When the clearest route is best – the virtues of linear e-learning

At Willow, our design team are faced with a whole range of learning design and pedagogical challenges – specialising in complex subjects makes this the case (and frankly makes it rather fun!).  Above all, it means keeping an open mind and immersing yourself in the learning and it’s audience, rather than the tools and techniques available.  Only when you figure out the learner journey and the experiences, conversations and activities that are likely to take place on that journey can you select the formal and social learning interactions that deliver the best solution. So I particularly enjoyed Tom Kuhlmann’s post this week, entitled ‘3 Reasons Why Linear e-Learning May Be The Best Solution‘.  When you are creating a learning scaffold to assist learners in creating their journey through a subject, some structure and signposting can be extremely valuable.  In this environment, e-learning that acts as a springboard to other intensive learning interactions (such as virtual classrooms, workshops, assignments, discussions, coursework etc) can play a very useful and effective role.  Of course there are times when the ability to create interactive scenarios are a great tool, but Tom’s advice on when to deploy which method is very sound. The subject of structured versus unstructured learning in a wider senses is also hotting up, with more coverage of Higher Education establishments (such as the joint edX venture between Harvard and MIT) exploring different models of distance learning.  When recently scanning some comments from students enrolled on MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses – check out Wikipedia’s entry to find out more), one of the criticisms of the approach was the lack of structure and direction.  Now of course, there are students who will welcome the freedom to explore, but the job of sifting, validating and selecting high quality learning resources and understanding the types of online activities that work for a particular learning goal is not an easy one.  An entirely unstructured journey may also make the benefits gained from a cohort experience (i.e. sharing the learning journey with others with whom you can share and converse) much more illusive.   It is giving rise to the greater recognition of the value of great instructional design, where the focus in on the understanding and mapping of the journey, understanding the role of others in your journey and the right types of online learning experiences to support this.