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Broader prespective required!

What’s a Course?

My background is both in Education and Science. The 1st task one faces using the scientific method is defining the problem. A recent Twist conversation on The Importance of Mobile in Learning and Performance got me thinking about the different terms and meanings used in eLearning and mLearning today. Clearly, Performance Support is a perfect fit for a mLearning solution. I imagine a field tech servicing a piece of equipment with a ‘just in time” job aid displaying on their phone or tablet. The continuing advances in the capabilities of our connected devices are very seductive lures for both educators and learning designers, indeed.

On the other hand, thinking that mobile means “a course on your smartphone” is rather limiting as noted in the Twist dialog. My concern is that by focusing on mobile devices primarily, we seem to be missing a much more important point.

From an academic perspective, a course is something that learners take over a semester or perhaps in a more compressed workshop format. In traditional corporate training and development, a course is often a much smaller chunk of content including eLearning plus ILT/VILT sessions or modules lasting a few days or a week at most. The MOOC concept is essentially a series of online lectures with little or no interaction and is therefore not innovative except for its extended reach.

My favorite academic course when teaching was always Introduction to Psychology, a broad survey of the field that touched on many of its branches.

Materials/structure for it included:

  • the textbook
  • my lectures
  • small group discussions
  • peer tutoring.

My recent eCourse concept Disc Golf for Boomers et.al. is essentially a broad survey of Disc Golf as a sport and Personal Learning Environment (PLE) model for newbies.

Its materials include:

  • text
  • images
  • audio notes
  • forms
  • worksheets
  • links to:
    • web resources
    • apps
    • videos
    • mLearning modules.

Thus, the eCourse concept expands on our older concept of “course” to include rich multi-media along with links to a variety of resources. Some elements of the eCourse work fine in an eBook format, some require a smartphone, while others need a tablet or desktop. The good news for designers is that all the various formats come from one single source, RoboHelp 11. 

So what? My argument is that by thinking of mLearning as simply performance support or “courses on phones” we reduce the scope of content to what works on a given device type. It seems more logical to expand the traditional course concept to include a wide range of connected resources flowing over a number of device types and formats. For example, if interactive portion of a software training course requires the wide screen that learners will use on the job, why would the designer use another device type for this portion of the course material?

Recently, I have discovered an 2nd generation webinar platform called Clickwebinar with 2-way web cam and audio support plus a lot more interactive features than older technologies like WebEx and Adobe Connect. This tool set allows for real interactive online teaching, but I don’t see it as a complete eCourse platform by itself. It is rather another component that designers can use to supplement learning by increasing engagement and integration with real time 2-way interaction between instructors and learners.

My current conclusion, based on current trends and experiences, is that learning in the broadest context is best served by focusing on the needs of the learner, plus the needs of their organization in corporate environments. It makes little practical or educational sense to focus primarily on the new “shiny object” devices we seem so enamored with. If the learner requires a job aid for a specific task, then a simple mLearning solution on a smartphone or tablet seems a good fit. If the learner needs a broad understanding of a subject or set of skills, as in a sport, then a comprehensive approach like an eCourse seems a more logical strategy.

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