Design of the e-learning environment
A significant finding in my study relates to the design of the online learning environment. Participants identified that having links “visually obvious” was seen as an important part of the web site design. Participants in this study identified that having a logical order was an important element in the design of the online environment. By having links signposted in a logical order that is consistently used throughout the site, gave the course members familiarity with the learning environment and enabled course members to move around the site easily; “allowed moving from one page to another easy to do”.
Another finding in this study suggests a layout with clear organisation is necessary to encourage easy navigation. For example “it is easy to navigate especially your front page with all the links right there and you just click in to the session you were up to” suggests that having all the major links in one area of a Home page, with the links clearly visible, helps course members to navigate the site quickly and easily from a central area to the relevant session without becoming frustrated by not knowing where to go. This finding aligns with Lin and Gregor (2006) who claim that the visual design of the web site is important and encourages course members to maintain concentration. They also suggest that the structure of the web site should make it quick and easy for course members to navigate to find what they want.
How the links are sequenced and the sessions organised is important for the online environment design and layout. Participants identified this as being important “On the top was everything you needed – files, web links, discussion areas, learning outcomes”. This design enabled the course members to feel familiar with the structure for each session so they were then able to continue with their learning for each session. Becoming directors of their own learning was identified as important by participants: “the design was that the learners became the directors of the learning really”. Participants mentioned the learning outcomes as being important to each session, “that constant link into the relationships between all the different areas of the online environment with the learning outcomes for each session”. This can enable the course members to find all areas without having to search, providing easy access and flexibility as suggested by Duffy et al. (2006).
When designing the online learning environment, providing opportunities for course members to reflect on their learning was seen as important in this study. This is evidenced by one person who stated: “I definitely remember a point where there was a change in the level of my own conversations because the reflections were coming through and showed I had done a bit of learning and experienced some success”.
This finding aligns with Fahey (2004) who suggests that if components in online environments are not organised in a meaningful way, they are more difficult to understand. Trewern and Lai (2001) also emphasise the importance of having a structured learning environment to ensure that course members are not confused about what is being asked of them. Having these clearly stated learning outcomes for each session describing the intent of the session in terms of the knowledge skills and attributes (Ally, 2004; Davis, 2004) enables the course members to approach the session with a clear view to content of the session and to gauge whether they have achieved the learning outcomes at the conclusion of the session. The learning outcomes could then be translated into the session content and resources to enable the course members to achieve the goals (
2004). This finding supports Palloff and Pratt (2001) who suggest that a well
constructed online environment is one which is logical in its design, easy to
navigate and is inviting to the user. Davis
The next group of findings relates to the weekly tasks and two course assignments. These are related to participants’ educational context and are a key component in the online environment for teaching practitioners.
Participants in this study valued the weekly tasks which were at the conclusion of each session. These tasks involved the course members using the skills and knowledge that were built up during the session and were then used in the course member’s own context. This is evidenced by comments from participants such as “Couldn’t have got through without them – just having the skill building and then putting them into a context that had a purpose”, and “it definitely added another level of learning”. The participants described how they needed to put the knowledge into a context that had a purpose which was an integral part of the weekly tasks undertaken by course members. They felt that this was important to encourage them to use the skills in the future. In their own contexts course members were able to use the skills and knowledge within their classrooms or as part of their administrative roles. This is illustrated by one participant who described how, if she had only skill building without putting these into a context with meaning it would have been “pointless” as she would not have been able to transfer the skills to use in context in the future. Another participant found that through doing tasks in her own context, she was able to put everything she had learnt into a context with a purpose. Course members having ample opportunities to use the skills and knowledge in their own contexts supports E-Learning Advisory Group (2004) who point to the importance of having ample practice opportunities in the learning experiences to facilitate the growth of connections and to link theory to practice. In addition this finding endorses Timperley et al. (2007) who suggest that when undertaking professional development, teaching practitioners need multiple opportunities to learn through a range of activities to assist them to integrate the new learning into their own context. Learning needs to be relevant and applicable to the course member’s own real-life experiences (Duncan, 2005; Lu & Jeng, 2006/2007).
Understanding the pedagogy with the skill building was valued by participants as this enabled them to make the connections in their learning. “Theory helped consolidate the reason for and why, we use these technology skills in teaching”. Learning skills with technologies is little use without developing knowledge about how to use the digital tools to teach more effectively, developing understandings of the relationships between the technologies and content, and how to use the technologies in context (Koehler & Mishra, 2004; Leach et al., 2004).
Course members were also required to complete two assignments related to their own classroom practice or administrative roles. These assignments were highly valued by the participants who all described the benefits of the assignments that were linked to their own practice. A participant said, “trial your learning in an authentic context has been brilliant for me” while another described how having an authentic and meaningful assignment meant that she had seen how successful using these tools in the classroom was and now had the confidence to use her skills in her classroom in the future. Another participant used the assignment he had completed to develop an administrative tool which will be used as a “productive tool” for part of a contract his school had won.