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Editor’s Note
: e-Learning and associated developments such as learning objects require review and even a revision of pedagogy to use these tools effectively. This paper examines changes in pedagogy to increase effectiveness of e-learning.

Pedagogy Considerations for E-learning

Chao Boon Teo, Shook Cheong Agnes Chang, Robert Gay Kheng Leng


Pedagogy is focused on enabling learning and intellectual growth of students in contrast to instruction that treats students as the object of curriculum implementation. Successful learning pedagogy requires teachers to understand how students learn and must have the capacity and autonomy to design, implement and assess educational activities that meet the needs of individual and all students. E-learning pedagogy is one that incorporates this form of learning pedagogy but goes beyond it to include a deeper study into the incorporation of instructional strategies that take into account real-time personalized learning content-to-learner adaptability.


Pedagogy is focused on enabling learning and intellectual growth of students in contrast to instruction that treats students as the object of curriculum implementation. Successful learning pedagogy requires teachers to understand how students learn and must have the capacity and autonomy to design, implement and assess educational activities that meet the needs of individual and all students. E-learning pedagogy is one that incorporates this form of learning pedagogy but goes beyond it to include a deeper study into the incorporation of instructional strategies that take into account of real-time personalized learning content-to-learner adaptability.

It is important to note that the proposed e-learning pedagogy is not intended to represent the full spectrum of complex tasks that comprise teaching; rather, it represents instructional activities that promote active student learning in the context of e-learning. It will focus on the exploitation of information technologies to adapt to the varying learning scenarios and diverse student needs. This paper visions the keys to effective e-learning pedagogy as sound instructional strategies and consistent curricular design that is based on the principles of relevancy and placement.

This paper is organized as follows: introduction, literature review pertaining to the theories of pedagogies and its application in the e-learning context, key principles of e-learning, relevancy and placement, proposed content development methodology based on the modified ADDIE model, key pedagogy considerations for e-learning, and recommendations for future research. (ADDIE is an acronym for instructional design that incorporates Analyzing learners, Designing instruction, Developing instruction, Implementing instruction, and Evaluating instruction).

Theories of pedagogy in current ICT era

Pedagogy applies to all types of learning. Pedagogy is broadly defined as the art and science of teaching and is anchored strongly at the heart of learning. Theories of pedagogy pertaining to teaching or learning are well documented and will not be discussed in this paper. Instead, this section will focus on the current status of pedagogy in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). While e-learning has revitalized learning by transcending the boundaries of traditional learning, the use of computers per se for learning or teaching cannot make up for the poor pedagogy and content.

In relation to the new approaches to teaching, learning and the restructuring of training practices for e-learning, current theories of pedagogy in the ICT era require urgent review. The pressing need to develop pedagogy appropriate for ICT is well documented (Becta, 2002; Lynch, 2001; Ofsted, 1999). Although research has been carried out to develop pedagogy for integrating the use of technology into teaching, its development has lagged behind the massive investment in hardware, software and teacher training in using ICT (Newton & Rogers, 2001). Current pedagogic changes to integrate educational technology seem to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary (Hennessy et al., 2005; Cuban, 2001; Kerr, 1991).

The pressing situation is not helped by the complex psychological nature of learning. Literature reviews on pedagogy assert that models of learning pedagogy held by researchers and academics have become more complex over time. This results from incorporation of cognition and meta-cognition (Watkins and Mortimore, 1999), complex interactions between curriculum, assessment, and pedagogy, and effect of these interactions on student educational and social outcomes (Carr et al., 2000). Complex inter-dependent interactions between teaching and learning processes, curriculum, assessment and pedagogical approaches further complicate the situation (Carr et al., 2000). This together with the multi-faceted nature of knowledge and the mystifying and foreign characteristics of its nature make such a demanding task more difficult (Rowan et al., 2001).

Thus, aiming to build upon the proven and tested pedagogical theories, we see a need to devise new pedagogical models that grow directly out of current e-learning practice or out of designs of real e-learning curriculum materials. This view is also reflected in (Kelly, 2003) who sees opportunity for new pedagogy model to potentially create stronger link between the research study and the practice environment, where presumably, learning materials are being used by students and teachers in realistically scalable ways. In particular, our focus is on new pedagogical ways of learning and organizing that blossom from inclusion of ICT in the learning environment.

Therefore, the aim of this paper is to present our research findings, produce new scientific knowledge and generate innovative, theory-based pedagogical methodology in the field of educational technology. It is through this conservative form of research, based solidly on established theory and applying proven research methods, that we can add new knowledge incrementally and cumulatively (Wilson, 2005).

Relevancy and placement

Typically, what makes e-learning effective lies in the eyes of the beholder? One person’s meat may be another person’s poison. What satisfies the stakeholders’ artistic eye may not even capture the interest or attention of the learners. This is what makes drafting a universal set of pedagogies or guidelines for e-learning difficult. While there are other aspects of e-learning that are important, this proposed e-learning pedagogy places the principle of relevancy as the core principle that distinguishes effective e-learning materials from ‘beautified content holders’. The principle of relevancy primarily addresses the main vision of e-learning; that is, learning on the fly where learners decide what, where and how they want to learn.

It is advocated that the ability to retrieve and present the right information at the right time to the right learners requires the principle of relevancy. More often than not, it is without doubt that current e-learning systems, even with the most sophisticated search engines, fail the relevancy tests. However, what is more alarming is the fact that many proponents of e-learning have mistakenly concluded that it is the technology that has failed. Technology, no matter how advanced, can only contribute to the speed and ease of retrieval. It is helpless in the fight for relevancy. Instead, what is lacking in current e-learning systems is the appropriate design and use of content. Relevance is obtained through content precision, not technology. A resource when well designed, written and focused will contain enough ‘relevant’ content in itself to be its own metadata. This, coupled with the use of a standard metadata and correct placement, is all that is needed for fulfilling the promise of just-in-time retrieval of the right learning resources.

Content placement is another key principle for the successful implementation of e-learning solutions. While the creation of relevant content is essential, the location whereby these resources are stored is equally important. From the learner’s point of view, every additional second spent navigating the learning space is wasted time and effort. Besides the wasted time and effort, it also distances the learner from the solution. Distance creates perplexity and perplexity means less effective learning, frustration and an increased drop-out rate.

