There exists no genuine instructional design methodology for networked and global learning (NGL). As an instructional designer, that poses a problem, as clients have begun requesting networked learning programs and IDs possess mixed ideas about what NGL is and how it should be applied. Specifically, the purpose of this design-based research does not aim to use NGL as a means of transforming the practice of instructional design. Instead, this proposal sets out to investigate how a universal instructional design method should be developed so digital NGL courses can be designed effectively, then determine what it might look like.
I am an instructional designer working in digital education. I write and build asynchronous, experiential online learning programs for corporate and vocational education. All of what I do is digitally enhanced, multi-modal contextual learning. Recently, some clients have been considering how to increase the capacity of their learners to connect, develop meaningful relationships and learn from one another using a range of social networking applications linked to learning programs.
Initially, some colleagues thought this a simple concept, whereby forums, blogs and social media could be linked to a learning management system. However, these suggestions came from instructional designers with a traditional understanding of education, who do not completely grasp contemporary technology. Our company is ambitious and creative. Often projects are undertaken without really understanding what they may become. Based on that precedent, I feared the concept of ‘Networked Learning’ was a buzz term sourced from a self-promoting journal, instead of a genuinely considered learning approach. My major concern was whether NGL was understood well enough by all designers to be developed effectively.
Czerkawski (2015) indicates that currently no framework or major model provides clear guidance for online instructors. Furthermore, Hiltz & Goldman, (2009) state there are clear differences between learning approaches related to networked learning, including Asynchronous Learning Networks (anytime, anywhere), Personal Learning Networks, (conceptualized, built and controlled by the learner), and Networked Learning (social connections to form one’s understanding).
Should this problem not be solved, it may possess larger implications for instructional designers, learners, educational institutions and the educational community.
- Instructional designers may not understand NGL’s uniqueness, its elements or its outcomes. Subsequently, no universal approach or structure will exist.
- Students may not understand NGL or how to learn in an NGL environment. Consequently, it is likely they will be opposed to networked learning.
- Learning may become difficult or ineffective if attempted through NGL, as learners and designers have no complete understanding of how it should be delivered. Therefore, educational institutions may lose credibility or cease its application.
- The educational community may remain undecided on the most effective approach to NGL, resulting in differing or conflicting methods, which add confusion to a student’s understanding of the concept.
Therefore, this design-based research proposal will investigate how a universal instructional design method should be developed so digital NGL courses can be designed effectively, then determine what it might look like. It supposes that:
- if an instructional design method existed, which indicated how NGL courses should be developed and what they should include; then
- the limited knowledge of traditional or less experienced instructional designers would be overcome; as
- a blueprint for effective NGL design would exist; so
- genuine networked learning could take place.
- How does NGL differ from traditional elearning techniques?
- What are the essential components of NGL that must be included in an NGL course?
- Which existing ID methodologies might be appropriate to use for an NGL methodology?
- What are the desired outcomes for learning via NGL?
- What are the problems with NGL and how can they be avoided?
- How can NGL courses be designed to provide structure, yet flexibility and independence?
To structure the research clearly for this proposal it has been broken into sections focussed on exploring each research question. Ideally, fellow IDs can read this proposal and follow a structured approach to understanding why the research will benefit them.
Much has been written about the concept of NGL in the past decade and many scholars agree on what it entails. Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson, and McConnell (2004) established the commonly accepted definition of networked learning:
‘Learning in which information and communication technology is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources’.
McConnell, Hodgson & Dirckinck-Holmfeld (2012a) mention that networked learning has been influenced by conceiving how developments in technology-supported learning stem from humanistic educational ideas, from those like Dewey, Freire, Giroux and Rogers. It focuses on the connections between learners, learners and tutors, and between learners and the resources they make use of in their learning (Ferreday, Jones, & Hodgson, 2006). Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Jones, & Lindström (2009) and Saadatmand & Kumpulainen (2012) indicate that NGL is technologically-mediated learning where social media and web technologies are used to promote connections between learner, human resources, content resources and learning communities. Furthermore, Czerkawski (2015) elaborates by claiming both connections and learning can become enhanced by the perpetual amount of data being created digitally, through new connections and reconstructed information, while noting the critical importance of collaboration. Nonetheless, the essence of Goodyear et al's. (2004) definition remains a sound explanation for the medium.
But how does that medium differ from traditional elearning techniques?
