Reusing Learning Objects in Three Settings:
1. An Introduction to Asynchronous Discussion Forums
Distinguish between synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication by identifying the basic features of an asynchronous discussion
2. Types of Asynchronous Discussions
Identify various types of asynchronous discussions based on the characteristics of the discussion postings
Appropriately facilitate, direct, and respond to learners' discussion postings based on the discussion type
3. Netiquette for Online Discussion Forums
Identify appropriate behavior for participants in online discussion forums based on general rules and guidelines for online communication
4. The Art of Civil Disagreement Online
Use five guidelines to determine how to compose a respectful response to an offensive discussion post or email
5. Strategies for Planning and Managing Groups
To help you support collaborative learning among learners when they are online
6. Promoting a Sense of Community
To provide the elements to establish a learning community that will be the medium through which collaboration occurs
7. Fostering Participation
Identify characteristics and factors that lead toward creation of an online environment which fosters student participation
Plan attributes for increasing participation in an online course
8. The Lurker
How to identify “lurkers” and how to help a student overcome lurking
9. Dealing with Difficult Students
Identify a difficult student in an online course
Plan appropriate responses based on the degree to which the student is causing problems
10. Time Management Tips for Facilitating Online Courses
Identify and determine strategies to efficiently manage time while facilitating online courses
11. A Rubric to Assess Participation in Online Discussion Forums
To assess student participation based on a rubric that categorizes types and levels of activity within an online discussion forum
The online self-paced course was part of a Distance Education Certificate Program that provides a curriculum of online collaborative and self-paced courses for professional development in online teaching, technology, instructional design, evaluation, and management. The prototype was set up as a self-paced course for online learning. The course consisted of 11 lessons, where each lesson was a SCO. The 11 SCOs were the sole source of content and activities. The only other instructional resource was an overview of the course procedures and content. Participants could complete the course at their own pace, at any time during a one-month period. They used D2L to access the lesson content, submit lesson evaluations, and post optional messages to a discussion board.
Online survey research was used to collect data from participants. In order to capture participants’ perceptions of the SCOs, the online survey was administered after interacting with individual SCOs. The survey questionnaire included questions related to the design layout, content presentation and relevancy, and features that were relevant to respondents’ learning and future application (see Table 2 for Online Survey Questionnaire). The same online questionnaire was used for all three settings. The questionnaire was designed to be short in asking nine questions, but it provided responses to key elements related to the design and content of the SCOs. Survey respondents were all non-traditional adult learners.
Fourteen faculty participated in a month-long blended course: four were tenured professors, seven were in tenure track positions, and the remaining three were classified as teaching academic staff. There were six female (43%) and eight male (57%) participants. Five of the participants had previously used the Internet and public folders (early discussion forums) as instructional aids to existing face-to-face courses or had previously used an LMS such as WebCT or Blackboard. During the first week of the program, faculty were instructed to view three of the eleven SCOs of their choice and complete the online questionnaire for each SCO viewed. There were a total of 47 evaluations.
For the online collaborative course, participants evaluated the 11 prototype SCOs immediately after viewing them. A reminder about viewing and evaluating the SCOs was emailed to students at the beginning of each course module. The online collaborative course included 13 graduate students (15% male; 85% female) pursuing a certificate program in health professional education and non profit management (15%), a master’s degree program in adult education (62%), and a PhD program in education (23%). A total of 120 SCO evaluations accounted for the graduate students who participated in the online collaborative course.
The online self-paced course involved 21 participants who volunteered to participate in the course to increase their knowledge of facilitation strategies. Each participant had to complete and evaluate all 11 lessons. All of the participants had prior experience in using an LMS for online learning. Of the 21 participants, 17 completed the course. The completers comprised 14 females and 3 males representing the following types of organizations and job functions: higher education (53%), business/industry (18%), government/military (18%), and other non-profit (12%). Participants of the self-paced online course were involved in the following types of job functions: design/development (35%), management (24%), faculty training (18%), and teaching (24%). The self-paced participants submitted 205 SCO evaluations.
Quantitative and qualitative records were used to analyze data from participants’ responses to the survey items. The survey items provided data about the following elements: overall rating of each SCO, the SCO design and content, and learning outcomes in relation to knowledge gains and applications.
