Thursday, October 2, 2014

Open Learning

Recently, I decided that it would be beneficial to both my personal development and my career if I resumed my study of French.  Given my course load as both instructor and student, I could not take a course at the local college as all offerings were face to face.  Because I am aware of open educational resources through my job, I decided to see what could be found on the Internet. 

By Larive & Fleury ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Larive & Fleury Grammaire Francais
I regularly use resources from MIT's Open CourseWare site in the program I teach and am familiar with their methods.  However, there was nothing that fit with what I was looking for.  Further search led me to Carnegie Mellon University and the Open Learning Initiative (OLI).  As a student, I was thrilled! A quick look through the Elementary French I course site showed a clear set of objectives, learning objects, and all the resources I would need. 

Looking at this course now through the eyes of an instructional designer specializing in online course delivery, I can see why I had such a favorable response to the course design.

First impressions are important.  The overview of the course includes pertinent information about the course and what I, as a student, need to do to be successful.  Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2012), discuss the importance of both student readiness and attitude, as well as what is necessary for success.  I felt that the course overview page provided all of this, and did so prior to the learner entering the course.   The actual course site is set out in modules that are easy to understand.

On entering the course, the first activity is testing and configuration of the learner computer and browser to align with course requirements.  While Simonson, et al. (2012) indicate this as a student responsibility, they also warn against the digital divide, a socio-economic barrier to learning.  To OLI’s credit, the technology requirements are basic and allow for a number of open-source applications and operating systems.   

Photo: JLPC / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Slow - School
Following the information on testing and configuration is a “Before You Begin” module with an assignment and practice.  The “Information for user” module contains an introduction, conditions of use, readiness, resources for both students and instructors, French grammar guide, frequently asked questions, and credits.  The design of this linked syllabus is appropriate for a language course: the titles of the each lesson and activity is in French.  The site also has several different methods of navigation which allow the learner to move to specific vocabulary terms, conversations, and other course details.

The activities were what impressed me the most as both student and instructional designer.  The learner is able to listen to and watch contextual conversations by native speakers.   Included are facial expressions and body languages from places where French is spoken.  Practices include drills that help the student get a feel for not only the language, but also cultural idiosyncrasies. The course ware keeps track of activity completion, but also gives the student the ability to reset this activity tracker.

In Developing Online Courses, (Laureate Education (Producer), n.d.) the narrator discusses the process of developing a storyboard and a site map where a course is completely planned out from the introduction to the final exam.  This course demonstrates that level of planning.  The course flow and the inclusion of detailed navigation give this course a very intentional and well-planned feel.  It doesn’t feel like shovel ware  (Simonson, et al., 2012), but rather like it was created specifically to be taught online. 

In my own practice, I try to emulate this level of planning.  If a student can enter a course site and find everything she or he needs in order to succeed, then I feel that I have been successful.


Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Developing online courses [Video file]. Retrieved from
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. Boston, MA: Pearson.

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