The success of an e-learning course depends on the instructional strategy adopted in the creation of the training programme. The task of defining instructional strategy is different from creating course content. It involves using all information collected through task analysis, audience analysis, performance analysis and context analysis, to generate an effective plan for presenting the training material to learners.
Instructional strategy for e-learning courses can be divided into four elements. They are:
Element 1 - Content Sequencing and Clustering: This involves deciding how the modules and lessons will be grouped. Some common forms of grouping are simple to complex, general to specific, chronological order and alphabetical order. While clustering content, one would also need to consider various factors such as the age level of the learners, the complexity of the material, and the time required to learn each cluster of content.
Element 2 - Learning Components: Successful e-learning courses usually include the ‘Nine Events of Instruction’ proposed by Gagne, a renowned educational theorist. These events help in faster transfer of knowledge, and are one of the first things teachers are taught as part of their teacher's training courses. These nine actions are:
- Getting the attention of the learner: The best way to do this is to ask the learner a question that gets them wondering, or mentioning a surprising fact related to the topic. Ensure that this question or fact is something the learner relates to, and would be interested in.
- Informing the learner about the objectives: This step involves telling the learner what they will learn in a particular lesson, and on what they will be assessed.
- Getting the learner to recall prior learning: This is done by asking recognition or recall questions, to get the learner to relate the new things to be learnt with something they already know. For example, ‘do you remember when you learned about…..in the second module?’
- Presenting the study material: This involves teaching the new material to the learner. Study material could include pictures, animations, shapes, interactivity, hyperlinks, audio clips and video clips. It may also include case studies, examples and non-examples.
- Providing guidance: This is the crucial trainer-learner communication. It involves stimulating a line of thought and making sure that the learner is on the right track. The amount of guidance required by each learner is different.
- Eliciting performance: This involves testing the understanding of the student with practice exercises, which can include multiple choice questions, matching, fill-in-the-blanks and so on.
- Providing feedback: This feedback should tell the learner about the correctness of their answer, help them understand where they went wrong, and if possible, give them a chance to rectify their answer.
- Assessing performance: This is the final test and evaluation. It is conducted to check if the learning goals of the e-learning course have been met, and the learners have learnt what was meant to be taught.
- Enhancing retention and transfer: The last step involves thinking of ways to help the learner use the training in the real world. Some methods to improve retention are job aids, templates and posters.
Element 3 - Student Groupings: While individual learning is suitable for most online courses, sometimes, it may be useful to divide students into groups for certain interactive exercises, role plays or simulations. Whether you assign a partner for each student, or divide them into groups of five or ten, or split the class in two sections; it all depends on the needs of the course. Some e-learning courses where student grouping is encouraged are language courses, management courses and soft skills courses.
Element 4 - Selecting Media and Delivery Systems: Not all online e-learning courses are delivered through the Internet or through CD-Roms. Some e-learning courses are blended programmes, which include a combination of lectures, classroom delivery, videoconferencing, videotapes and book-based correspondence. The instructional designer will select a delivery method based on the needs of the course, and then choose various media to deliver the instruction (like books, CD-Roms, videotapes, audio CDs, photos, Internet, hyperlinks, learning management systems etc.).
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