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:


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!

Cartoons Compete: PowToon vs. GoAnimate


Sometimes in eLearning you need to create a quick animated short, either to insert into a longer course or to stand on its own. Storyline 2 actually makes this pretty simple, but there are some platforms that exist that make it even easier by providing built-in graphics; we all know that creating or finding images can take forever!

Two of the leaders in this area are PowToon and GoAnimate. As I mentioned last week, our team recently switched from PowToon to GoAnimate. In the process of switching, I was looking for a comparison of the two but not much was out there. So, if you are thinking about purchasing or switching to one of these platforms, you’re in luck!



PowToon is simple to use.  Creating and timing objects is easy. I like the way that PowToon uses a timeline even though you can only view and adjust one object a time on it. It has the basics and the free plan has some good features and options.


AUDIO. You can only import 1 audio file into the entire project so both creating the audio and timing it to your slides can be really tricky.

You also don’t have much control over the props and characters. They are set in stone. So, if the prop you need doesn’t really fit into your color scheme, too bad.


The free plan offers a decent selection of styles and can be a good way to get started with PowToon. It will only let you share your video through YouTube or with a direct link, so if you want to download videos this isn’t a workable option. However, you can pay per export. The thing that I really don’t like about the free version is that it has both a watermark and an annoying outro slide at the end that has a little “created using PowToon” jingle.

For $228 a year you can get a pretty good business plan that allows you to download videos, get rid of the watermark and outro, and has a lot more included styles though not all of the styles. The only downside to this plan is that you are only allowed to use the videos for your own business; they can not be sold.

If you want the whole shebang, it’ll cost you $684 a year, though they sometimes run specials that will allow you to get the best plan for the price of $228 a year.

Why we switched

GoAnimate offers superb control over both audio and visual elements. You can even create your own custom characters in several of the styles and sync their talking to your audio narration.  It’s impressive! In addition, you can make characters actually hold objects (and they move with the objects in hand) and there are several more options for exits and entrances in addition to motion paths.

Also, you can search for a particular prop among all styles which is super handy and something I was often wished for with PowToon.

GoAnimate also has lots of features I didn’t know I was missing like a Ken Burns effect, great built-in “scenes” that can be modified as needed, and cool infographic animations.

What’s missing

I think my only let down with GoAnimate is that timing objects is a definitely trickier. There is a timeline but it only shows the scenes and audio, not the individual elements in each scene. You have to time objects relative to each other which can be tricky and makes time the full scene difficult. I think the best workaround for this is to create several short scenes with a couple of things happening as opposed to one longer scene with several actions.

GoAnimate does make this a little smoother than PowToon, including the fact that handwritten text matches up exactly with non-handwritten text, an issue I battled in PowToon more than once. I also just realized the other day that you can fit the scene duration to the content so that helps as well.


The free plan for GoAnimate doesn’t allow exporting either, however you can copy embed code for the video or share a link. Also, the branding is a little less intrusive than that of PowToons in that there is only a small logo and not a jarring outro. However, you can only create videos that are less than 30 seconds long.

The mid level plan is $299 a year, about the same a PowToon and with basically the same additional features.You do get access to ALL the styles with this plan which is nice but you still have a watermark and can only use the videos internally.

The high level plan is $599 a year, considerably less than PowToon and, in my opinion, with a great deal more to offer.

In addition, GoAnimate offers a team subscription. It’s pricey, starting at $2000 a year for 3 subscribers, but allows separate accounts to collaborate on videos which is pretty handy.

So which one is better for me?

Glad you asked! Overall, I think GoAnimate is a better tool with more bang for your buck.  If they would add slide elements to the timeline, I would even call it close to perfect! However, if you are looking for a great tool to create some (longer than 30 second) free videos, PowToon definitely has the upper hand. Either way, these tools are easy to use and can really up your animation game!

Do you use either of these? Or another tool that you like?  Please share your experience in the comments!

Welcome to My (Flat) World

This week’s eLearning Heroes Challenge was to create a flat office or desktop theme based on your own work space. I love the visual design challenges so I jumped into to this one wholeheartedly!

What is flat design?

For the visual design newbies out there, flat design is a style that focuses on making images look simple, rather than realistic.  It’s 2D rather than 3D with minimal shadows and shading and is very clean and modern. It is also really easy to create flat images using just some basic shapes!