Participants in all three settings rated the SCOs favorably (see Table 3 for ANOVA Comparison of Mean Scores for the Three Settings). For the overall rating in Question 9, participants were asked to rate each SCO on a scale of 1 to 4. All three formats were rated at least “good,” with average scores of 3.00 to 3.46. The Self-Paced group average rating of 3.46 was significantly higher than either the Blended or the Online (Blended and Online did not differ significantly). Interestingly, the Self-Paced mode was perceived as being of higher quality overall, where the SCOs stood alone as the sole source of content and activities.
1. The objectives are stated clearly.
2. The screen layout is easy to navigate.
3. The content is relevant to my needs.
4. The content presentation and activities are engaging.
5. The content added to my knowledge or skills.
6. I gained practical information that I can apply to my work.
7. The amount of content is:
(too little, about right, too much)
8. The degree to which the content was covered was:
9. What is your overall rating of the learning object?
Questions 1-6 used a five-point scale of
strongly disagree=1, disagree=2, neutral=3, agree=4, and strongly agree=5.
The anchors used for questions 7-9 are shown in the table.
The < or > symbols denote significant differences between means in the indicated direction
with significance level of p<.01
Five questions on the survey asked participants to rate elements of the SCO design and content related to: (1) learning objectives, (2) layout and navigation, (3) motivational engagement of the content and activities, (4) amount of content, and (5) depth of content. Each element was rated on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree.
For the SCO design, the participants in all three settings agreed (minimum rating of 4.0) the objectives were clearly stated, the SCOs were easy to navigate, and the content and activities were engaging. The ratings for the three settings were quite similar. However, when asked to rate whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "The content presentation and activities are engaging," those in the Self-Paced group rated this statement significantly higher than those in the Blended or in the Online groups. Differences in ratings between the Blended and Online groups were not significant.
Questions 7 and 8 asked about perceptions of the content. All three groups responded, on average, that the amount of content and depth of content were “about right” for the prototype SCOs.
Participants found the SCOs to be effective in learning outcomes. They agreed (minimum rating of 4.0) the content was relevant to their needs, added to their knowledge or skills, and provided practical information applicable to their own work. There was no significant difference among the three groups in their ratings of effectiveness (see Table 3).
The quantitative data about SCO effectiveness was supported by the qualitative comments made by participants. The qualitative comments also provided insights into how the SCOs were used. In the online collaborative course, respondents evaluated the content in the SCOs in relationship to their learning in the course and application of the material during online discussions. For example, two of the students stated how the SCOs were used as a learning tool: “I knew most of this material already, but was able to pick up a few tips and it was a nice refresher of things I already knew” and “This learning objective was applicable to what has been discussed in this [course] module and helped me apply what I have learned in a clearer manner.” Another student revealed how the content in the SCO could be applied during the online course discussions: “I was surprised by a few of the 'correct' answers, and hope to facilitate Module 2 discussion on those points.”
During an online program session on multimedia in the online environment, faculty were asked to compare the effectiveness of the SCOs to other media. Faculty overwhelmingly agreed that the SCOs were more effective in providing instruction than other types of media including online video/audio lectures and PowerPoint presentations. Comparing SCOs to other forms of multimedia allowed faculty to become aware of the potential use of SCOs for online instruction.
It was evident that students in the online course were looking at the SCO content as a tool that contained information they could apply in the future. One student said that the information in the SCO will assist in teaching online courses. Another student stated, “I thought that the case studies were very helpful and provided great insight as to what I could do when I become an instructor.”
The last item on the survey asked respondents to provide suggestions for improvement of the SCOs. Most of the qualitative responses involved participants’ perceptions of the SCO layout, content, and design features that affected their learning. A theme emerging from the qualitative responses brought up issues related to the consistency in layout and variety in design.
The SCOs were designed using the same instructional template to enhance consistency in content layout, but they varied in terms of instructional activities. Consistency in content layout is defined in terms of font color and page layout. Design variety means using a variety of instructional activities in each SCO. When different instructional activities were used in the design of the SCOs users could interact with the content in a variety of ways. These activities included case studies, quizzes, matching activities, puzzles, game-like strategies, and analogies. It was evident that depending on the learning preference of the user, certain methods were favored. Responses that indicated learning preference for certain methods compared strategies used in one SCO. For example, a student in the online collaborative course said, “I thought that quizzes were sufficient in testing if information was learned; I didn't think that we needed to go through the scenarios.” Another student stated, “I thought the cake analogy was a bit overdone, but enjoyed constructing paragraph responses for the offensive scenarios.”