Content development methodology

Envisioning the shift in the future of e-learning direction from a content-oriented approach to a knowledge synthesis approach, our research puts forward a principled basis for designing an e-learning environment (Teo & Gay, 2005a; 2005b). While advanced information technology has been fully exploited for the delivery and presentation of learning resources, this paper contends that the bulk of today’s e-learning systems still consist of simple conversion of classroom-based content to an electronic format while still retaining its traditional distinctive knowledge-centric nature. Utilizing higher-level cognitive strategies to capitalize on the distributed nature of the web is still rare. We believe that the unique characteristics of e-learning technology (i.e., the distributed nature of the distance learning modality, the physical separation of learners from instructor, the asynchronous communication paradigm, etc.) require adjustments in the nature of instruction specifically designed for that modality.

It is in this vein that this research attempts to marry the power of computer-based technology with an understanding of the psychological principles of learning to improve the educational outcomes. Extending our previous research work in using concept maps as an envelope for learning resources (Teo & Gay, 2004a; 2004b), we devise a novel and comprehensive content development methodology using the basic concepts of the ADDIE Model. Adopting the five design phases, vital e-learning requirements such as learner-centric, concept-map based and personalized aspect of learning are incorporated into the model. Most importantly, essential pedagogies and scaffolding strategies have been devised and integrated into the content development methodology.

Table 1
Analysis Phase




1. Feasibility Analysis

Justify the creation of
E-learning content

Ť Conduct Feasibility Survey

Ť Analyze Feasibility Report

2. Pedagogy Analysis

Establish the type of instructional strategy

Ť Conduct the 4-Ts

Ť Determine the type of learning event

3. Course Profile Analysis

Determine the scope, context, and performance augmentation

Ť Identify the overall (high level) educational Goal

Ť Identify the conceptual scope

Ť Identify the application domain

Ť Identify the type of performance augmentation

4. Learner Profile Analysis

Establish the target audience and their learning needs

Ť Identify the target audience

Ť Identify the target audiences’ learning needs

Ť Identify and categorize target audiences into their different learning styles

Ť Perform the course-to-learner profile matching

Main Task to be performed by the content developer
Ŧ: Sub-task to be performed by the content developer
Ă: Task that is automatically performed by system without the need for human intervention

Table 2
Design Phase




1. Performance Design

Craft the learning and performance goals into quantifiable objectives

Ť Identify all the measurable learning and performance objectives

Ť Determine the assessment guidelines

2. Scaffolding Design

Defining the scaffolding approaches

Ť Identify the learning context in which the concept resides

Ť Scaffolding Goal Design


        Ŧ Scaffolding Aim

        Ŧ Scaffolding Problem

Ť Scaffolding Tasks Design

Formulate Tasks to address:

        Ŧ Activation of prior-knowledge

        Ŧ Encoding specificity – resemblance of problem to learning concepts

        Ŧ Elaboration of knowledge application

Ť Learner Considerations

Formulate Tasks to address:

        Ŧ Identify the learner’s goal through the process of needs analysis

        Ŧ Knowledge Gap Analysis

        - Assess learner’s current knowledge point

        (Assess what the learner is currently able to do without help)

        - Assess learner’s desired knowledge point

        (Find the desired performance)

        - Determine the level of learner support to design

(While all 3 levels should be designed, the most appropriate level should be determined and designed first and used as a guide to spearhead the design)

        - Ă Knowledge Gap Mapping

(Analyze what has to be achieved to move the learner from the current knowledge point to his desired goal)

Ť Specific what is necessary to narrow or eliminate the knowledge gap

Ť Specific what is the appropriate instructional strategy to scaffolding the design

Ť Determine how to measure success or failure

3. Course Structure Design (Extrinsic Properties)

Generate the course structure in terms of tree-hierarchy and concept map structure

Ť RLO Identification (Identify individual modules that made up a course)


    Ŧ Educational Goal

    Ŧ Cognitive Level

    Ŧ Type of content presentation

    Ŧ Associated Keywords

Ť RIO Identification (Identify the individual topics that made up a modules)


    Ŧ Educational Objective

    Ŧ RIO type (Concept/Fact/Procedure/Process/Principle)

    Ŧ Associated Keywords

Ă Course Tree Hierarchy

Ă Course concept map

Ă RLO/RIO search for reused/repurposed

Ť Verification of course structure

Ť Verification of RLO/RIO status           (develop/reuse/repurpose)

Table 3
Development Phase




1. Course Composition Overview Development (Intrinsic Properties)

Generate the course composition in terms of learning resources

Ť RLO Composition


    Ŧ Overview Item (Introduction, Outline, Importance, Pre-requisites)

    Ŧ Content Item

    Ŧ Summary Item (Conclusion, Review, Additional Notes)

Ť RIO Composition


    Ŧ Preview Items

    Ŧ Content Items (Outline, Constraints, Assets Identification and Considerations, Storyboarding)

    Ŧ Practice Items

    Ŧ Assessment Items

2. Instructional Materials Development

Select and develop the instructional materials

Ť Review and select particular learning resources, its pedagogical considerations and instructional strategy

Ť Develop content flowchart

Ť Design graphic user interface and screen templates

Ť Develop storyboarding

Ť Develop scaffolding

Ť Develop interactive multimedia content

Main Task to be performed by the content developer
Ŧ: Sub-task to be performed by the content developer
Ă: Task that is automatically performed by system without the need for human intervention

Due to length constraints, this paper will only focus on the pedagogy considerations of e-learning. Specifically, the instructional strategies (micro-level), learning events classification (macro-level) and scaffolding framework will be discussed.


