Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Converting to a Distance Learning Format

Converting a face to face class to a distance learning format can be a success if one follows certain pre-planning strategies such as determining the best design that will appropriately convey the learning outcomes, determining the role of the instructor, and devise strategies to encourage students to communicate, delivery method, learning environment, and needed technology. One also must be clear on what distance learning is before beginning the conversion. Distance education is defined as “institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunication systems are used to connect the learners, resources and instructors” (Simonson, et al., 2012, p32). With this definition in mind, it is also necessary to avoid dumping all of the face to face course content into the online resources or distance learning plan. The two courses should be similar in that they can have the same learning objectives, but how these objectives are achieved must be re-evaluated for distance education.

Technical and Environment Planning
There are several areas of pre-planning that should be address for truly getting started with the conversion. The first critical area to focus on is determining how you want to accomplish your blended learning plan. 
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What sections and content of the class will be maintained and delivered online versus using synchronous or live activities. An efficient way to accomplish this is to create a course storyboard that outlines the flow and segments of the course. After you have a clear idea on the storyboard of the course, create a site map that will help you build and link your online course together. With these two guidelines, you have enough information to choose your course hosting tool (Learning management system-LMS) that you will use to create your course shell.

From here, the next area to review is the course content. The instructor has less of an idea of how or what their learners are doing in an online format; thus it is essential that content is decidedly concise and clear, and that methods are in place for students to connect with instructors or other students (Piskurich, n.d.). Activities and applications are also more effective in conveying content in an online environment so considerable planning should allowed for designing these around the learning objectives (Simonson, et al., 2012).  If the content has not been evaluated against an instructional design model, such as ADDIE, then it is a good practice to step through the model phases while reviewing content. Incorporating distance learning also provides an opportunity to enhance the existing content with available technology. Videos, podcasts, interactive content, discussion boards, blogs and wikis are a few areas to be explored. Lastly, a redesigned syllabus should be created to include links and instructions for any new technology, new content and valuable tips on how to use and succeed in your online course. This can include a site orientation and valuable online learning tips such as time management or online discussion strategies. The role of the instructor and the responsibilities must also be clearly defined. Once the content has been defined, then it can be added to the online course shell.

The learner’s role changes slightly in a distance learning environment and these changes should be reviewed. As mentioned before, learners and instructors are physically separated so the student must have access to the course content at anytime, and the course outline, objectives and instructions should be clearly explained. A support system should be established for the learners so they can contact someone for technical or content support. In an online environment, learners are more responsible for their learning. They must be motivated to continue to study and learn on their own. Some ways to ensure that the learner stays motivated is to establish learner-to-learner and learner-to-instructor communication mediums, such as threaded discussions, where they can post comments and ask questions. Additionally, thought design to the application and assignments to ensure that they are challenging and interactive can go a long way.

The instructor’s role changes the most in this conversion. You will no longer be delivering the course content, but rather becoming more of a guide or facilitator. Your job will be to redirect, clarify, correct and guide (Simonson, et al. 2012). Feedback and communication becomes extremely beneficial and should be done in a timely manner to keep the course on pace. Insure that you have provided guidelines on how you can be contacted and establish an open line of communication for student support.

Once the course is built, it is necessary to have an initial click through or alpha test with some of your colleagues or students. You will not be able to make a perfect conversion the first time through; thus feedback is essential at this phase. Find out what the strong points and the poor points are and expand and improve on those. Learning objectives and outcomes should be effectively evaluated as well, to determine if the scope, sequence and activities conveyed them appropriately. Adopt the strategy of improvement and include feedback opportunities for your students during each course to have input available.
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Checklist for Converting to Distance Learning Format This guide has highlighted the most notable aspects of pre-planning and included valuable tips and considerations. Included is a checklist that will help you plan and succeed with your course conversion.   Please see the attached PDF for a copy of this information and the aforementioned checklist.

PDF for Download

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: foundations of distance education (5th Ed.). Boston , MA: Pearson.

Piskurich, G., & Chauser, J. (n.d.). Planning and designing online courses. (Video Program). Laureate Education, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Julie,

    I'd like to share an open-source tool with you that allows instructors to create "a course storyboard that outlines the flow and segments of the course" and a Course Schedule for learners. The PDF Course Schedule Builder was developed at Utah State University: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QZQiwzsr2k.