• Love to Learn. Online.

    Love to Learn. Online.

In previous posts, I talked about learning as a process, the elements of the learning process, and our formula for online student engagement. Particularly student engagement (or the lack thereof) as measured by completion rates is often seen as key metric. And to some extent this makes sense. If you are disengaged you won’t learn. But engagement is just the necessary condition for learning. It is what learners do while they are engaged that determines the actual outcome of learning. Therefore, including all three elements of learning in the learning process is the sufficient condition for effective online learning.

High-quality content and storytelling ensure engagement. Active and social learning ensure that learners gain a comprehensive and deep understanding. An understanding that goes beyond the ability to regurgitate facts and answer basic questions.

How do we know this? Because instructional designs that include all three elements (content, context and community) cover all steps of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (2001 revised edition, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives was originally published in 1956). Ok, let me put this in normal words and less jargon.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Explained

The reason why fun, active, and social learning is effective is that different activities build on each other. These learning activities progressively lead the learner to a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter at hand. At first, after watching a video or reading a text, learners know that a given fact, phenomenon or theory exists. They may also understand it well enough to answer basic questions about it.

But only when they take this new knowledge and apply it in a different context – for example by working on a case study – do they gain a deeper understanding. By analysing and evaluating other people’s work, learners have to confront alternative perspectives and approaches grappling with the same topic. Creating their own work – reflecting on the subject, solving a word problem, drafting a presentation or plan – ultimately demonstrates whether they have mastered the subject at hand. If an online course includes all of these activities, learners will not only know more. They will also be able to apply their knowledge and, most importantly, act differently in practice. THAT is what we mean by effective online learning.

elearning May Be Cheap, But It’s Not Effective Online Learning

Traditional elearning (e.g. in the form of web-based trainings or WBTs) is not much more than an interactive textbook. It’s essentially broadcast learning, where learners passively consume content in isolation. This works well if the objective is to provide them with basic knowledge. They can familiarise themselves with a topic and gain a basic understanding. But this will do relatively little to affect their performance on the job. To change attitudes and behaviour, learning activities have to cover more – ideally all – steps of Bloom’s taxonomy.  

Bloom's Taxonomy - traditional elearning vs effective online Learning

In other words, to achieve the learning outcomes in corporate training and professional development, we need a L&D format that does not just simulate learning. We cannot speak of effective online learning unless it affects the learners’ performance on the job. We design iversity PRO courses on the basis of this understanding of learning and with this objective in mind. The feature set of the iversity platform not only supports a broad range of effective online learning activities. It also provides a variety of ways for users to interact. Organisations can also use the iversity platform in order to host courses that follow these design principles by setting up a branded academy.

Learners reach advanced learning outcomes because we cover all steps of Bloom’s taxonomy and embed content and assignments in a social context. This new form of effective online learning makes it possible to learn topics online that were previously thought impossible to learn effectively in a digital environment. Prime examples of such topics are leadership, communication, and change management.

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As I explained in my post on our instructional design, quality content is merely the starting point of the the online learning process. An effective instructional design also requires an active engagement with challenging assignments embedded in a community of peers. Only by combining these three elements can we ensure that learners reach their destination: advanced learning outcomes.

The Elements of the Online Learning Process: Content, Context, Community

At iversity, we call the elements that work together to create an effective learning process the three Cs: content, context, community.

Three Elements Make Up the Online Learning Process

Content: A great online course comprises the full range of multimedia content from video and audio, to text, photographs, infographics, illustrations or even comics. Quality is key. But this doesn’t mean that everything necessarily has to be polished. Sometimes, something that’s a bit rough around the edges but authentic can work just as well or better (like a page from a notebook or a few snapshots taken in the street to illustrate a point with real world examples). What’s most important is that elements work well together and tell a story. More about this in another post on storytelling in online education.

Context: The second C refers to context. This often causes some confusion, because it is not quite as self-evident as the other two. Context refers to assignments. Why context? Because assignments require learners to apply their knowledge in different contexts. For example, in order to solve a case study, I have to take what I have learned – the knowledge I have gained from working through the content – and use it to solve a real or fictitious problem.

Community: While a few autodidacts are very good at teaching themselves, most of us find it a lot easier to learn together with others. That’s why iversity puts social learning front, right and center. Both the platform and the course design aim at fostering meaningful interactions between learners. The community provides the information, inspiration, feedback and motivation that are often key for effective learning to take place.