Table 4
Implementation Phase




1. Conduct formative evaluation

Review concepts, metaphors, ideas, graphics, and adherent to pedagogical considerations and instructional strategy

Ť Formulate ‘beta’ version of course

Ă Finalized Course Tree Hierarchy

Ă Finalized Course concept map

Ť Send for evaluation

2. Technical Review

Review all technical issues that may hinder delivery

Ť Determine delivery methods and parameters

Ť Formulate technical specifications
(to state the required tools needed for content delivery)

Table 5
Evaluation Phase




1. Revision

Evaluate course

Ť Conduct teacher and learner feedbacks

Ť Review learner’s performance

Ť Schedule for revisions

2. Conduct summative evaluation

Finalize course delivery matters and synthesize new map with the existing course concept map (based on the theory of learning dependency and knowledge gap)

Ă Synthesize Course concept map

Ť Send for verification

3. Deployment to server

For delivery

Ť Meta-tagged for efficient searches


Instructional Strategies (micro-level)

Instructional strategies determine the approach a teacher may take to achieve learning objectives. Instructional methods are often used by teachers to create the learning environment and to specify the nature of the activity in which the teacher and learner will be involved during the lesson.

Instructional materials that have been effectively designed with sound instructional strategy will facilitate the desired learning outcomes for the students, enabling them to acquire higher order skills to be able to think and apply what they have learned in a different context. E-learning materials belong to this category of instructional materials. However, e-learning programs can, but do not always, deliver improved learning outcomes. This is due mainly to the fact that the current instructional strategy for e-learning, if any, is often adopted from traditional instructional strategy where face-to-face communication is assumed. It is advocated that in the absence or reduction in face-to-face communication, effective design of the e-learning materials has to rely on improved instructional design processes to reflect and replicate the real time interaction. Also, the online learning materials need to be structured in a way such that it can communicate the knowledge in ways that enable students with diverse learning styles to understand and apply the knowledge that has been learned.

Traditional instructional strategy is concerned about how the learners are going to learn and chart their personalized routes to achieve their learning objectives. However, it goes beyond the basics of content sequencing or simple course structure generation. It is concerned with how the learners will interact and learn from the instructional content. When traditional instructional strategy is used in the context of e-learning, additional conditions must be considered to take into account those considerations that are traditionally deferred when face-to-face delivery is assumed.

Two forms of instructional strategies will be employed: essential activities (4T) and learning event classification considerations.

The essential activities (4T) are centered on 3 main concepts: (1) identification of goals, (2) identification of critical factors required to achieve the goals and (3) determination of how achievement can be measured. In order to achieve these three main concepts, a total of four activities must be performed.

Learning event classification will be carried out once the essential activities have been performed. The learning event classification is important as different learning events must be designed with different teaching and scaffolding methods.

Additional key issues to consider:

  1. Learners’ learning preferences

  2. Nature of knowledge delivered

  3. Learning outcomes and learning/performance objectives

  4. Prerequisites knowledge

  5. Scaffolding

4-Ts of a learning session: Target, Training, Transfer, Transformation

  1. Target

-          Identify the governing motivation underlying the need for training

    • Educational-centric: educate/inform

    • Performance-centric: Specific skills acquisition

-          Identify the entrance pre-requisite list

-          Identify the non-coverage (exclude) list

  1. Training

-          Activation of prior knowledge

-          Identify the nature of the Training Tasks

    • Collaborative / Individualistic

    • Analytical / Passive

    • Divergence / Convergence

    • Discussion / Questioning

    • Project / Assignment

    • Demonstration / Practice

    • Lecture / Case Study / Role Playing

-          Identify the Training Materials

§         Main subject matter – purely on textual content

§         Supplementary subject matter – purely on textual content

§         Subject matter presentation

        Learning styles

        Cognitive level

        Interactive multimedia

-          Identify the Training Support

    • Subject Matter Sequencing


        Cognitive level

        Knowledge Gap (only if profile of learner is available)

        Taxonomic (based on structure)

        Problem / Case study-centric

    • Scaffolding Means

    • Degree of Abstraction

    • Degree of Complexity

    • Degree of student independence

    • Pace of learning

  1. Transfer

-          Pre-assessment

-          Practice

-          Post-assessment

-          Remediation

-          Enhancement – introduction to next level of understanding

  1. Transformation

-          Assess the accountability of the teaching

-          Feedbacks – both learners and teachers



The target (goal) identification is conducted at the conception of a new course. It is situated at the heart of the pre-instructional activities. The learning target identification is important because human being have a built-in goal seeking "success mechanism" that is part of the subconscious mind (Maltz, 2002). This success mechanism is constantly searching for ways to help us reach our targets and find answers to our problems. According to Maltz, we work and feel better when our success mechanism is fully engaged going after clear targets. Besides, setting the learning target also helps to concentrate the time, effort, establish priorities, and provide a development roadmap for the learning materials. Thus, the target phase explicitly marks the generating of the governing motivation underlying the need for training. It also states the essential questions that must be thoroughly examined before the commencement of the course design. This includes defining the essential entrance criteria as well as the list of non-coverage.

In the subject matter expert’s (SME) perspective, the most important step in any learning event is to focus on guiding learners to understand the main learning concept. Depending on the type of learning outcomes that are desired, different teaching styles and hence, their appropriate learning (teaching) event must be adopted. Therefore, the first step in any instructional strategy is to state clearly the underlying motivation behind the learning event. The motivation can be categorized under two teaching perspectives: educational-centric or performance-centric.

The main purpose in an educational-centric learning event is to educate or inform. Its sole purpose is to augment knowledge and is inclined towards imparting theoretical and abstract concepts. This mode of learning is extremely beneficial in conveying paradigms of thinking and information. The application of knowledge and the development of communication skills are however secondary. Such learning events are characterized by learning contents that are hierarchically organized and aim to guide the learning process through structured syllabi and tests. The training is usually housed in a certain context but the students are assessed both inside and outside the arena in which they hope to minister. Upon the completion of the training, the newly acquired expertise which attests to the level of training will be recorded in learner’s cognitive map.

Performance-centric learning event on the other hand looks at the practical usage of the knowledge. It focuses more on the application of the knowledge rather than its fundamentals. This mode of training is based on the premise that students learn most effectively through experiences and practice in a deliberately organized program. It uses real life examples as the basis for purposeful training. Such a mode of learning is highly relational yet unstructured in the sense that training is focused on the working towards problem solving and the teaching materials are structured outside the normal school curriculum. The student has complete control over his learning and this mode is participatory in nature.