My inspiration

photoHere is a picture of my work space.  It’s cluttered (though not as cluttered as it was yesterday!).
Because of that, I decided to use it as inspiration rather than create an exact replica.  I actually tried making a close replica at first and boy was it
terrible.  Perhaps this means I need to simplify my office set up?

Well, that’s a question for another day.

My design

I ended up cutting out some of the desk shelving and moving the cork boards over to that area instead. I also cut out all the stacks of papers and magazines and flies as well as 4 of my 5 pencil cups.  I don’t know why I have so many pencil cups but I’m sure it is someone else’s fault.

2014-09-16_11-43-53I decided to keep my most fun element, a panda shaped pencil sharpener and mini shredder (you turn its tail to make either action happen), along with my yellow walls. I also added in my cat on top of the printer as that is her favorite napping spot when I’m in the office.

Adding some interactivity

In theory, this would be used as a setting for an interaction.  I think it would be a little crowded to use as a simple background. So I went ahead and added some interactive elements into it. You can drag the pencil to the panda to sharpen it, view “videos” by clicking on the webcam or first monitor, read an excerpt from one of the books, or view documents in the inbox, on the cork board, and from the printer.

Click on the image above to check it out and let me know what you think!  You can also download the source file to use or pick apart at your leisure.

Postscript: While my office has a PC desktop setup, I actually created this on my brand new Macbook Pro while sitting on the sofa in my living room… Just another person prodding Articulate for a native Mac version of Storyline. (Yes, I have put in a feature request!)

Tell Me a Story… Resources!

800px-Once_Upon_a_Time_LogoI was planning to write a post on some tips and tools for storytelling to wrap up this series.  But there are already so many great free and low cost resources out there that I just decided to curate a list and share with you guys.

Fun things around the internet:

Resources I linked to in this guest post:

Articles from ASTD ATD and other professional sites:


Free tools for telling digital stories:

I know that there are lots of other great resources out there… please share them in the comments and I will add them to this list!

Tell Me a Story… But Edit it First!

Photo by Denny Culbert

Our guest post this week is from Rachel Nederveld, a film producer, writer, musician and all around creative genius who also happens to be my sister. She recently wrote a
series for Vice on living in the swamps of Louisiana and is currently living out her dreams in the other LA, Los Angeles. If you need someone to produce a music video, or a partner in crime for an off-the-wall adventure, this is your gal.


One of the things that I love about film is all of the different aspects of storytelling that are tied into one – writing, lighting, acting, composition, and so on. It’s the director’s job to make sure that all of these are working together during production, the story is being told successfully through the delivery of the lines, the shadows carefully placed, the colors thought through on each set, the angles of the shot are appropriate for the scene. But the thing that really ends up tying them all together is something that all of these art forms have in common, and that is editing. In fact, editing is so important there is a theory that for the Oscars, Editing Nominations predict the Best Picture Winner.

When you go into production, you start with a script. When you come out, you end up with hours upon hours of footage to comb through. The original story is (or isn’t!) in there, but is it the best story? Which ideas on paper actually translated successfully visually and aurally and which ones didn’t? Is there a way to use your footage to tell the same idea better than originally planned? It is rare that the answer is a confident yes. So then the director takes their baby and places it in the tender love and care of an editor with confidence in their ability to do magic.

We_Can_EditOne of the hardest parts, especially in self editing, is to take out something that you love but that doesn’t add to the story. Say you have the most stunning view of a city at night. Or you somehow caught a jack rabbit running down the road into the sunset and it’s the most amazing and beautiful thing you’ve ever caught on camera. Maybe it’s a scene that you wrote that is so profound it made your friends cry when they read the script. And now things have changed and it doesn’t totally fit in, but man it’s such great dialogue how can you possibly take it out?

My favorite mantra in editing all mediums is less is more. When I’m writing even an email I always read it over and think, how can I say this in fewer words and still get the point across? I can’t count the number of times I’ve written a page long emotional email, saved it, then come back the next day and said the same things more successfully in two sentences. The same goes for film. A common rookie mistake is to be down to a 2.5 hour edit and believe NOTHING can be taken out.

Really, nothing?


In the age of the rise of the Indie/low budget everything, we now have the privilege of being able to over-create content. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s worth the time, the thought, and the discipline if you want your end product to be the best it can be.  Just remember, no matter how hard it is, to stick to the core of your story and find the best way to communicate that idea.