Rovai (2003) suggested that online programs include several components; learning software, academic and technical support, presentation of content and interaction. Siemens (2008a) notes that traditional education is defined by two elements of organisation: bounded groups and hierarchical organisation of information and content. He claims traditional education provide a particular shape to the learner-educator relationship, but, if the transition is made to networked models, learners form relationships with peers and experts from around the world, and resources from different institutions and educators are utilised. Traxler (2009) stated elearning today has much in common with traditional forms of face-to-face and early online learning methods with respect both to its pedagogy and use of technology.
Many instructional designers come from an era in which web 2.0 was emerging. The power of technology was being applied to learning, but in an ‘industrial’ sense (Senge, Cambron-McCabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton & Kleiner 2000). Therefore, online courses were more about manipulating content for the web, as opposed to embracing its power. However, where a traditional view of education saw teachers as ‘knowledge dispensers’, the second half of the twentieth century witnessed a shift towards acceptance of constructivism as an alternative paradigm, where knowledge became viewed as learner-constructed from shared experience (Albion & Maddux 2007). Subsequently, connectivism (Siemens 2005) surfaced, placing emphasis on learner-centred knowledge construction through meaningful connections, which also plays a part in networked learning Ostashewski & Reid (2015).
Therefore, the difference between NGL and traditional methods is that it is learner-oriented and focussed on using digital media to establish learning through meaningful dialogue, connections and construction of resources in an iterative manner. Where, traditional learning is teacher-oriented and focussed on structure, process and measurable outcomes.
What are the essential components of NGL that must be included in an NGL course?
Having established the difference between NGL and traditional learning methods, the critical elements of networked learning have now become easier to clarify.
Many scholars (Albion & Maddux, 2007; Saadatmand & Kumpulainen, 2012; McConnell, et al. 2012b & Czerkawski 2015) feel quality NGL should enable participants to make significant connections and access relevant resources through digital networks. This is supported by Baker III (2014) who emphasises the importance of a learner-centred approach.
Siemens (2005) suggests promoting core evaluative skills for flexible learning, allowing learners to actuate knowledge when needed. Supporting this, Ravenscroft (2006) calls for designers to ensure they facilitate independent thinking, reasoning and analysis. Furthermore, Ostashewski & Reid (2011) claim networked learning should include four main learning activities; engagement, exploration, discussion and creation.
Siemens’ (2005) perspective assumes the construction of knowledge from experience is a network-forming process. Connectivism theory (Siemens 2005) assumes all learning starts with a connection, enhanced through a network, providing access to relevant resources and information. Downes (2012) claims connectivism is the notion that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks seamlessly.
Mikroyannidis, (2011), Greene, Seung and Copeland (2014), and Czerkawski (2015) proclaim self-regulated learning (SRL) or ‘heutagogy’, is essential to establish learner-directed learning in distance learning. Furthermore, Ostashewski and Reid (2015) suggest constructivism is be included to facilitate effective SRL. They claim learning by doing provides gradual confidence in independence and activities should focus on the construction of artefacts created by learners within the connected network.
As such, the list below has been made, similar to that which McConnell et al. (2012) developed, of high value NGL components:
- Engagement, exploration, discussion and creation
- Critical thinking
- Open educational process
- Personal knowledge management
- Technological literacy
- Purposeful dialogue
- Networked support
- Meaningful connections
- Cooperation and collaboration
Which existing ID methodologies might be appropriate to use for an NGL course?
Perhaps there is already a method that include these components? Upon investigation, there are a few that cater to characteristics of NGL, but none which cover it all.
The Spiral Model (Boehm 1986) suggests 10 iterative steps to move software development towards a definitive result. It values user input and allows for numerous changes. However, it aims to produce a single end product, NGL doesn’t. Similarly, Rapid Prototyping (Tripp and Bichelmayer 1990) aims to develop learning experiences in a constant design-evaluation cycle. Unlike NGL though, it only continues until the project ceases.
Reigeluth’s (1992) Elaboration Theory calls for instructional designers to arrange content in increasing order of complexity, allowing for structure and control in complex environments. Although, it calls for tight procedures, which is contrary to the desire for SRL in NGL. Laurillard (2002) conceived the Conversational Framework, which rejected teacher-only direction and involved students in the process of developing learning goals. This model shifts the focus from teacher to student, but doesn’t address how learning happens in NGL. Van Merriënboer, Kirschner, and Kester’s (2003) Four Component Model considers complexity of knowledge structures and attempts to remove cognitive overload. However, this too focuses on defined steps and prerequisites, which may not align with each learner’s level of development or independence.