The formulation of the learning/performance objective together with the non-coverage list is a key aspect of the instructional strategy that caters to the learner-centric aspect of e-learning. Learning/performance goal and the non-coverage list states, in a less formal terms (so that the learners can understand), of what is or not required of the learners during the learning event. This is essential as the learners need to be informed of what is going to happen during the learning event so they can focus and determine what is relevant to them and what is not.

The entrance pre-requisite list sets the context and some essential pre-requisites. This list connects the learners with the training tasks and aids the learners to house the new information into a context based on what they should already know. This list sets the foundation on which the present learning concept will build. This step is necessary to aid synthesis of knowledge.


With the target set, the attention now falls on the instruction set. However, before any content deliberation, in a learner-centric learning environment, it is crucial to invite the learners to clarify where they stand, at present, in terms of the new content. The prior knowledge activation task is important. Many prior studies have demonstrated the importance of informal and formal prior knowledge (see Dochy, 1992). Essentially, prior knowledge activation sets the stage for learning by sharpening the perception of the learner. It tells the learner not only what s/he has to learn but also what the person perceives s/he already knows. Sometimes this is a rude awakening, sometimes a corroborating experience. The result of such reflection when compared with the system record of the learner’s past expertise can aid in the identification of the appropriate starting point of his learning route. The activation of prior knowledge is applied for learning preparation. It is used to connect the new with existing knowledge; to synthesize prior knowledge with the new content. Hence, the main design consideration of this part is to effectively plan the querying methods to accurately retrieve the learner’s prior knowledge and investigate how to connect the learner’s prior knowledge to the new content.

Once the prior knowledge correlation is achieved, then training can begin. The training development plan is sub-divided into three phases: Training Tasks, Training Materials and Training Support.

Training Tasks identify the nature of the content presentation. The training task defines the way to structure the training. Depending on the type of learning event, different training tasks are used to create and ensure engagement of the learners with the new content. Structuring the nature of the training task is one way to effective teaching as it dictates and creates a consistent overall design for the training. The teaching challenge here is not to present the training materials as static content but as an integral part of a dynamic learning process where the learners have to work over, contest, digest and recreate the new information to fit into their cognitive structure. Instead of receiving information, the aim here is to turn the learning process around and offer an opportunity for students to construct their own knowledge.

Training Materials identify the type of content. It is important to note that no form of content presentation, formatting or delivery medium is taken into consideration in this phase. While SME has to deliberate over the learning styles, cognitive level and interactive multimedia for the learning content, it is the pedagogic issue that is of concern, not the technological or delivery aspects. The entire content structure need not be formulated here, only the key concepts and their associated teaching methods.

Training Support is to ensure that the learners get the most out of training materials. Depending on the nature of the teaching tasks and the type of learners, different supports such as sequencing, pacing, scaffolding, complexity, and abstraction level will be employed.


The transfer of learning is perhaps the most important aspect of learning. Transfer of learning is the application of skills and knowledge learned in one context to another context (Cormier & Hagman, 1987). The transfer of learning is important as the learning context is often different from the context of application. Hence, the goal of learning is never accomplished unless transfer occurs. Successful transfer of learning requires that training content be relevant to the task, that the learner must learn the training content, and that the learner must be motivated.

The triggering of knowledge synthesis usually lies in the activation and application of the newly acquired knowledge. Such a knowledge transfer can occur in three ways: (1) from prior knowledge and skills to new learning, (2) from new knowledge and skills to new learning situations (learning now preparing for later learning), and (3) from new knowledge and skills to applications in work and daily life (learning for practice) (Simons, 1990). An example of category (1) transfer is a student from China who reads a document in English but uses the knowledge and skills from his native language (Chinese) to interpret the contents. An example of category (2) transfer is a student who is learning the concept of differential equation but knows that he has to master the concept of stability later (the concept of differential equation is an essential pre-requisite to the learning of the concept of stability). An example of category (3) transfer is a student from China who learns to speak English in the lesson, knowing that he has to perform it in real-life context when he speaks to his professors. The transfer of knowledge can also be classified under near or far transfer. In near transfer there is a close connection between the learning situation (or the prior knowledge) and the application (or the new learning situation). In far transfer the distance between prior knowledge or learning and application (or the second learning situation) is much greater (see Mayer & Greeno, 1972). These modes of knowledge transfer will be catered for at the macro-level of the instructional strategies.

In general, in order to demonstrate that learning has taken place, practice and assessment are included in the transfer of learning. However, it is important not to confuse practice with assessment. Learners at the practice stage are still learning; they are not being assessed. There are many different learning strategies for demonstrating understanding of the course ranging from requiring the learners to compare, classify, induce, deduce, analyze, construct or to make abstraction of the new acquired knowledge. Typical activities include open-ended questions, summaries, research, quizzes, and assignments.

While both practice and assessment are classified under the transfer of learning, the assessment of learning forms the evaluation portion of the learning event and must be based on a well devised methodology to determine if the e-learning event has been successful and learning has taken place. If the learners did not achieve the required understanding of the subject matter, sufficient scaffolding should be incorporated. Beyond the application consortium of practice and assessment is the higher level of understanding: remediation and enhancement.

Remediation is the application of the newly acquired knowledge in an entirely new situation. This gives the learners an opportunity to transfer what they have learned to other situations and use it in different ways. Collaborative learning is one good method to ensure that learners apply what they have learned to new situations. Lastly, the enhancement aspect of application of learning can bring learners to another cognitive level. It introduces ‘post-requisites’ concepts and broadens the scope of understanding.


Transformation is the final phase that assesses the change in one’s approach that is brought through by the training and transfer. It sets the accountability of the training process and is also the channel through which the learning content is enhanced and revised by appropriate reviews and feedbacks. Feedback and comments may be in the form of electronic surveys or direct feedback from the teachers or learners.

Transformation differs from transfer in the sense that transfer of knowledge is more of an application of the knowledge but transformation is set at a higher level as it looks at the behavioral change that is brought about by the new training.

