Questioning Your Learning Design

If you follow my blog, you know that the past few weeks I have been participating in a MOOC on blended learning design. This week wraps up the course with a focus on quality assurance.

icon-354007_1280Here is the thing about QA in blended learning: there’s no real set standard. That said, I think the most important standards are the same for all courses whether online, blended, or face-to-face. The implementation may be different but the student experience should be the same. Below are some questions you can use for self-evaluation of your course. The first four sets can be used for any class. The last set is geared towards classes with an online component.


  • Do students have opportunities to interact with and reflect on the content?
  • Do students have opportunities to interact with their peers?
  • Do students have opportunities to interact with the instructor?

Active learning

  • Are students an active part of the learning process?
  • Are students required to do something other than listen/read in order to learn?
  • Do students need to use higher order thinking skills (application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation)?


  • Are there opportunities for both formal and informal assessments?
  • Are assessments given regularly throughout the course?
  • Do students receive feedback after each assessment?


  • Does feedback to students provide specifics on what was done well or poorly?
  • Is there a reasonable and stated timeframe within which students should receive feedback after an assignment?
  • Is feedback given regularly throughout the course?
  • Are students required to give feedback to each other through activities like discussion and peer grading?


  • Is the course highly organized with a clear set of assignments each week, listed due dates, and thorough instructions?
  • Is there a plan for regular and deliberate communication with students outside of the face-to-face sessions?
  • How are the online and face-to-face sessions integrated so the course feels cohesive?
  • Are all materials accessible and 508 compliant?

This might seem like a lot, but remember that there are huge benefits to online and hybrid learning experiences. Students really appreciate the flexibility and support that these courses offer, often at a reduced cost compared to face-to-face options.

BlendKit offers some great resources for blended learning QA that can help you at any stage of the process, including:

If you need extra support designing or implementing your course, talk to an instructional designer (like me!) or check out some of the many resources offered on the subject including:

And most of all, don’t forget to have fun!

Questions? Comments? Leave them below!

This is my final post about blended learning as I work my way through this MOOC.

For more, check out my previous posts on blended learning and my series on flipped learning:


Getting a Smooth Blend

blendingeducationOne of the biggest hurdles facing a blended learning instructor is making your course feel like one cohesive whole, rather than like two separate courses. Students notice right away if things feel disjointed and they will immediately check out if it feels as though the professor is unprepared.

In order to avoid this pitfall, it is important to consider how you’re integrating the online and face-to-face portions. There are several ways to make this happen.

Use technology wisely

If you make technology work for you in the classroom, it can not only create a great learning environment but also cut down on your work load. I wrote a post last year on tools for flipping the classroom that are also great tools for use in a blended classroom. In addition, the BlendKit Reader has a great chart that can help an instructor translate face-to-face activities into an online format (see Chapter 4, Table 2).

Bring assignments full circle

If you have a course that meets regularly, you can utilize a course structure similar to that of a flipped classroom where each topic is covered both in class and online. Check out the chart below (adapted from Jackie Gerstein) for some ideas on how to do this and check out this post for more explanation.

Flipped classroom modelBe consistent

An easy way for ensuring integration of activities in any blended classroom is to be consistent with your implementation. For example you might always:

  • present information first in class, with more opportunities for explanation online
  • place assignment instructions and details online and not cover this in class
  • have students submit assignments via an LMS or other online tool

Use a module structure

Organize the online pieces of the course into modules by topic. Each module should be relatively consistent, with recurring elements throughout. This allows students to see each topic area as an integrated whole, regardless of which mode of instruction is used.

Utilize active learning

The more students are engaged in active learning, whether online or face-to-face, the more likely it is that learning is going to happen. This also takes the focus away from modality and instead allows students to be immersed in the material. Check out my post on fostering interaction in a blended learning classroom for more information.

Note that all of these tips are interrelated. A consistently designed, module structure that wisely uses technology and active learning to bring assignments full circle is a great model for any classroom and can make a blended experience feel smooth and well designed.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below!

This is my fourth (and a half) post about blended learning as I work my way through a MOOC on blended learning.

Check out my previous posts on blended learning and my series on flipped learning:

Next time: QA in blended learning

Measuring Learning in Blended Courses

Assessment is an important part of any course. We want to make sure that our methods are working and learners are learning things (correctly!).

One of the things that I love about the blended and flipped classroom movements is the focus on assessment through projects, discussion, and other non-test means. Today I’m going to take a brief look at formal and informal assessments, in addition to some best practices for online quizzes.

Formal (Active, Authentic, Creative) Assessment

Formal assessment does not necessarily mean an exam. Instead, students may be asked to:

  • create a portfolio piece (image, audio, lesson plan, the possibilities are endless!)
  • write a research paper
  • design a web site or visual resumeoffice-624749_1280
  • research and present on a topic
  • work with a client to solve a real problem
  • tell a story through writing, audio, or video
  • create a technical drawing or model
  • design and build a prototype
  • provide proof of application to their life/job

Note that any of these assignments could be submitted in person or online. In fact, some (web site, video, etc.) may be more suited to an online submission.

