultimately, the analysis of what content to put online and which one goes onsite is one that you cannot make alone. You do need to consult your SMEs, other parties interested, and maybe you could conduct a survey to test membership preferences. What is definitely important is that you consider designing some of your courses in a blended mode, this will not only reduce costs but will make sure the course becomes more affordable to members, since it is the usual case that onsite courses run at a larger tag price than fully online courses or blended courses.

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