Context-Dependent Classification of Learning Events (macro-level)

The micro-level of instructional strategy prescribes four essential activities that must be performed. However, at the macro-level, different strategies should be employed according to the context-dependent learning events involved. For example, when courses to be taught require only straight-forward knowledge impartation (i.e. rote learning where memorization is a key necessity for learning), the teaching strategy is usually centered on the use of the storage-retrieval of the knowledge process. However, for courses that teach problem solving, this does not usually involve the gathering of new knowledge but may involve teaching strategies that help the student in the reorganization of their cognitive data or remembering how to deduce or apply knowledge to achieve required solutions.

Hence, different sets of guidelines should be provided for the different classifications of the learning events. These learning events are classified based on their ability to promote the transfer of knowledge. While the learning events are set in various settings, it is important that all these learning events must start from the learner’s perspective (Simons, 1999). The learning events also take into account the target audience (conducted under the Analysis Phase: Learner Profile Analysis) by adopting the research findings from Simons’ Transfer of Learning (Simons, 1999). i.e. for young students, design learning materials so that students apply their prior knowledge more actively, overcome some of their pre-conceptions and learn on their own (see scaffolding section); for adults, design the learning materials through embedding a learning-to-learn approach into their regular training so that they learn how to transfer their knowledge and skills.

With the abovementioned research findings in mind, the learning events can be classified under two main categories: educational learning events (What-is learning) and performance learning events (How-to learning).

Educational Learning Events

Educational learning events are typically theoretical in nature and cover all fundamental learning theories and concepts such as facts, laws and principles. They must be delivered at the outset of the lesson and form a bulk portion of the learner’s initial academic learning phase. It is characterized typically by knowledge impartation (from teacher) – cognitive awareness (student) – and cognitive reorganization (student).

1.      Factual Learning

Factual learning events are characterized by learning materials that are presented as a hierarchy of topics. One topic is set as the main topic and all the other topics are termed as the sub-topics. These sub-topics are either pre- or post-requisites concepts of the main topic and must bring the learner towards comprehending the main topic. Learning is structured, logically and usually sequenced in a linear fashion where there is an explicit assignment of topics as the entrance and termination learning points. Learning always proceeds from the known to the unknown and is directed by the teacher. It involves directing the student attention towards specific learning (main topic) in a highly structured learning environment (main topic – sub topics interlinkage). The topics and contents are usually broken down into small modules, taught and assessed individually through the usage of explanation, demonstration and practice. The attention of students is important and listening and observation is the key to success in this phase.

2.      Conceptual Learning

Conceptual learning events are characterized by learning materials that can be presented as verbal, written summary, outline of a topic or visually as a set of concept maps. It can exist as a new concept or tied to a factual learning concept (either at the beginning of the unit, or module).

While conceptual learning is also centered on a main topic, the main learning objective is not to master the main topic but to present the big picture that houses the main topic. Gaining an overview of how the new concept is related to other concepts is another form of learning. Besides mastering the fundamental theories underlying a particular concept, the ability to link and synthesize new knowledge into one’s existing cognitive structure is another complex learning process that requires supervision. In addition, connecting new ideas to information students already understand makes it easier to retain.

The topics that are presented in the map need not be pre- or post-requisites concepts of the main topic. Instead, these topics can be stand-alone main topics by themselves that aim to portray the association between themselves and the main topic.

Learning in conceptual learning events is usually unstructured in the sense that the learners are allowed to explore relevant information in a manner that is comfortable for them. This form of learning is something like learning from the Web where learners can follow any relevant keywords or concepts to look up a topic. Conceptual learning allows the learners to explore any concept quickly and easily and to also see how this topic is related to other concepts. Conceptual learning typically distills difficult or complex concepts through the use of a simpler definition or example before showing how such a concept relates to other information. It emphasizes the learning process of ‘cognitive reorganization’ to make a concept meaningful.

3.      Supervised Learning

Supervised learning events are characterized by a substantial amount of teacher/agent help. In this kind of learning event, the learners undertake various tasks with the help of a mentor. Help can take the form of direction intervention to scaffolding to learning hints.

While complex tasks form the bulk of supervised learning events, supervised learning events need not be fully characterized by the nature of complexity. Tasks/theories that are ambiguous, subjective or open-ended in nature can also benefit from having a mentor’s supervision. The structure of supervised learning events will vary depending on the type and intensity of supervision being employed.

It is important to note that this type of learning event should only be used when needed, so as not to make the learners over reliant on the mentors’ help.

Performance Learning Events

The performance learning events, in contrast to educational learning events, take a more practical approach to learning and typically cover handy skills that are required to perform specific tasks. It moves from the concept of the learner as a student to one of the learner as a professional who needs to gain and apply the knowledge so as to contribute to his field. Such learning modes usually rely on authentic and diverse real life problem-based examples. It focuses on helping the students to link and interconnect their learning. Opportunities are provided by such events to break away from the compartmentalization of knowledge and skills and to help students to construct a better network of knowledge and skills. Furthermore, such learning events are an authentic form of learning that prepares students for the increasing demands of the workplace (Kwok & Tan, 2004).

Performance learning events, when used in a corporate context, is like on-demand training (the latest trend in e-learning). Companies using e-learning technologies have found that long lectures do not cut it online. Short, targeted learning segments with simulation or how-to scenarios let employees take classes when they have time or when they need the help. It is far less disruptive than taking week-long seminars. When the learning events are housed in an academic context, it is similar to project-based learning which is action-oriented and focuses on doing something rather than learning about something (Moursund, 1999). However, project-based learning while important has many practical issues (i.e. too much work to prepare, difficult to assess, learning outcomes undetermined, difficult to assess if learning takes place, no in-process feedback, cannot monitor and facilitate progress, etc.) that cause great difficulties in realizing the goals of project-based learning (Kwok & Tan, 2004). Hence, we feel that the coverage of project-based learning is too broad and undefined. We advocated that through the proper classification of such project-based learning into performance learning events, we can divide and simplify the complex cognitive and meta-cognitive process while maintaining the learning outcome. Also, through the usage of computing resources, many taxing (preparation works, grading of reports, progress tracking and monitoring of students) and ambiguous tasks (assessment criteria, learning outcome formulation) can be programmed.

