Louise's eLearning Blog

Posts Tagged ‘designing

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

While checking how long a document I had written was I stumbled upon another great feature of Google Docs that can help identify when a document may not be as accessible as it could be.

The Word Count (Tools: Word Count) function not only shows the number of words and characters in the document it also includes information / statistics from a selection of different readability scales.

Google Docs Word Count Screen

The document the screen grab is from is one of my own blog posts, which would not be very accessible for readers with lower literacy levels – but where should individuals be aiming? Should the content sometimes dictate the audience and their ‘assumed’ ability? Do I naturally write at the level my own education has reached – and is that therefore a problem if I need my documents to be easily digestible by a variety of people?

Flesch–Kincaid readability test – From Wikipedia

Scores can be interpreted as shown in the table below.*

Score Notes
90.0–100.0 easily understandable by an average 11-year-old student
60.0–70.0 easily understandable by 13- to 15-year-old students
0.0–30.0 best understood by university graduates

Reader’s Digest magazine has a readability index of about 65, Time magazine scores about 52, an average year 7 student’s (eleven years old) written assignment has a readability test of 60-70 (and a reading grade level of 6-7) and the Harvard Law Review has a general readability score in the low 30s. The highest (easiest) readability score possible is around 120 (e.g. every sentence consisting of only two one-syllable words); there is no theoretical lower bound on the score

* The Flesch Reading Ease Readability Formula

Therefore by using the numbers proactively it is possible to make a document more readable. For example by shortening sentences and using simpler terminology, readers with a lower reading age will find the document more accessible to them.

So next time you are creating a document why not see how readable it is – even if you don’t need to know how many words it has got!

I have just discovered a cute little tip for using Google Docs to create accessible learning resources!

Having collaborated with a colleague to create a how-to sheet, for a tutor wanting to know how to add a Hot Potatoes quiz with images to our VLE (Moodle), we discovered a good use for the alternative types of downloadable files.

Initially we were just going to save the file (which included screen grabs) as a PDF and upload to Moodle. However on noticing the “HTML (zipped)” option we decided to give that a try. It works really well!

The advantages in relation to accessibility are that the images are named so have alt text in the code generated (whatever they were named as individual files) which results in roll-over pop-ups. Also because it is HTML individuals viewing our VLE from a mobile device or games console for example will still be able to see the content, which would not be the case (generally) with PDF files.

Give it a try!

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