Archives for June 2004

Instructional Design in Religious Education

The common emphasis on lower-level objectives is certainly a common fact within religious education contexts. From my professional experiences within this field, I often see the “sage on the stage” mentality permeate instructional contexts, as the typical “Sunday school” approach has remained stagnant in regards to instructional change over the past several decades.

The religious education field has been built upon a very traditional approach to instruction and is based strongly on a strong cognitive view of learning. Authorities would support the description of the cognitive domain of learning proposed by Reigeluth and Moore (Reigeluth & Moore, 1999) that states, “Cognitive education is composed of the set of instructional methods that assist students in learning knowledge to be recalled or recognized” (p.52). Teachers see their duty to teach God’s word to children from the Bible in a manner that children can grasp and apply to their lives. Because these teachers often times are teaching a theological concept as opposed to a skill, they may tend to only incorporate learning activities at the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (Reigeluth & Moore, 1999). Most of the laity that teach weekly religious education courses do not have immense amounts of preparatory time nor do they have much extra time in the weekly class to engage in many desirable constructivist activities.

I do agree with the position stated that instructional designers should seek to develop higher-order objectives for their instructional projects. No matter the topic that is being taught, I believe it is advantageous to help learners evaluate, apply, and synthesize their learning into applicable contexts. In the religious education setting, I believe it is far more important to help a child discover why God’s principles are true and how they can be applied to his or her life rather than simple teaching that “thus saith the Lord.” The struggle within the religious education context is that there is a measure of faith that must be incorporated into the learning environment. I’m working at slowly changing the instructional mindset of the volunteer teachers in my church and helping them to see the value of incorporating constructivist learning opportunities into their classes.

Reference:

Reigeluth, C. M., & Moore, J. (1999). Cognitive education and the cognitive domain. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: a new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. II). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Accessibility in e-learning

Dr. Norm Coombs’ presentation on Good Distance Learning Principles describes EASI’s (National Center for Accessible e-learning) concern that students and professionals with disabilities have the same right to access information technology. Dr. Coombs has been a long-time leader in the field of distance education and accessibility issues. He is visually impaired and presents a very enlightening presentation regarding the importance of accessibility issues in e-learning at:

http://www.easi.cc/media/csundl.htm

I found several of Coombs’ points to apply directly to the staff development efforts that I am involved with. First of all, the idea that, “distance learning is not always at a distance” (Coombs, n.d.). Through the needs analysis that I conducted, I found that my volunteers, even while they all live within a fifteen minute drive from the church, would rather have the availability of participating in learning without having to travel to another location, no matter how short the distance may be. The globalization of our society as a whole I believe has a lot to due with this, as people enjoy the conveniences of everything from banking to ordering a pizza, all from the comfort of their home. As I seek to develop accessible staff development opportunities for my volunteers, the online format has proven to be an advantageous option for many adults who serve in our ministries.

As I continue to study successful models of distance education, I have become a firm supporter of Coombs’ statement that, “I urge all distance learning teachers not to try to repeat and replicate what you do in the classroom” (Coombs, n.d.). Distance learning models can provide revolutionary means by which constructivist methodologies can be utilized. This engaging learning environments can far surpass the quality of a traditional lecture-based teaching. I must admit that currently our volunteer development classes have been primarily instructivist in nature, despite my attempts to add collaborative activities to the short workshop times. I look forward to experimenting with much more collaborative environments possible via the online format.

One final key which I really identified with was the necessity for online instructors to be accessible and approachable. While these are attributes that any instructor should seek to develop, I believe they are increasingly important for online instructors. As Coomb’s mentions, a tendency exists for new online learners to feel detached from the learning environment. Online teachers must see themselves as facilitators, or “hosts” as Coombs’ mentions, and be willing to take extra steps in remaining visible and accessible within the online classroom. A simple email can make a big difference in communicating to a learner that s/he is important.

Distance learning certainly has many means of applicability, whether it be to facilitate learning across the street or around the world. As online instructional designers we should not limit our viewpoint of online instruction to such huge contexts that we overlook the myriad of more localized ones which are just as important.

– Jason

Success factors for online learners

The National Center for Online Learning Research publishes the Journal of Interactive Online Learning as a resource online educators and instructional designers with the purpose of, “providing a venue for manuscripts, critical essays, and reviews that encompass disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives in regards to issues related to higher-level learning outcomes” (“About JIOL,” 2004). This peer-reviewed journal aims to not only disseminate timely research pertaining to interactive online education but also to deepen the level of knowledge available regarding innovations and application of online education.

Smith and Winking-Diaz refer to success factors for online learners in their article entitled, “Increasing Students’ Interactivity in an Online Course”. They refer to the necessity for online learners to understand the online learning processes in order for them to be successful (Smith & Winking-Diaz, 2004). The relatively high attrition rates in online learning settings can be attributed to unclear perceptions of online methodology and course requirements. They also stress for learners to have possess a level of self-motivation and to be willing to interact with the content, learners, and instructor (Smith & Winking-Diaz, 2004). The rich collaborative environment is one which many online learners do not initially expect or are prepared for.

As I reflect on my own online learning experiences, I find myself whole-heartedly agreeing with Smith and Winking-Diaz. I’ve seen many learners through my online master’s and now doctoral degree coursework initially opt for the online mode of learning simply because they thought it would be an easy way to complete a course. What these learners have found that to the contrary of that idea, the online format is a much more engaging, intense, and rich format of learning than any traditionalistic means of learning. I’ve seen that as learners experience the benefits of the online format for themselves, these preconceived notions of “easy learning” will be replaced with the concept of “meaningful learning”.

– Jason

References:

About JIOL. (2004) Retrieved April 28, 2004 from, http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/about.html

Smith, M. C., & Winking-Diaz, A. (2004) Increasing students’ interactivity in an online course. Retrieved April 28, 2004 from, http://www.ncolr.org/jiol/archives/2004/winter/03/index.html

Specificity before starting to designing instruction

The benefits of such specificity prior to beginning a project are obvious, such as: defined processes, clarified needs, rationale for project steps, etc. Now that I understand the formalized processes of these analyses, what I find interesting is that I have subconsciously performed such analyses all along. As I now possess an understanding of the clarified steps to these analyses, I can present to administration or staff a clearly defined rationale for such project development.

Task analyses may be sometimes viewed as constrictive of the development process or may hinder the speed at which development may take place. Supporters of such arguments fail to see that the extra planning efforts at the beginning of the project should actually advance development by eliminating wasteful spending of resources or energy. To any skeptical client of supervisor, I would stress that the initial analyses will ultimately foster a more quality and cost effective development process.

– Jason

IBSTPI Competencies for Instructional Design

The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction has developed a set of standard competencies for those involved in instructional design at:

http://www.ibstpi.org/id_competencies.htm