1.      Guideline

Guideline learning events are characterized by learning events that are generally more process and procedure oriented. It typically teaches a flow of events that describe how something works. This set of guidelines is applicable in all scenarios and minimum or no interpretation on the part of the learner is required. Although the tasks undertaken are the same, learners have to been trained to understand what and why such actions are undertaken and how to apply troubleshooting techniques.

The most difficult aspect of such learning events is to generate interest in the learner because such learning events are typically less intellectually stimulating.

2.      Reference

A reference learning event is one that is similar to the guideline learning event. However, as opposed to the guideline learning event where the process or procedure can be replicated in all situations, a reference learning event is one that requires sound judgment on the part of the learner. While a reference learning event contains the necessary information on a particular problem domain, some discretion must be exercised when devising a solution to the problem.

3.      Troubleshooting

A troubleshooting learning event is the most common type of informal learning where the learning event consists of a set of questions representing common problems. Instead of presenting the theory underlying the problems, the set of possible actions to the problem is presented in a form of a decision matrix. The possible scenario that will occur as a result of the action selection will be presented. From the set of actions taken, the learner is indirectly revealing his understanding of the problem. Thus, this type of learning event is an effective way of identifying the learner’s mistakes and wrong understanding about certain concepts.

Scaffolding Framework

Scaffolding is touted as one effective instructional means to escalate one’s understanding from a novice viewpoint to that of an expert. Scaffolding instruction as a teaching strategy originates from Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and his concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The zone of proximal development is the Vygotskian concept that defines development as the space between the child’s level of independent performance and the child’s level of maximally assisted performance (Vygotsky, 1978; Bodrova & Leong, 1996). This concept of ZPD was later broadened by contemporary Vygotskian scholars to serve as a general metaphor for human development in a sociocultural context (e.g. Newman & Holzman, 1993).

The term “scaffolding” was coined by Burner (Wood, Burner & Ross, 1976) to specify the types of assistances that make it possible for learners to function at higher level of their zones of proximal development. The term is often used to describe how an expert can facilitate the learner’s transition from assisted to independent performance (Berk & Winsler, 1995; Meyer, 1993). With adequate support, this novice to expert transformation (Quitana, 2004) can enable the student to create meaningful inferences from seemingly unrelated raw data. Following the guidance of the more knowledgeable expert, the student will become competent with academic tasks that are initially beyond their ability (Palincsar, 1998; Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). The more knowledgeable expert can also successfully diagnose the complex needs of students at various stages of the intended learning and employ proper instructional strategies adaptively to their progress (Tabak, 2004).

Scaffolding differs from other types of instructional strategies through the key characteristics of fading and student support.

Fading refers to the gradual reduction of support by the more knowledgeable agent in successful tutor-tutee (Wood et al., 1976), mother-child (Wertsch & Stone, 1985), teacher-student (Fleer, 1992; Flick, 2000) or expert-apprentice relationships (Brown et al., 1989). Scaffolding-minded learning meddling can incorporate fading either as an implicit part of student’s learning or as an explicit part of an active intervention strategy. While fading is an important aspect of scaffolding, the detailed mechanisms of fading in the scaffolding framework are not clearly understood (Stone, 1998).

Besides the basic teaching advantages that scaffolding brings, the unique characteristics of e-learning requires scaffolding teaching strategy to be selected as one essential component of e-learning pedagogy because of the following reasons:

  1. Scaffolding can provide individualized support based on the learner’s ZPD (Chang, Sung & Chen, 2002). Individualized or personalized support is of utmost importance to e-learning and has been documented in our previous works on learning personalization and its importance (Teo & Gay, 2004a; 2005a; 2005b).

  2. The scaffolds enable the facilitation of a student’s ability to build upon prior knowledge and to internalize new information (Van Der Stuyf, 2002). Prior knowledge activation has been highlighted in the earlier section (4-Ts of a learning session) as one of essential e-learning methods.

  3. Fading can mimic the process of teacher-student interactivity. This is important because in traditional learning environment, the teacher is in constant communication with the students and thus, is sensitive to the progress of individual student. Hence, the teacher, equipped with ample knowledge of the student, can select the most effective fading mechanism for guiding different students to complete complex reasoning tasks. However, when learning is housed in an e-learning context, the luxury of face-to-face communication and real-time teacher-student assessment is no longer available. In the absence of teacher-student interactivity, it is important to address complex reasoning tasks early and incorporate this into the instructional design.

  4. The scaffolds that usually consist of models, cues, prompts, hints, partial solutions, think-aloud modeling, and direct instruction (Hartman, 2002) can be easily programmed and delivered over the network.

  5. Noting Vygotsky’s view that learner does not learn in isolation (in fact, learning is strongly influenced by social interactions which take place in meaningful context) and the ironic fact that the ‘distance aspect’ of e-learning while transcending the boundaries of traditional learning, has minimized (or even eliminated) social interaction, scaffolded instructions, by its nature, can be designed to overcome this gap (Ngeow & Yoon, 2001).

  6. Scaffolding inherent disadvantages (i.e. time consuming to develop supports and scaffolded lessons to meet the needs of individual, most teachers not properly trained to implement scaffolding instructions, most teachers are not trained or comfortable to give up some of their control and allow the students to make errors and traditional teacher’s education does not teach scaffolding as a teaching strategy) as pointed out in (Van Der Stuyf, 2002) can be easily solved through the usage of e-learning technology. For example, once characteristic of e-learning material is reusability. The scaffolds can be developed once and reused or repurposed many times. Hence, the scaffolding development process can no longer be considered time–consuming as the return in investment (ROI) is manifold. Also, the teacher’s inexperience and reluctance to build scaffolds can be minimized or even solved through the semi-automation of the development process and the incorporation of a scaffolding guide.

Hence, in view of the numerous advantages that scaffolding can bring to e-learning, this research proposes an instructional design approach to investigate a fading approach that enables the curricular materials to fade scaffolds systematically based on the diagnosis of student progress.