The Intersections = Traditional Learning Formats

The intersections of these elements represent the learning formats traditionally found on campus: self-study with a textbook, for example, which offers content and assignments; the lab section or tutorial where students come together to work on assignments in a group; and the seminar where they discuss the learning material amongst each other.

Taking this comprehensive approach to instructional design, which combines online all three core elements of the online learning process, allows our courses to cover the full range of Bloom’s taxonomy. (What this means exactly and why it is important for learning, comprehension and ROI, I will explain in my next post.)

P.s. This model is very much indebted to William Rankin who has mapped out this idea in a lot more detail in his overview on Dimensions of Productive Formal Learning.

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E-learning has been around now for two decades. In this time, it hasn’t earned a great reputation. When I tell people that I work in the online learning space, the reaction is rarely one of excitement. People who work in the corporate world usually tell me about the most recent compliance training they had to suffer through. “28 Clicks on “Next”, a few multiple choice questions, and that’s it.” The problem here is that working through content in isolation and without real challenges gives little cause for excitement. We need a new kind of instructional design for effective online learning!

The traditional approach to instructional design: elarning course = content

The iversity Approach to Instructional Design

Unlike other learning solutions that merely provide content, we at iversity understand learning as an active, social process. Education thought leader David A. Wiley summarised this point very well: „If high quality reusable content were all that were required to support learning, libraries would never have evolved into universities. That is to say, interaction with other human beings always has been and always will be an integral part of the learning process. This is especially true when learning of higher-order skills.”

Our fresh approach to instructional design: iversity course = learning process „If high quality reusable content were all that were required to support learning, libraries would never have evolved into universities. That is to say, interaction with other human beings always has been and always will be an integral part of the learning process. This is especially true when learning of higher-order skills.” David A. Wiley

That’s why iversity courses feature more than just content. As well as high-quality multimedia learning materials, all our instructional design combines challenging, open-ended assignments with a variety of ways for students to interact and learn with and from each other, such as the learning journal, a discussion forum and messaging feature. Students acquire knowledge in order to understand a certain topic, but must then apply it in different contexts, actively creating their own pieces of work while analysing and evaluating the work of others.

This kind of instructional design covers all steps of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, allowing learners to reach learning outcomes they would not be able to reach with traditional corporate e-learning formats such as web-based trainings (WBTs). How exactly the approaches differ in this respect is something I will explain in a future post.

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2017 is off to a fresh start and so is the iversity blog. After quite a long break we decided that we should give it a new focus. A focus that will be the same as our new motto: « Love to learn. Online. » Surprise, surprise – it’s all about online learning you will love.

iversity - Love to Learn. Online.In the past, our posts have covered a broad variety of aspects of online learning as well as course topics. As a consequence, the blog had something for everyone, but wasn’t geared towards anyone in particular. We want to take a more focused approach, true to our new motto «Love to Learn. Online.» Going forward, this blog will investigate what makes online courses an experience you love.

In the last five years, I have travelled all over the world attending scores of conferences in over a dozen countries on three different continents in order to learn about the future of learning. I will draw on the knowledge and connections I have gained during this time, as well as on the book “The University in the 21st Century” that I co-authored with Yehuda Elkana. It was published originally in 2012 in German and as a revised edition in English in 2016.

The following presentation that I gave at the TEGEP Summit in Istanbul in November 2016 gives you a glimpse of much of the material that I will cover in significantly more depth over the coming weeks:

You can download the slides of the presentation here.

If You Love to Learn: Join the Conversation!

Post topics will range from the conceptual thinking behind our instructional design to course production techniques; from platform features and our UX-philosophy to course case studies; from expert guest contributions to interviews with instructors and other iversity team members.

We want to engage in a reciprocal and mutually beneficial conversation with learners, instructors, corporate L&D experts, bloggers, journalists, learning psychologists, and other learning researchers. Whether you already use (and hopefully love) our courses, or you just stumbled upon this page, we would like your input to help us create online courses you love. Please leave a comment or send us an email if you have something you would like to share!
In short: we want to make this blog one of the best and most useful resources out there on fun and effective online learning.

Oh, and since I just mentioned sharing: of course we would be delighted if you decide to share our posts and the insights you have gained reading them with your network by email, in online social networks (yes, LinkedIn counts!) or even by the coffee machine.

Feel free to reach out to us to suggest topics for future posts: blog@iversity.org

We look forward to hearing from you!
Hannes Klöpper & the iversity Team

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