Regardless of the type of assignment, the goal is to replicate, as closely as possible, what application of their new knowledge might look like in the ‘real world’. The key to successful projects and authentic assessments is to set expectations through thorough instructions that include a checklist or rubric. Rubrics should always be shared when a project is assigned and should have measurable criteria.

Informal Assessment

I love informal assessments. I often think that they can hold more insight than a formal one and are a great way for an instructor to see which students need extra support. In addition, informal assessment can also be more fun for students.

tweet-149813_640One idea I like is the use of Twitter. Assign a hashtag for the course and have students tweet answers to questions, summaries of articles, or links to resources they have found. Summarizing complex ideas into 140 characters can be tough!

Kevin Kelly puts forth the idea of the one-sentence summary. For this activity students write one sentence that answers all the important questions – who, does what, to whom (or what), when, where, why, and how. It is important that the instructor feedback for this activity touches on both what the student did grasp and what they did not grasp – either through errors or omission.

Kelly also brings up the idea of student generated test questions that may then be used on a test, if appropriate of course. This also gives the instructor an understanding of what students are and are not grasping.

A Good Old Fashioned Quiz

Of course, sometimes you just need to give a quiz – perhaps if you are offering a course for certification or have 200 students in your class. If this is the case, technology can offer some great resources. Most online quizzing tools, whether built into an LMS or not, offer:

  • Randomization of test itemsforum-27450_1280
  • Assessment time limits
  • Rules for completion (such as requiring completion within one sitting)
  • Support for proctoring

If you do go this route, the University of Central Florida has compiled some great resources for combating cheating and writing effective test questions.  Their blended learning MOOC also shared a great resource on configuring quiz settings.

Regardless of the type of assessment, remember that the point is to make sure students are learning and to gather insight into your effectiveness. Be sure you use assessments not only to assign grades, but also as a way to see what is working and what is not, and then make changes accordingly.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below!

This is my third (and a half) post about blended learning as I work my way through a MOOC on blended learning.

Check out my previous posts on blended learning and my series on flipped learning:

Next time: connecting the online and face-to-face elements


Fostering Interaction

This past week in the blended learning MOOC I’m participating in, we discussed interactions in a blended learning classroom. There are a few key points that I think are important for anyone creating any class, whether blended, online, or completely face to face.


Types of interactions

There are several types of interactions that students can have in a classroom. They are:

  • Student to content (e.g. reading, homework, reflection)
  • Student to instructor (e.g. lecture, Q&A, feedback from assignments)
  • Student to student (e.g. group work, discussion, peer reviews)

All three types of interaction are important and all should be incorporated in any classroom.

The role of the teacher

A teacher is now rarely thought of as someone up in front of the classroom spewing knowledge and expecting you to take it all in. Active learning, engagement, flipping, and other educational trends have changed that image. There are lots of opinions on what exactly is the role of an instructor.

These include:

The teacher is still seen as the expert, critiquing and drawing attention to good and innovative work. Students are learning from the expert and each other. This model works well for art, writing, or other topics where students can gain insight from each other’s work.

Network administrator
In this model the primary role of the teacher is to help students form connections. Students have a large role in driving their own learning. The teacher is there to build the skills they need to make connections, make sure they are on track, and fill in any gaps.

Often seen in K-12 classrooms, in this model the instructor provides soft guidance through the use of lecture and external resources while at times allowing the learners more room for exploration.

The teacher is seen as an expert learner, curating resources and creating a space for exploration. Learners are able to explore freely, but are given materials, concepts, and other resources as a roadmap for learning.

Note that in all of the models students are interacting with content, the instructor, and each other. Students are at least partially responsible for exploring, creating, or otherwise driving their own learning. The role of the instructor, while slightly different in each, is focused on guiding and evaluating learning.

class-302116_1280Fostering engagement and interaction

Both synchronous and asynchronous activities can be used for student expression and engagement. Below are some methods for fostering engagement and interaction in any course.




Asynchronous discussion Any course can make use of asynchronous discussion. Even in technical fields, students may discuss the best methods for solving problems or grade each other’s work. Students have more time to explore an idea and prepare what they want to say. This can lead to deeper discussion and is a huge benefit to students who need extra time due to language, ability, or other factor.
Synchronous discussion Synchronous discussion can happen in a classroom or online via webinars and chat rooms. In very large courses, smaller groups may be used. Each group can then report out one or two key points. This can provide a sense of community and can be easier for an instructor to moderate.
An instructor may assign roles to students, rotate facilitation of discussion boards, ask students to report back on offline activities, or make each student responsible for researching and sharing information on a particular topic. This allows more student to student interaction, giving students an opportunity to learn from and critique each other. It also encourages students to dive deeper into the material.
Students may blog, podcast, create videos, tweet, create an ePortfolio, present to the class, or complete a project. This gives students a chance to reflect and express their thoughts. Students may describe a process, express opinions, or create work based on concepts and theories presented in class. Student to student interactions can be increased by providing a space for peer feedback.
Group work Students may work together on a wiki, a research project, a class presentation, or case studies. This builds community and allows students to learn from each other.