Ostashewski and Reid (2015) claim learning design should be pedagogically informed and make effective use of appropriate resources and technologies. In 2011 they devised the Networked Learning Framework, which is the closest concept found in the literature to a universal methodology. However it more indicates the structure of networked learning than the method.
- Within the group: learners interact with other learners, the facilitator, or resources,
- Within the social networking site: learners interact with other members of the social networking site, or resources available in the social networking site.
- Within the Collective: learners interact with others online, or resources available anywhere online.
What are the desired outcomes for learning via NGL?
So, what should the desired outcomes of a networked learning methodology be if the others fall short? Nunes, McPherson and Rico (2001) expressed that in elearning students are expected to develop high cognitive skills such as negotiation of meaning, reflective analysis and meta-cognition. Granowetter’s (1973) theory posits that in effective networks, weak connections in different nodes can generate strong connections. McConnell, et al. (2012) explain that learning in NGL is achieved through participation in communities where meaning is both negotiated and created through collaborative dialogue.
Sorensen (2005) supported by Albion & Maddux (2007), Siemens (2008a) and Goodyear, Carvahlo & Dohn (2014) maintains that in any NGL experience genuine connections should first occur before substantial learning eventuates. While Mikroyannidis (2011) discussed the importance of a personal learning environment in networked learning, where one creates one’s own portfolio of information, connections and resources. He claims this is fundamental to SRL, and learning will not be effective until it takes place. Additionally, Wright (2005) Grundspenkis (2007), Sheridan (2008) and Cheng (2012) insist that personal knowledge management must be an outcome in order to avoid information and cognitive overload.
Finally, (Ostashewski & Reid 2015) simply state the result of learning in a networked learning framework is an artefact constructed of new knowledge and has significant value when it can be shared with the network, implying that constructivism, with a constructionist focus, is the pedagogical outcome networked learning activities.
Essentially, the outcome of NGL is for learners to learn independently, through the wider network.
What are the problems with NGL and how can they be avoided?
From the literature it has become evident that NGL does possess a number of potential problems. Though they can be avoided.
DeLaat and Lalley (2003) argue that networked learning is complex and causes angst as it is ill-defined. They believed in 2003 that no single theoretical framework could offer a sufficient description of networked learning. Albion and Maddux (2007) posed that assessment also becomes difficult and asked what it might mean to measure the knowledge held by an individual in isolation from the network.
Bennett and Maton (2010) suggest that some learners are uncomfortable making genuine connections and may have networks that are ill-informed. Conversely, Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (2012) theorise that learners without much technological literacy may never be able to fully connect.
From an instructional design perspective Bird (2007) queried whether IDs would understand the complex technology enough to make learning effective, which was supported by Raffaghelli, Patrizia Ghislandi (2014).
Siemens (2008a) posed that open versus closed systems, expertise versus amateur content creation, hierarchies and bounded structures create a climate where it becomes difficult to accurately explore. Consequently, new technologies may increase discrepancies in power between hierarchies (Williams Karousou & Mackness 2011).
Goodyear (2014) inferred that if learners interact with others like themselves their access to novel ideas would decrease. Furthermore, Czerkawski (2015) cautioned against the influence of myopic networks, which have the tendency to restrict perspectives instead, claiming a major task for designers is to create an environment where students communicate, form connections, and engage in diverse, meaningful dialogues. Perhaps this is where effective design lies.
One suggestion comes from Carter and Arroyo (2011), who found participants in open, networked courses want to follow a facilitator’s examples of NGL as a form of suggestion. Another could be taken from McLoughlin (2002) who claimed scaffolding be administered in every complex course so that participants develop skills at a gradual pace. Ostashewski & Reid (2011) infer that learners require a safe virtual “place” when learning so they can experiment and interact without being overwhelmed by the greater digital space.
Nunes et. al. (2001) offered that a constructivist be applied, and a consideration be made about what users do in real life contexts. Furthermore, Ravenscroft (2006) implores that dialogue practices like reflection, clarification, and negotiation be implemented so what Siemens (2008a) calls ‘genuine connections’ can be established. Once this occurs, then support can be given by a learner’s network in line with Granowetter’s (1973) theory.
The last consideration comes in the form of information filtration through personal knowledge management (PKM). Cheng (2012) describes this as a collection of processes that individual learners follow in order to gather, classify, store, search and retrieve knowledge. It contributes to effective self-regulated learning (Winne & Hadwin, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000), which includes skills to make, monitor and control one’s own learning and development, as well as the strategies to achieve genuine results. Therefore, with this knowledge of risks and mitigations, the outcome of an overarching methodology becomes more secure.
