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Thinking of the learner

Education is sometimes so complex, the learner gets lost in the shuffle. Budgets, politics, limited resources, administrative tasks (i.e. the activities an instructor needs to do, but don’t directly impact the learner), etc.

End result: the urgent overshadows the important. It’s necessary, therefore, that the reality of teaching is a focus during the design process. Understanding that numerous priorities compete for teacher/learner time, learner-focus needs to be “built-in” to courses, rather than expecting it will magically happen as a result of skilled facilitating (online or classroom).

Some traits of designing a learner-centered online course:

  • Has the learner been profiled? Who? Why are they taking the course? What is their access to technology? Their technology skill base?
  • Does the course contain variety (in terms of activities, presentation). Variety addresses various intelligences, learning styles, and brain-based learning principles.
  • Are both formative and summative evaluations used?
  • Is the course easy to navigate?
  • Has the course been piloted throughout the development process?…and has feedback been incorporated?
  • Is student motivation addressed? For example: using the ARCS model (Attention, relevance, confidence, satisfaction)
  • Do learners have choice? (activities, technology tools)
  • Are help resources clearly detailed (both technical and instructive)
  • Is the environment for discussions non-threatening, collaborative, and facilitated by the instructor? When designing, too many discussions can be difficult for instructors to manage…
  • Is interaction planned on various levels – course, learner, instructor, interface
  • Does the course move from global overview, to small steps to achieve the global (scaffolding).
  • Does the course design allow for instructors to personalize interaction with each learner? This needs to be built-in to the course…and allow instructors opportunities to practice appropriate interventions – capitalize on strengths, compensate for weaknesses, and correct misconceptions.

This short list doesn’t address all potential considerations…but it is important to make learner-centeredness part of the design process. The instruction process is often too pressured to inject a learner-centered focus that has not already been intrinsically designed into the course.


  1. sherlock_yoda wrote:

    I don’t want to be negative, but I’ve read so many of these ‘best practice’ lists and so few of them take any account of the reality of working in business.

    Do you think us guys don’t know this stuff? Do you think we don’t want to do this?

    The current economic climate is completely hostile to this kind of quality instructional design. Currently in the UK, clients are only willing to pay about

    Friday, March 14, 2003 at 4:43 am | Permalink
  2. gsiemens wrote:

    Thanks for your comments.

    I uderstand the real-life time limitations of developing online courses. Last term in our department, we attempted to accelerate development of an online course through a team-based model (funding was not available…the work had to be done within the regular course load)…Essentially we adopted this approach because no one instructor had the time (or skills – instructional design, technical, etc.) to complete the work…not a great model – but the only way we were going to get the course online. End result – the climate for course development is challenging (if not almost impossible).

    With that said, I don’t understand the development environment for commercial content. Off the top of my head, two opportunities are content reuse (and sharing/using content from other providers…i.e. open source content) and template use. While not ideal, they may provide the opportunity to foster the next level of innovation needed to make commercial content development viable.

    …the nature of your elearning development obviously determines cost. A media-rich, visual, highly interactive course will be much more expensive to develop than a more text-based course. Somewhere on the continuum of cost/quality decisions are made in quoting on a project. I recently developed a 30 hour online course (whatever that means now days…I’m borrowing the classroom concept) for much less than what you list as an hour of elearning. But, if you put our two courses side-by-side, both would serve (hopefully) the needs of the profiled learner (though yours would be much more graphic and involved (based on the shorter course length and larger development funds)).

    However, I still maintain that the original intent of my post (learner-centeredness is a design, not instruction issue) is not diminished due to complexities in implementation. The reality is, if a concept has value…and the current economics make it difficult to do…then the solution to that problem is a competitive opportunity for a provider.

    Sunday, March 16, 2003 at 8:55 pm | Permalink