If you need some guidance on how to plan interactions, this list of questions can help.

Check out the previous post on blended learning basics to get started.

If you’re interested in learning more, I would encourage you to sign up for this MOOC.

Next time: Blended Assessments

Questions? Comments? Leave them below!

Mixing Up the Drag & Drop

It’s the holiday season which means lots of baking in my household. Pies, cakes, bars, cookies… you name it, we make it. With so many treats on my mind, I decided to build a delicious drag and drop demo.


Baking Basics walks you through the process of making a cupcake batter. It showcases a lot of Storyline features including branching, animations, and a slider. But the icing on the cupcake is a custom built drag and drop interaction that gives feedback based on both where and when you drop an object.

Order in a drag and drop is important if you want the learner to demonstrate knowledge of a process such as baking or, on a more serious note, putting on a biohazard suit.

Mapping Your Route

To add an element of order to your drag and drop it’s helpful to first map out the sequence of events. This is part of my map for this project:


Adding in Feedback

For each potential misstep, I added in a custom feedback layer. Constructive feedback was created for when an object is dropped on the wrong target or in the wrong order.

I also added subtle feedback for when steps are completed correctly to let the learner know they are on the right track.

2014-12-11_13-33-03   2014-12-11_13-32-40

Making Order Matter

Now all you have to do is add in some variables and triggers using your map as a guide.

  • First, I created a True/False variable for each variable listed in the map.
  • Then I created a trigger for each action to change the value of the corresponding variable when complete. This is also where I added in any corresponding conditions.
  • The final step was to trigger feedback layers if an action was completed in the wrong order.

And that’s it! To learn more about creating drag and drops in Storyline (& Storyline2), you can check out this tutorial or post your questions below. And you can click the image below to try your hand at making some vanilla cupcakes.

Happy baking!


Celebrating Independence from Cognitive Overload

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans!  I am looking forward to a long weekend of food and fireworks (and trying to soothe frightened dogs).

In an early celebration, I participated in David Anderson’s eLearning Heroes Challenge this week with a quiz on avoiding cognitive overload in multimedia learning. (and, now that I am writing this I am wishing I had given it a fireworks theme… hindsight…)

Anyway, I had fun making it and think it is kind of a cool quiz.


The setup

The quiz asks the person taking it to create a Storyline slide with minimal cognitive load.  Yes, the learner is “creating” a Storyline slide within a Storyline project.

It focuses on the use of Mayer’s 10 Principles of Multimedia Learning. You can use the “hint” link on the player to access more information about those principles.

I initially wanted to do this with drag and drop, but in the interest of time decided it would be best to just use some buttons.


Why keys?

keysWell, when I was creating the buttons for the Image category, there were two key pictures – one with a single key and one with a bunch of keys.  To me they very simply illustrated the difference between the necessary information and extraneous context.  I decided that this would be a great simple image and topic to run with.

The choices

Again, in the interest of time, I decided to limit the number of elements the learner had control over.  3 elements were key (pun intended) – the audio, the image, and the text.

For audio, I started with just a simple On or Off choice.  However, since timing is an important element of Mayer’s 10 principles, I switched it up.  There ended up being 3 choices – Audio on with image/word syncing, audio on with no syncing, and audio off.

I used the image to touch on the idea of only including essential information.  This could have been done in other ways as well, but I figured this would be the simplest.  So, there were 3 images choices – basic (one key), with context (a whole keychain), and no image.  In a drag and drop scenario, you could have more control over placement, but for simplicity the image placement is set.

The text got a little more complicated. There are so many ways to include text on a slide! I broke it into 2 categories that covered most text options: amount of words (key words vs. longer descriptions) and word placement (with the picture or standing off on the side). You also have the option of including no image. This gives the learner 5 different text options.


The logic

There were lots of triggers with lots of conditions in this project. With 45 different possible set ups, I had to be mindful about how I set up the slide logic.

One way I minimized items on the screen was to make good use of states. The audio had 2 visual states (on and off), the image had 3 (bare bones, with context, and hidden), and the text had 7 (hidden, a paragraph, bullets, key words for both image states, and short descriptions for both image states).


I also needed to make sure that all the buttons changed the states of any elements they affected.  So, for instance, if you have set up a complex image with key words, then changed to the simple image, the placement of the key words needed to change.

The logic for allowing the learner to preview the slide they created and for giving feedback got a little tricky, but I won’t go into detail on that here. However, if you would like to see the project file, just drop me a line or comment below.

preview       feedback

Give it a try! 

Click the graphic below to test our your knowledge of Mayer’s 10 Principles of Multimedia Learning.