How can NGL courses be designed to provide structure, yet flexibility and independence?
The nature of networked learning is dynamic and existing in a networked environment is complex due to the number of connections possible, the technology available, the non-linear progression and personalised nature of the learning. So, design should allow learners to feel in control, even though structure is scarce.
Interestingly, and opposed to the research theory Raffaghelli & Ghislandi (2014) propose collaborative learning design in NGL need not include structure, but involve the learners from conception of a course. Although, that suggests that none of the problems aforementioned regarding ID skills, knowledge and confidence would be considered.
Ostashewski & Reid (2015) claim facilitators are important and should act like educational tour guides. Additionally, the purpose of the learning should be matched to relevant activities, to narrow the scope of connections. Goodyear, Carvahlo and Dohn (2014) argue that learning design is pointless if a logical connection between learning activities and outcomes isn’t made. This supports Anderson’s (2009) statement that relevant networking tools should be provided to help activities achieve learning outcomes.
Bird (2007) places equal emphasis on Content, Construction and Consolidation. Bird’s (2007) theory is that all learning should involve reflection when it occurs. The key features of his pedagogical model are:
- A social constructivist approach.
- Active learning rather than a passive reception of knowledge.
- Equal attention given to all three areas of Content, Construction and Consolidation.
- Dialogue and discussion as the key learning process, and present in all three areas.
- Motivation through the integration of collaborative learning activities with the assessment process.
- Appropriate and proactive online e-moderating (Salmon, 2000), to promote dialogue and discussion.
- Adequate ‘scaffolding’ and/or student support, appropriate to the level and subject of the module/course being designed.
- A resource-rich virtual learning environment.
Another method of increasing user control is to design authentic activities situated in real contexts and include multiple perspectives on the subject matter (Nunes et al. 2001). McLoughlin (2002) suggests scaffolding learning and draws attention to Vygotsky’s (1978) zone of proximal development, suggesting optimal learning is achieved through timely and appropriate connections with another person. Lock (2002) recommends instructional context and not the delivery methods, while Abdullah (2011) argues that instructors should ensure active participation in all activities. And ultimately, Czerkawski (2015) feels there should be room for revisions, diversifications, and new directions depending on students’ experience in the network, again confirming Bird’s (2007) viewpoint on reflection.
Consequently, the literature has identified a clear passage for the construction of a universal methodology for networked learning. Having uncovered its essential elements, desired outcomes, strengths and weaknesses the platform is now set to implement a design.
A description of the proposed intervention.
The intervention being investigated by this research proposal is whether a universal NGL methodology can be introduced so that all NGL courses provide a feeling of structure, offer flexibility and independence, but achieve the learning outcomes associated with networked learning. It is not how NGL can be used as an intervention, but how understanding NGL can help form the basis for a bounty of future interventions.
Essentially, this intervention aims to take what was discovered from the research and turn it into a methodology for designing networked learning. The findings are outlined below.
How NGL differs from traditional elearning techniques.
- NGL is learner-oriented and focussed on using digital media to establish learning through meaningful dialogue, connections and construction of resources in an iterative manner.
- Traditional learning is teacher-oriented and focussed on structure, process and measurable outcomes.
The essential components of NGL.
- Engagement, exploration, discussion and creation
- Critical thinking
- Open educational process
- Personal knowledge management
- Technological literacy
- Purposeful dialogue
- Networked support
- Meaningful connections
- Cooperation and collaboration
The desired outcomes for learning via NGL.
- Learning through collaboration
- Self-regulated learning / heutagogy
- Collaborative assessment of learning
- Creation of learning artefacts
- Strong learning connections
The problems with NGL and how can they be avoided.
- Complexity, lack of assessment control, discomfort making genuine connections, limited technological literacy, discrepancies in power between hierarchies, and myopic networks can be countered by;
- creating an environment of meaningful dialogue, in a safe virtual “place” with sufficient facilitator examples, the consideration of what users do in real life contexts, dialogue practices like reflection, clarification, and negotiation and information filtration through personal knowledge management.
Existing ID methodologies with elements appropriate to consider for an NGL methodology.
