I was watching a Fora TV video recently which perfectly illustrated one of the most common and horribly wasteful mistakes of online educators.
The talk was focused on active learning in the offline classroom, but most educators using the internet and newer technology would be wise to heed this lesson as well.
One of the panel members was Charles Best, the former schoolteacher and founder of the uber-successful educational non-profit, Donors Choose.
In the video Charles mentions that one of the most common donation requests made by teachers is for a special kind of digital projector to replace the one they currently use.
The older models use clear plastic projection sheets and just shoot light through the sheet, off a mirror, and onto the screen.
The new ones use a high definition camera, and project the image that way.
This seems like a reasonable upgrade, that will add value to the classroom experience, right?
Well, Charles doesn’t think so (and I have to agree).
Because almost all the teachers are using these new expensive projectors in EXACTLY the same way they used the old kind.
That is, all they’re doing is projecting printed notes or text on to the screen.
So literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of nonprofit funds are being spent so the projected image of a written poem or a periodic table… will appear *slightly* more ‘crisp.’
What a waste!
The actual difference in the learner experience here is extremely small. So small that most of them probably don’t even notice it.
Don’t get me wrong… I love new technology, as many of us do. It’s fun. It’s sexy. It can give us additional tools to do our jobs well.
But I only love it when it’s actually used thoughtfully, and FOR A REASON.
Like when this new tech is used to solve a problem that couldn’t be solved before, or add something completely new to a learning environment, that wouldn’t be possible without it.
Charles gave an example of one science instructor who used his new digital projector to show his large classes detailed, close up pictures of rock samples and fossils.
That’s an example of a good use of the technology. This simply wouldn’t be possible with one of the old-school projectors.
The instructor used the tech to solve a real problem, and used it to it’s full potential.
See the difference?
That example is from offline classrooms, but the misguided, new-technology-for-its-own-sake mindset is everywhere in the education world, and it’s especially infectious online.
When designing an e-learning experience, way too many educators are choosing the technology platform(s) first, and then adapting their course material to fit that mold.
It’s almost like they’re letting the tech design the course structure and possibilities for them.
This happens either because the educator wants to use the latest-and-greatest tool for the sake of being ‘cutting edge’, OR they’ve gotten into a rut of using a familiar tool over and over to solve almost every course design problem they encounter.
Both of these mistakes are to be avoided at all costs.
And I’ll bet you can guess the approach that I encourage you to use instead:
First and foremost, start with your course goals and desired outcomes, design the experiences that produce these outcomes for your learners, and then select the proper tools to make those experiences happen.
It’s such a shame that the ‘tech first’ design approach is becoming the new normal, ALL OVER the online learning industry. If you’ve been in the trenches for a while, I’m sure you’ve seen it too.
It’s getting worse.
Go check out some of the most common questions on online forums and question/answer websites like Quora. You’ll see a lot of questions like this,
“What are the hottest new technology trends on how to engage learners?”
Ass-Backwards, I say!
The most engaging courses are engaging because they’re well designed courses, not because they use some flashy new graphics or slick user interface.
The key thing to remember here is that these software and technology platforms are just tools. Different tools can be used to solve different problems, and there is no ‘super tool’ that will solve everything.
Especially if the problem is a poorly designed course in the first place.
So the moral of the story:
Beware, new instructional designer…
Because it is very easy and very common to slip into the bad habit of letting technology dictate what your learning will look like, and limiting what kind of experiences your learners can have (whether it happens by constantly chasing the next ‘shiny object’ software, or by becoming complacent and dependent on one or two ‘one-size-fits-all’ tools).
Either way you’ll get the same result:
Your instructional design skills will grow lazy and weak.
And you’ll improve your craft much more slowly, if at all.
Fighting back against this ‘technology first’ impulse, and creating a mindset of extreme adaptability (so you can choose from a huge toolbelt of technologies, new and old, for the right reasons), is a major focus of mine.
And it’s a strongly shared value with my clients too.
Interested in learning more?
– Anna “you don’t need a chainsaw to carve a turkey” Sabramowicz
P.S. Do you think I’m wrong about all this? Have a different philosophy of instructional design? Have no idea what I’m blabbering on about, or have a question?
I want to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below.