Depending on the type of analogy and topic introduced in the SCO, course participants had different reactions. One of the SCOs compared team building to a basketball team, which made the information transferable to people who were familiar with team sports. For some people the crossword puzzles were enjoyable; for others they were annoying. One respondent said that “asking to 'fill in the blanks' would eliminate the hassle of scrolling, clicking tabs, and tinkering with arrows to try to fill in letter boxes.” Other respondents stated that action examples were insightful. For some, the use of scenarios was real and thought provoking.
Several participants in the online self-paced course made comments about consistency and variety from an instructional design perspective. Because the self-paced participants were involved in a certificate program to gain knowledge and skills in online instruction, their evaluation of the SCOs included comments about design considerations.
One self-paced participant liked the variety of instructional activities, saying: “By nature I would prefer consistency, but I think variety adds a lot. It makes the learning process interesting, prevents monotony.” Another person saw benefits to both, where consistency made it easier to navigate the SCOs and to know what to expect, while variety added interest. As she said, “I'm not sure which side of this fence I want to fall on and am trying to think of some ideas to promote consistency while keeping the variety…At the very least, I think the colors and navigation where it is similar need to stay consistent.”
A third person wondered how a designer would approach the question of balance between the two: “I know that the idea with SCOs is that they be granular, standalone pieces that can be used on their own or reassembled into a course, but I'm not sure how that approach played into the creation of this course. For example, I really liked the graphics of the people—because they were done in a consistent style, they lent coherence to the modules. On the other hand, one module had a basketball theme, one module had a cake baking theme, etc. That made the modules feel somewhat disjointed. How did the project team approach this balance between coherence and independence among the SCOs?”
More research is needed on the instructional design of learning objects, including the balance of consistency and variety. Participants in the self-paced course indicated that an appropriate balance affected their level of satisfaction with the learning experience, ease of navigating the content, motivational interest, and level of understanding both within and between the SCOs.
This study examined the implementation of prototype SCOs in three instructional settings to test overall design considerations and evaluate their learning effectiveness. The results of the evaluation demonstrated that SCOs can be effectively reused in multiple environments and that their pedagogical value reflects the context of use.
A key benefit of learning objects, in theory, is their reusability in different instructional contexts. As Nurmi and Jaakkola (2005) state, a major reason for creating learning objects is to achieve a “learning object economy” that maximizes the reuse of learning resources to reduce the costs and time of course development. However, in practice, questions exist about the feasibility and effectiveness of reusing learning objects in different contexts (Christiansen & Anderson, 2004; Mason, Pegler, & Weller, 2005).
This study found that SCOs can be effectively reused in different learning environments that involved a blended online and face-to-face mode, a collaborative online mode, and a self-paced online mode. The learning environments had different audiences (faculty, graduate students, and trainers) and were offered by three different institutions. Although the settings were quite different, the SCOs were evaluated as being effective in achieving learning objectives. The study found that reusability was aided by packaging the SCOs to meet SCORM standards, which made them easily uploaded and unpacked in an LMS. Because all three settings used an LMS from the same vendor, the study did not examine interoperability across platforms.
The study also found that the SCOs could be reused in different ways to aggregate course content. In the blended and online collaborative modes, lesson-sized SCOs supported instructor flexibility in combining the SCOs with other resources. The instructors remained in control of the course design and used the SCOs as a supplement or a complement to other aspects of instruction (Collis & Strijker, 2003). The online self-paced mode capitalized on the value of the SCOs for just-in-time learning and as a sole source of content. The SCOs were organized into a logical sequence of lessons, but no other instructional element was used except for a narrative course overview. In all three contexts, the SCOs served as a source of content that met course goals and achieved learning objectives. In addition, because the SCOs were designed to be self-contained units of instruction, they demonstrated the value of having a higher level of granularity where each SCO contained all the necessary elements of a holistic learning experience (Mason, Pegler, & Weller, 2005). While South and Monson (2000) argue that a smaller or more granular object is more reusable, this study found that a higher level of granularity was effective.
