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


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.


Community Matters

An old friend came to stay with me this past week, someone I love dearly but hadn’t seen in about 5 years. He (Dave) lives on the west coast, I live on the east coast and therefore we don’t get to see each other often.

We had a wonderful time catching up and had lots of stories about where our lives had gone since we last hung out. Both of us had made some job changes, bought houses, and gotten married.  But one topic kept recurring in almost every one of our conversations – community.

Dave and his wife met at a cohousing community. They moved a couple years ago but are struggling as they have not found their place in their new community. I left 2 previous higher education programs because of a lack of a supportive community (in one case, students were even downright cutthroat). I love my neighborhood because of the strong sense of community. You get the picture.

I also found myself talking about all the professional communities I rely on daily to learn new things, get inspiration, and find support. I guess this would be my personal learning network. Today I just want to pay homage to some of those communities.


My colleagues

community animated GIF

Why I love this community: So, I have yet to decide if this is the best way to pick a new job, but I always rely so much more on the connection I feel with a potential manager during the interview than anything else.  I think this probably means I don’t make as much money as I could, but who cares?  All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough for me to work with a team I couldn’t stand.

Anyway, my current team at Engility is awesome.  My group/division works on projects in international development and is full of passionate people that want to change the world. My team members are my life support on a regular basis and I think I do a good job helping them out as well.

I also have so many friends from previous jobs that are always willing to give me feedback, or just go to happy hour after a tough day. A former boss of mine is the one that convinced me to move to my current location (she also lives in the neighborhood). My current manager encouraged me to start blogging and is my biggest advocate. Some of my current and former colleagues are folks I count among my favorite people in the world.

You guys (and you know who you are) are better than money – thanks.

What this community offers that others don’t: personalized support and feedback



Why I love this community: For those that don’t know, I am currently working on a M.A. in instructional systems development at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It’s mostly online, which I was unsure about at first because I felt a large part of grad school was making connections in your field.  But I really had nothing to fear because UMBC is really great at encouraging those connections.

I am only about half way through the program but have already met a slew of wonderful professionals who challenge my thinking and expand my ideas of what is possible on a regular basis. There are so many stories of alumni in this program moving forward in their careers because of connections they made at UMBC.  If you are considering a master’s or certificate program in ISD or instructional technology, I would highly recommend this university.

What this community offers that others don’t: a real push outside of my comfort zone in conjunction with a safe place to fail



community animated GIF

Why I love this community: To be honest, it took a long time for me to be convinced of the worth of professional communities. Then I realized that it was because I wasn’t really engaging with the community… duh.

The local chapters are a great place to meet folks in the field who work in your area.  The national chapters offer blogs, publications, conferences and other forms of support.

So this year I vowed to get more involved and it has really paid off!  I have attended some local meetings where I have made new connections in my area and learned some great information. I attended the ASTD/ATD conference in May and again, made some great connections and learned lots of great information.  I even offered to serve on a panel at the conference and met some amazing folks through that opportunity.  In fact, the ASTD staff member coordinating the panel asked us to write guest blog posts and mine should be up on the ASTD site some time in the coming week.

What this community offers that others don’t: a wealth of professional resources and tools for staying current in the field


eLearning Heroes

community animated GIF

Why I love this community: I’m not going to push Articulate Storyline or other products on anyone, but even if Articulate wasn’t a great tool (which it is!) I would still use it. I’m sure you can guess why – the community.  They have this amazing site full of forums, blogs, and resources.

One of the best parts of this community is that each week David Anderson posts a weekly challenge where anyone can create and submit a piece of work to help build skills, share information, and build their portfolio. Through these challenges I have “met” some really talented eLearning designers/developers, learned lots of new tricks, and really improved my outputs in Storyline.  These challenges have challenged me to try some new things in the software that I might not otherwise have an opportunity to try and made some of my processes more efficient.

Involvement in this community has also really increased my visibility. David and the other Articulate staff are amazing about sharing the work of community members through their site and on Twitter. For the freelancers in the field, they offer a lot of support when it comes to looking for new clients and they even post a weekly round up of job openings every Friday.

What this community offers that others don’t: specific support for and feedback on eLearning and Articulate Storyline and a regular opportunity to build my portfolio and increase my visibility


Note that all of these communities are awesome for the reason that all good communities are awesome – they offer laughter, insight, feedback, and support. Instructional designers and eLearning developers often produce proprietary products, but amazingly are some of the most open, sharing, supportive folks in any profession. I love what I do because it is creative and scientific, but mostly because I always feel like I am a part of something larger.

What communities have been important to you?  Am I missing any that I should be sure to check out?  Please share!

Back to the Basics

After skipping a few weeks of Aritculate learning challenges, I hopped back in the saddle this week. This challenge was nerdily fun. David asked us to create an interaction about an instructional design principle and frankly, I had a hard time choosing!

I went with 4 part Learning Objectives and had some fun with it.

Why Learning Objectives?

I didn’t want to make a click and reveal this week. I needed more fun in my life.

I was doing a little brainstorming and thought about a Mr.Potato Head type of activity with the parts of learning objectives – where you could play around and nothing would be wrong!  That sounded fun.  So, LOs it was.

Visual Design

Once I decided on my topic, I wanted some color inspiration.  I literally googled “color palettes” and found this amazing website called Design Seeds.  Check it out if you ever need color inspiration.  Seriously!GlobalBrights_1

I have also been learning more about typography and wanted to go with a good two font combo for this project. I googled “font combinations” and came across another neat site, I Font You. I found some inspiration and was able to mimic a style combo I liked with fonts I already had. Orator Std and Rockwell made a nice pairing.

Instructional Slide

Since the content was the A-B-C-D format for learning objectives, designing my single instructional slide was easy.  I used large letters and introduced each concept in order. When you click on the concepts, you get more information.

I used a combination of “word art” and voice over to quickly explain each part of the objectives. Each explanation first gives a frequently used, but not very good, option(s) and then gives examples of how those can be improved.



Quick Quiz

I made a quick quiz question to check understanding.  It’s a pretty simple drag and drop, where you are choosing the best version of each of the 4 parts (audience, behavior, condition and degree). If you get it right, you get to continue to the “Mr. Potato Head” slide. If you get it wrong, you have to go back to the instructional slide.



The Fun Slide

Ok, so it’s no Mr. Potato Head really but I think this is kind of a fun way to get a little more exposure to the subject 🙂

Note that I used the same colors for each part of the objectives throughout.
Audience is always green, behavior is yellow, condition is orange, and degree is blue.



The Intro Slide

This slide I created last as I wasn’t sure until the end if I wanted to let folks skip to the fun slide.  But then I thought, why not?  Life is short, folks.



There it is! Go ahead and have some learning objective fun!