Course Design at TRU-OL

Two typical formats of Open Learning courses include the following:

  1. Standard web asynchronous courses, which are independent study courses. Students enroll at different times and can take up to 30 weeks to complete the course.
  2. Online paced courses where students study in cohort groups;

These different formats have implications for activity design. Online courses can include team work and collaboration. Standard Web courses should only include activities that can be completed independently.

Standard Web

Many of our courses are offered in a continuous enrollment, self-paced format.  There can be 100+ students studying independently, and this offers unique challenges and opportunities.

  • Discussions may not be an option, as students enroll at different times, and there may not be many students in the course at the same.
  • Students can take up to 30 weeks to complete the course.  Other then that final due date, they can submit the assessments at any time.

The principles above of active learning, relevance, and ownership still apply.  Interaction and collaboration take on a different meaning, as course writers and designers look for ways other than discussion to facilitate engagement.

Consider other ways students can interact with the content, their context, and the support.  Below is one model that speaks to how students can engage in independent courses.

  1. Context – Learners can interact through field trips and interviews with experts.
  2. Content – Learners can engage with materials, as they go through interactive media/simulations, participate by making notes on articles, etc.
  3. Support – Learners can interact with people outside of the course by posting on blogs, wikis, and other discussion forums.

Choosing Learning Activities

Learning activities are an important part of every lesson, as they allow students to engage with the material and apply their learning to various contexts.

A learning activity can take many forms, from reading a textbook, searching online for articles, watching a video interview, or participating in an interactive simulation.  The following are some examples of learning activities in Open Learning courses.

  • Icebreaker
  • Case Studies
  • Debates
  • Social Media
  • Role play
  • Problems
  • Graphic Organizers
  • Quizzes
  • Games
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Short-write
  • Webquests
  • Simulations
  • Discussions
  • Survey
  • Interviews
  • Field Trip
  • Community
  • Experiments
  • Creation

Check out the  Media page for activity ideas and see below about the Remix, Reuse, Reshare  – Learning Activities Repository. 

Remix, Reuse, Reshare – An Open Resource of Learning Activities

Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

The REMIX, REUSE, RESHARE website  is a collection or repository  of promising learning activity designs that may be used or adapted and reshared!

This resource is an extensive bank of activities  providing instructions that you can adapt to your own discipline and context.

It is searchable by field category, as well as tags. Activities are assigned fields according to the type of interaction in the activity, structure, discipline, learning taxonomy, activity type and creative commons license. Each comes with a brief description, as well as the full text of the activity.

You are invited to search the resource and use whatever you find most useful. Also, you can contribute your own successful learning activities and comment on those you reuse, adapt or explore! If you use or adapt a resource, please reshare your version.

We hope you  will find this online resource useful for your teaching and/or design practice!

Pedagogical Theories/Models

Various pedagogical theories/models have defined distance education curriculum development over the years.

Dr. Terry Anderson’s article “Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy,” talks about the challenges and opportunity afforded by the behavioral/cognitive, constructivist and connectivist models, with a focus on the development of connectivism.

Collaborative Problem-Based Learning

In a problem-based approach, small groups work together to solve challenging, open-ended problems. This collaboration is facilitated by the instructor, whether online or face to face.

In Authentic Activity as a Model for Web-Based Learning  – Reeves, Herrington and Oliver (2002) identify the following ten characteristics of authentic activities:

  1. Authentic activities have real-world relevance
    Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than decontextualized or classroom-based tasks.
  2. Authentic activities are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity
    Problems inherent in the activities are ill-defined and open to multiple interpretations rather than easily solved by the application of existing algorithms. Learners must identify their own unique tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the major task.
  3. Authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time
    Activities are completed in days, weeks and months rather than minutes or hours. They require significant investment of time and intellectual resources.
  4. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resourcesThe task affords learners the opportunity to examine the problem from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, rather than requiring a single perspective that learners must imitate to be successful. The use of a variety of resources rather than a limited number of preselected references requires students to detect relevant from irrelevant information.
  5. Authentic activities provide the opportunity to collaborate
    Collaboration is integral to the task, both within the course and the real world, rather than achievable by an individual learner.
  6. Authentic activities provide the opportunity to reflect and involve students’ beliefs and values
    Activities require and enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning both individually and socially.
  7. Authentic activities can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and extend beyond domain-specific outcomes
    Activities encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable learners to play diverse roles and build expertise that is applicable beyond a single well-defined field or domain.
  8. Authentic activities are seamlessly integrated with assessment
    Assessment of learning is seamlessly integrated with the major activity in a manner that reflects real world assessment, rather than separate artificial assessment tasks that are removed from the nature of the tasks inherent in completing the activity.
  9. Authentic activities create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else
    Activities culminate in the creation of a whole product rather than an exercise or sub-step in preparation for something else.
  10. Authentic activities allow competing solutions and diversity of outcomes Activities allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by the application of predefined rules and procedures (p.3).

Additional Information

An  interesting articles about problem-based learning that you may find helpful:

Savery, J. (2006).  Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and Distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. Vol 1, Issue 1, Article 3.

You can also find a lot of additional resources about problem based learning on the Problem-Based Learning Initiative website.

Dr. Peter Hsu has also developed seven modules about collaborative problem-based learning for online course developers. You may want to take the time to view these modules in preparation for developing your online course!

Inclusive Design

Inclusive design is defined by the University of Toronto’s ATRC (Adaptive Technology Resource Centre) as “design that enables and supports the participation of individuals and groups representing the full range of human diversity” (ATRC, 2010).

The main principle of inclusive design is to create a more personalized learning environment. It means designing courses where learners have choices that will allow them to more easily access materials.

For TRU-OL, this means providing materials in a variety of formats, ensuring images and video have scripts and captions, ensuring resources follow accessibility standards, using flexible and adaptive assessment methods, and designing active learning environments.

Universal Design For Learning

As defined by the CAST organization, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is “…a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn”.

Visit their research page for digital tools to learn more about innovative research into inclusive and effective education practice!

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