Scaffolding Principles:

Scaffolding principles that originate from (McKenzie, 1999) are modified to suit the e-learning context. Also, some activities and tasks proposed by (Ellis et al., no date) have been incorporated into the scaffolding framework.

§         Begin with what the students can do

It is important to start the course with something that the learner can associate with. Activation of one’s prior knowledge is one excellent introduction to the lesson as it allows the learner to be aware of his strengths and to feel good about what he can achieve without help.

§         Clarify learners’ current knowledge point

This invites learners to clarify where they are in terms of new concepts they desire to master. This is used in combination with the “begin with what the students can do” principle to set the stage for scaffolding.

§         Begin with small, simple granular tasks

Small, simple granular tasks should be used at the beginning of the course. Although the learner needs challenging work in order to learn, frustration and loss of focus will set in when s/he experiences a constant cycle of failure. Hence, it is important for the learner to experience constant success and a sense of fulfillment and confidence before s/he embarks on larger, more complex and challenging tasks. As the learners’ mastery increased, the granularity and complexity of the tasks should increase progressively.

§         Frequent Assessment

It is important to know when is the time to stop. Scaffolding is important to help the learner perform certain tasks but too much might impede learning and create over-reliance. In a traditional learning environment, the teachers needs to watch for clues from the student that show when and how much teacher’s assistance is needed. In the context of e-learning, frequent assessment of the learner’s progress is used in place of the teacher’s judgment. Scaffolding support needs to be removed gradually as the learner demonstrates mastery. Support will be totally removed when the learner is able to perform the tasks independently.

§         Engagement of student with his learning

The learner will become more motivated and invested in the learning progress when he is able to dictate and plan his instructional goals and learning route. To help the learner monitor his own progress, the teacher must assign constant checkpoint and guidelines such that the system can automatically summarize the learner’s progress and explicitly note and record behaviors that contributed to the learner’s success or failure.

§         Use scaffolding only when appropriate

Not all tasks, be it complex or large, need to be scaffolded. Llearners learn differently, hence, not all the learners need scaffolding. A survey of learning needs and preferences should be conducted.

§         Practice generating more than one possible prompt

The first prompt or hint that the learner received may fail. Therefore, more than one prompt or hint using different methods or cues is needed to generate the appropriate response. Typical tailored assistance includes cueing, prompting, questioning, modeling, explicit message box, mandatory discussion and request clarification. The teacher must devise teaching methods and plans to ‘advise’ the agent when to use them  and how to adjust them to meet the learner’s needs.

Justification of Scaffolding Assessment Level Category:

  1. Support /Coverage

This is inline with the scaffolding principles of fading.

  1. Direction (Grouping)

Grouping of learners as the scaffolds reduce is of utmost importance as an essential element of scaffolding is that the participants must be in social interaction whereby they negotiate or compromise by constantly striving for a shared view of the situation (Berk & Winsler, 1995). Following the use of teacher provided scaffolds (level 1), level 2 introduces the usage of grouping to allow the students to ask and answer questions. In this type of learning environment, students help students in a small group setting but still have some teacher assistance. This is an essential step in the process of decreasing the scaffolds provided by the teacher and is needed by the students (Hartman, 2002). Lastly, level 3 removes the group / peer support to let the student assumes full control and the problem-solving capabilities, knowledge and responsibility can be said to be transferred from the teacher to the self (Berk & Winsler, 1995).

  1. Granularity

Supply learners with appropriate learning materials. In starting small, teachers relate how ‘calling it as they see it’ was very effective (Kearn, 2000).

Table 6
Scaffolding Framework





Curriculum Considerations

1.  Learning Curriculum Goals

2.  Context

The teacher must first identify the curriculum goals and select the context in which the learning concept resides. S/He must be knowledgeable of the content and be sensitive to the learners (e.g. aware of the learners’ background knowledge and misconceptions) to determine if they are making progress.

Learner Considerations

1.    Needs Analysis

2.    Knowledge Gap Analysis

i.   Identify the students’ current knowledge point

ii.  Identify the students’ target knowledge point

iii.Identify the necessary teaching materials to move the learner from his current knowledge point to the target knowledge point


The teachers must identify the learners’ needs in order to effectively plan the teaching routes and methods. This is an essential step to cater to the learner-centric aspects of e-learning. Learner consideration is an important element in the pre-engagement process that links the students with the curriculum. The pre-engagement process aims to establish a shared goal between the teachers and the students so that appropriate teaching plans can be selected to suit the students. It is through this shared goal between the teacher and the student that the student will become more motivated and invested in the learning process (and hence reduce the drop-out rates).

The process of needs analysis aims to conceptualize the learner’s goals and their immediate learning needs. Ideally, this process assumes that the profile of the learner is available at curriculum design time and the teacher is able to work with the student to plan the instructional goals and materials. However, in the context of e-learning, the distance aspect and the learning on the fly mentality makes the needs analysis difficult or even impossible. Even with the advancement of the networking technology, the exact profile of the learners who are going to take this course can never be established. Hence, this needs analysis is actually conducted based on the nature of the course offered and the feedbacks that are received based on similar courses. For example, if a course on “Web Service” is to be designed, the needs analysis will be centered on the context whereby such courses will be held in (i.e. info-communication context audience). Based on similar courses held in that domain (i.e. software engineering), the learners’ profile and their feedbacks will be analyzed to identify and estimate the learning needs for that particular group of learners.

Once learning needs are identified, the teacher must assess the knowledge gap. The gap analysis has three phases. Phase one identifies the learner’s current knowledge point. Without a profile of the ‘real’ learner, this phase relies on the teacher’s past experience when conducting such courses. S/he will have to assess what the learner is currently able to do without help. Basically, the pre-requisites are a good indication of the learners’ current ability and can be used an effective starting point. Next, the teacher will identify the desired performance of the students (that is, the goal of the student which is identified in step 1). Lastly, the teacher will analyze what is to be achieved to move the learner from the current knowledge point to his desired knowledge point. This analysis will form the core of the next step.

