Louise's eLearning Blog

Archive for the ‘Context’ Category

The YouTube video ‘Online Student Experience’ (below) shows one of the biggest reasons why it is important to add context to resources within a VLE to provide learners with a valuable learning experience. My post (below the video) details how an online course can develop from a repository to an interactive site with some simple steps.

Encouraging lecturers and students to use online learning environments can be a challenge. With this in mind, I developed a five-step descriptive model (shown below) that provides manageable steps staff should be able to follow to gradually embed online elements into their courses through blending the use of online learning environments with traditional classroom delivery through to entirely online courses. The model was introduced and explored in the professional development section of my first (so far) book chapter (Jakobsen, 2008).

Embedding eLearning in Further Education - vle embedding 5-step model

Five steps to embedding online elements in courses (Jakobsen, 2008)

Step 1 The first step, of use, of an online environment, is the storing of basic course documentation, like the traditional ‘course handbook’ – often just uploaded as existing ‘print based’ files.

Step 2 A ‘learning’ / revision repository is developed with the addition of ‘learning’ resources that students can access at any time. Again it is often the case that these simply comprise of existing handouts / presentation files and links to websites, uploaded / added as a long list!

The first and second steps of use of an online environment are often the only steps evident in many Further Education (FE) organisations. Many teaching staff think that uploading lots of files makes an area where learning will happen, however without contextualisation and relevance they are often not even effective as a revision tool.

Step 3 Differentiation is possible through the third step, when additional materials, links, interactive resources, and quizzes are uploaded to stretch more able learners, and audiovisual, revision, and explanatory materials are provided for individuals who require additional support. Providing options for learning the same subject enables individuals to personalise their own journeys.

Step 4 The fourth step requires lecturers to become “communal architects” (Woods, 2003) as online communities are developed through the use of Web 2.0 social networking tools including blogs, discussion boards, and wikis to stimulate alternative communication, collaborative working, and reflective thinking. Essential to this step is the inclusion of a range of different feedback strategies to support learners and help them move forward.

Step 5 Assessment completes the steps in this model and includes a broad range of processes including gathering information in e-portfolios, providing opportunities for learners to check their own progress, accepting electronic submission of assignments, and testing online.

Final thoughts…The five-step model works effectively in FE colleges where it has been introduced to encourage and support tutors through gradual implementation of online technologies in courses. However the best courses, for effective learning, are developed when the following strategy is followed:

  • Steps 1 and 2 are used as a foundation to provide essential information to learners, however this is better if the content is converted into online web pages rather than static files, as they can be viewed on a wide range of devices and are easier to edit / update.
  • Steps 3, 4 and 5 are used in combination with each other to develop linked activities that build on and expand previous learning.

I would be interested to find out if this model would be received in other organisations as positively as tutors I have worked with have found it. It would also be great to see what readers of this blog think about the order / configuration of the stages in the model. Let me know if you use it within your organisations!


Jakobsen, L. (2008) ‘Embedding eLearning in Further Education’ in Donnelly, R. and McSweeney, F. (eds) Applied E-Learning and E-Teaching in Higher Education, New York: Information Science Reference

Woods, R. (2003). “Communal architect” in online classroom: Integrating cognitive and affective learning for maximum effort in Web-based learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 6(1). Retrieved May 2007 from http://www.westga.edu/%7Edistance/ojdla/spring61/woods61.htm


Why do teachers often struggle with contextualisation when developing their online courses?

Generally good teachers have no problem adding context to their delivery (though some presenters do struggle – see previous post), however many do not understand why it is important to put more than files into a VLE to make it a useful resource for learners.

Online Course showing just links

Online Course: Example showing just links to files and activities

Sukhwant Lota included the recommendation to add context to an online course in his blog ‘5 tips to enhance your Moodle course‘, but this doesn’t address how to do it or how to demonstrate / explain to teachers so they fully understand. Hopefully this post will address those issues.

The first technique I usually use when training teachers how to create and develop their online presence is to get them to talk through the ‘normal’ classroom delivery of a session from a lesson plan. Then I introduce the scenario that there is no tutor in the classroom when the students arrive, just a pile of handouts and resources on a table. Then question:

How would the students know what to do with the bits and pieces on the table?
Would they be able to learn effectively or at all?