Consistency of presentation and variety of instructional activities proved to be two important elements in the design of the SCOs. In this study, a template approach to content presentation provided consistency in layout and look, which learners said clarified navigation and helped them to know what to expect. On the other hand, the SCOs incorporated a variety of instructional strategies to add variety and learner-to-content interactions, such as drag and drop activities, crossword puzzles, quizzes, animations, scenarios, analogies, and case studies. Learners had mixed feelings about the instructional variety. Some found it enhanced motivation and understanding, some expressed preferences for certain types of strategies but not others, and some students wondered if the variety interfered with coherence. The need to balance variety with consistency is identified as a major design challenge by Weller, Pegler, and Mason (2003). As they said, variety is important to student motivation, while consistency is important to a cohesive design approach. In this study, the balance between variety and consistency emerged as a major consideration that requires further research.
Critics of learning objects claim that the learning object approach may break down the narrative flow that holds individual elements together in a course, leaving a series of disconnected pieces that affect the learning process (Mason, Pegler, & Weller, 2005; Nurmi & Jaakola, 2005). Our experience reveals that the SCO content, as experienced by our learners, can achieve a specific learning outcome and provide a higher level of granularity where each object contains the necessary elements of a holistic learning experience that can be meaningful and relevant to the learner. The respondents in all three contexts evaluated the SCOs positively in terms of learning for understanding and application. The self-paced mode was particularly interesting because the SCOs were sequenced as a series of lessons with no other source of content or narrative transitions (except for a course overview). The self-paced mode found the SCOs worked together to provide instruction in a format that did not seem fragmented to the learners, but was experienced as integrated and effective in learning about the content.
Much has been written about the potential of learning objects to increase the efficiency of instruction through the reuse of learning resources for course development and delivery. However, research on the actual use of learning objects in instructional contexts is just beginning to address questions related to their pedagogical value and learning effectiveness.
This study found that SCOs can be reused effectively in multiple environments, and they can serve as flexible sources of content in achieving learning objectives. Within the context of use, the pedagogical value of SCOs is related to how they are employed to help accomplish particular learning goals. In addition, as this study found, SCOs can be used in at least two different ways for content presentation: (1) as a series of lessons arranged in a logical sequence in serving as a sole source of content; and (2) as aggregated with other learning elements in serving as part of the content. In either case, a SCO can be experienced as a holistic learning experience if the level of granularity contains all the elements needed to support the objectives.
However, issues of learner preferences need to be taken into consideration. Designers may want to consider the balance between consistency in SCO structure and variety in instructional methods. The prototype evaluation presented here describes the use of SCOs in an LMS; however, a knowledge repository, where SCOs can be stored and searched, would give more options for the type of methods that appeal to specific instructors or learners.
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Simone Conceição, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Adult and Continuing Education Leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She teaches courses in the areas of distance education, use of technology with adult learners, instructional design, and adult learning. Her research interests include adult learning, distance education, impact of technology on teaching and learning, instructional design, and learning objects. Dr. Conceição has researched and identified many aspects of good practice in online environments, and she is an expert in helping instructors and trainers understand web-based technology tools, software, and design processes.
Location: Enderis Hall 639, 2400 E. Hartford Ave.
Mailing Address: UWM School of Education, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201-0413
Christine Olgren, Ph.D., is Director of the Distance Education Certificate Program, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is responsible for program management, instructional development, teaching, evaluation, and marketing. She has taught online since 1995 and has developed courses for both collaborative and self-paced learning. Her research interests include the cognitive, metacognitive, and motivational aspects of learning with technology. She recently completed a three-year FIPSE grant as co-project manager to develop and evaluate learning objects for online instruction.
Address: UW-Madison, B136 Lathrop Hall, 1050 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706
Patricia Ploetz, ABD, is the Interim Director of the Center for Academic Excellence and the Coordinator of the Teaching & Learning Resource Network at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP). Patricia works with UWSP’s academic and information technology departments to: 1) create a faculty driven Center for Academic Excellence that advances the learning environment at UWSP by supporting the campus’s strong culture of teaching and 2) provides guidance and direction in the growth and development of faculty educational technology initiatives. Patricia’s research interests include changing faculty roles in higher education, faculty development, and the use of technology to enhance instruction.
Location: Learning Resource Center Room 500
Mailing Address: University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, 900 Reserve Street, LRC 500, Stevens Point, WI 54481