Scaffolding Design

1.  Scaffolding Path

2.  Fading Design Tasks

3.  Scaffolding level assessment

The scaffolding path reestablishes the starting and the finishing point of the scaffolding design. The starting point is the learners’ current knowledge point and the finishing point is the learners’ target knowledge point. The fading design will be classified into three stages: First, the teacher does it, second, the group or peer does it, and then lastly, the learner does it. (See scaffolding assessment level table for details)

Stage I: Teacher-directed learning

This stage is the teacher-directed phase where the level of support used is the greatest. Most of the learning content will be covered in details and explicit links to concepts and references will be provided. Learning process is step-though and the teacher will model how to perform entirely new or difficult tasks.

Stage II: Group / Peer-directed learning

This stage is the group / peer-directed phase where level of support is reduced. Only about half of the major learning concepts will be covered in details as this phase relies on induced inference. This is semi-guided learning in the sense that help will not be as spontaneous as in stage I and teacher support will be asynchronous. However, there will be aids and implicit hints to new or difficult concepts and tasks to simulate the cooperation between the teacher and learner to perform the tasks together.

Stage III: Learner-directed learning

This stage is the learner-directed phase where level of support is negligible. That is, the learner is no longer dependent on the teacher’s extrinsic signals to begin or complete a task. Only key learning concepts will be covered in details as this stage emphasizes on intellectual prediction, concept synthesis and reflection. While this is an independent practice stage where the individual learner can demonstrate their task mastery, this is still practice and not assessment. Hence, necessary aids will be provided if the learner needs it.

Table 7
Scaffolding Assessment Level


Level 1

Level 2

Level 3


Full support

Moderate support

Minimal support






> 70% Major Concepts

40~70% Major Concepts

< 40 % Major Concepts


Small (Problem-based)

Moderate (Case-based)

Large (Scenario-based)


Frequent (weekly)

Less Frequent (monthly)

Minimal (quarterly)



1. Mandatory group feedback

2. Mandatory peer feedback

3. Discussion boards

4. Forums

5. Emails


1. Mandatory peer feedback

2. Discussion boards

3. Forums

4. Emails



1. Discussion boards

2. Forums

3. Emails

Tutor’s Aid



1. Q&A sessions

2. Discussion boards

3. Forums

4. Emails



1. Discussion boards

2. Forums

3. Emails



1. Emails

Task Support

1.    Provide explicit links to concepts

2.    All references provided

3.    Guided learning

4.    Step through process

1.  Induce inference building

2.  Implicit hints to relevant concepts

3.  Semi-guided learning


1. Intellectual Prediction

2. Concept reflection

3. Concept synthesis



In this paper, a practical, novel content development methodology for crafting and assembling of e-learning content is presented. In contrast to most e-learning content assembling systems that is centered on the ‘technical aspects’ (delivery and presentation of learning resources) and treats students as the object of curriculum implementation, the proposed methodology is based on the science of teaching to incorporate the correct use of teaching strategies. Through incorporation of such pedagogy considerations early in the content design, it is advocated that such enhanced content should have a positive effect on the learner’s motivation and learning performance.

Existing research work is extending content development methodology to include the concept of metacognition. The term metacognition refers to a body of knowledge that reflects on knowledge itself. It’s concept of creating awareness of mental processes and strategies is similar to the proposed prior knowledge activation (as discussed under the training aspect of the 4-Ts). However, initial research shows that the concept of metacognition is able to provide new insights into the domain of cognitive functioning and has caused researchers’ and academics’ conceptualization of pedagogy to changed in tandem to their understanding of cognition and meta-cognition (Watkins and Mortimore; 1999). Hence, research into its relevancy and possible inclusion to the field of e-learning will be conducted.


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About the Authors

Chao Boon Teo is a Ph.D candidate in Information Communication Institute of Singapore (ICIS) at School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Nanyang Technological University. He received the B.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore in 2003. His present research interests are centered on distance learning technologies and practices, e-learning, pedagogical issues in e-learning and personalized learning. Currently he has 8 publications in conference proceedings and Journals.

Correspondence should be sent to Teo Chao Boon, InfoComm Research Lab, ICIS, EEE, Nanyang Technological University, Blk S2.1, Level B4-03, S2.1-B4-03, Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798, and email:

Agnes Chang Shook Cheong

Agnes Chang Shook Cheong (BSc, MEd Univ. of Singapore, PhD Macquarie University) is an Associate Professor with the Psychological Studies Academic Group at the National Institute of Education. She taught science at St. Joseph's Institution before joining the then Institute of Education. Her current research interests include metacognition, thinking skills, motivation and bilingualism. She is currently the Vice-President of the Educational Research Association, EXCO member of the Singapore Centre for Teaching Thinking, Editorial Consultant of the Asia Pacific Education Researcher, Deputy Organising Chairman of the 25th International Congress of Applied Psychology (in 2002) and Asian Consultant to the Council for Basic Education (based in Washington DC).

Shook Cheong Agnes Chang, Associate Professor
Psychological Studies Academic Group
National Institute of Education (NIE)
Nanyang Technological University


Robert Gay

Professor Robert Gay obtained his PhD in Electronics Engineering from the University of Sheffield in 1970. Since 1982 he has been a Professor at Nanyang Technological University. He was also the Research Director of Gintic Institute of Manufacturing Technology from 1989 to 1999. From 2000 to 2003, he was Director of the ASP Centre and from 2003 to 2006 he was Director of the Managed Computing Competency Centre (MC3). MC3 was successfully spun off, as a business unit, to a publicly listed company in February.

His current academic interests are: Web Services, Grid Technology Applications, Knowledge Based Systems, E-learning and Integrated Manufacturing Systems and Services. He authored more than 150 conference proceedings and Journals, is an executive council member of the Singapore Computer Society and a fellow of the Institute of Engineers of Singapore. He was awarded the Grouped Scholarship in Engineering and Metallurgy from the University of Sheffield from 1967 to 1970 and was also a key member of the LEAD (Leadership and Excellence in the Application and Development of Computer Integrated Manufacturing Curriculum) Award winning team, awarded by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, USA in 1992.

Robert Gay Kheng Leng, Professor and
Director, IT Research Infrastructure
Information Communication Institute of Singapore
School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Nanyang Technological University


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