This usually results in individuals realising how much and what type of input, linkage and contextualisation, both planned and incidental, a teacher integrates into a session to help shape and ensure the success of a formal learning opportunity. Once teachers realise that, they begin to look at online learning (designing) in the same way as classroom delivery planning. It is usually at this point that teachers acknowledge that they need to replicate / reproduce their own input so that the online learning becomes more relevant and effective.

Key elements that could / should be embedded in and around files, resources and/or activities, to improve the quality / ease of use of a course, include:

  • Section Headings – to clearly separate each element / unit of learning
  • Introductory Statements – to set the scene at the beginning of a section, task or activity
  • Navigation Text – to help individuals find their way around the site before and/or after completing activities / tasks. (i.e. Use the breadcrumb trail to return to this page after completing X.)
  • Instructional Text – to help individuals understand how to complete something (i.e. Watch the video clip and then add your thoughts to the forum.)
  • Motivational Text – to encourage engagement, participation and/or continuation.
  • Feedback Comments – to keep learners on task and motivated. To confirm where participation / engagement has been positive / correct and/or needs additional work. (The different types of feedback that can be used in different situations will be detailed in a separate post)
  • Concluding / Summary Statements – to clarify / recap what has just been covered (or should have been), usually with information that details how this links to the next / future sections, units, activities and/or tasks.

Finally the image below shows how much better an online course looks with the addition of both text that adds context / direction and images that improve the visual appearance of the course.

Online course with additional text and images

Online course: with additional text and images to enhance the course

How important is context to a successful &/or inspirational lecture?

This post is inspired by the variety of seminars, presentations, lessons etc. I have seen.

It is easy, I guess, when you are an expert on a particular subject to deliver content to groups of individuals. However I am beginning to question how difficult some people must find it to extract the key concepts from their subject specialism and link it to prior/alternative knowledge / understanding in order for their message to translate to individuals / groups from other areas / environments. As a result a topic that could be inspiring and/or enlightening could leave the ‘audience’ questioning the relevance (to them) of the speech / lesson, reducing the potential for personal &/or team growth.

Having been part of a variety of different observation (of teaching and learning) teams for over 5 years I have witnessed teachers who know their subject inside out, but are so immersed that they are not able to break down the content, or relate it to learners’ experience and understanding, to enable some students to even begin the learning process. Do they forget how they learnt in the first place or do they simply forget that they started from the same / similar place as many of their students and had to learn to reach the level they have?

Similarly when ‘celebrities’ are booked to deliver an ‘inspirational’ message, often as part of staff development / team building activities, they are usually briefed to ensure their delivery has the desired feel / outcome. However in the same way as some teachers, many get too involved in the detail of the subject and/or include personal opinions, which are in opposition to the ‘expected’ theme of the lecture.

For example: A lecture by an Olympic champion, aimed at promoting team building (as part of a merger process), fails to be as inspiring as it could be when too much time is spent describing the logistics of ‘the race’ and includes comments which show that he thinks some people shouldn’t have equal right to getting medals.
Positives that should have been exploited / emphasised throughout include goal setting and explaining why each member of a team having their own strengths / value results in organisational development.
It is interesting to see an Olympian enthusing about winning but if his speech is about how his targets & goals led to the Olympic games, the audience need to know what their ‘Olympics’ are – context needs adding so that they understand what are they working towards, to ensure that they see the value / relevance in setting targets & working towards goals for the good of the organisation as well as themselves.

In this particular instance it could have been more inspiring to have a ‘speech’ from a group of ‘local celebrities’ (like the Leeds Rhinos Rugby League team) who could have shown how and why team building/working is important through their own ‘many’ achievements, some of which relate directly to the merits of education.

This ‘mixed message’ can lead some members of the audience to question the validity and value of the session / training, which can be extremely negative for individuals and impact on organisational development.

In contrast: When a teacher / speaker has really grasped the concept of contextualising, often splitting down the content into smaller ‘pieces’, a subject comes alive and even individuals from diverse backgrounds are able to gain something from the message being delivered – from the (abstract) ideas integrated throughout the information being delivered.

Surely inspiring and enthusing individuals / groups, by contextualising content and adding relevance, is what anyone ‘delivering’ should be striving to achieve?


Previous Posts