- Iterative methodologies like The Spiral Model and Rapid Prototyping
- Complexity-mediating methodologies like Elaboration Theory, the Conversational Framework and the Four Component Model
- A structural framework like the Networked Learning Framework
Recommendations for designing NGL courses to provide structure, flexibility and independence.
- Facilitator as educational tour guide
- Suggested pathways and activities
- Learning matched to relevant activities
- Logical connections between learning activities and outcomes
- Relevant networking tools
- A safe place to experiment with new technology
- Opportunities to reflect on the experience
- Activities situated in real world context
- Different perspectives of experts and peers
The elements described above provide a detailed account of the considerations for any networked learning methodology, and have been instrumental in deciding how to approach its design. The initial results can be seen below.
Figure 1: Indicates where the methodology sits within the connected universe.
Figure 2: Represents the learner's journey through the methodology.
The NGL methodology transitions learners through three-spaces:
- Fundamental space: Upon commencement of an NGL course, learners find themselves within the learning space where the rudimentary elements are taught and basic connections are established. This provides time to learn without distraction and establish connections with fellow learners.
- Experimental space: After initial connections and basic elements have been determined, learner confidence increases, as well as the connections that are being ‘suggested’. Suggestion is important here, as NGL aims to eventuate self-regulated learning, where individuals can think independently without requiring direction. So, as Ostashewski and Reid (2015) ‘suggest’ facilitators should act as ‘tour guides’ in this space, offering learners options of where to connect, how to connect and which tools to use. As learners become more confident, facilitator contact reduces. Importantly, all these ‘suggestions’ must be relevant to the course’s goals in order to minimise cognitive load so learners can practice and experiment with new technology without feeling overwhelmed.
- Networked space: One learners have experimented with the suggested resources and connections, they will have established independence enough to take charge of their learning by exploring the wider network at will. The facilitator takes a back step and learners take charge of their destiny. Coming out of the ‘safe’ places learners realise they were part of the universal network all along, but now have the skills to affect their learning effectively.
Should this intervention prove effective, and a methodology is determined, education may be affected in a number of ways.
- Instructional designers who aren’t familiar with networked learning will better comprehend its uniqueness, the elements it requires and its outcomes.
- Subsequently there will be a commonly agreed approach to designing NGL courses. Variations would be welcome, but a platform would provide stability.
- Students will better understand networked learning and will approach it in a similar manner, enabling a network of learners with the same initial understanding. For those who are slower to comprehend Granowetter’s (1973) weak/strong ties theory assumes the more informed learners in the network will provide support, thus enabling the network to support itself.
- As a consequence, it is likely more students will embrace and understand networked learning.
- Learning in a networked environment will become easier and more effective, as learners and designers will have a better understanding of how it should be delivered.
- More educational institutions will be able to run networked courses, creating exponential numbers of networked learners.
- The educational community will thrive on the multitude of connections created from confident, independent globally networked learners.
- Society will be changed for good, with a generation of people who are connected, learn independently and think for themselves.
A plan for implementation
Traditionalists in any field can find new experiences uncomfortable. I work with a few and the industry possesses many. So, in order for this intervention to succeed I plan to implement it incrementally, whilst subtly involving my colleagues, then after results are seen, expand to the wider community. The stages I’ve theorised are below:
- Design-based research: Conceive an idea at university and ask my colleagues for input. Their knowlegde will be cloudy at first, but as my ideas formulate, so will their understandings. This will enable them to provide feedback and see the iterative results their feedback has had, thus establishing a relationship with the concept from inception. Note: this has already occurred.
- Methodology creation: From the DBR a methodology an initial methodology will be created and shared with my colleagues for further input. Together we can shape it to suit our clients. Note: this is occurring now.
- Course development: After design has been confirmed, an initial networked learning course will be developed for an existing client, who can work with us to mould it to meet their needs.
- Course uptake: After a successful NGL course the program will be opened up to new clients and more results of the methodology will be tabled.
- Methodology promotion: Having run a few courses using the methodology the results will be tabled and a report prepared for the educational community.
- Methodology adoption: Once the educational community has been made aware of its success, scholars, researchers and designers will begin adopting it as a standard.
There is obviously still some development to come with this intervention. It needs to be tested with colleagues, clients and the wider industry, which may yield further modification to the methodology. However, industrial input is important for a concept like this, as it should be ideally ‘owned’ by all involved. Following the aforementioned steps will enable time for development, implementation and revision, which again aligns with the iterative, connected and reflective nature of networked learning. As such, the intervention described here not only benefits the future of networked learning, but follows a process of it as well.
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