Impact of Technology and Multimedia
What impact does technology and multimedia have on online learning environments? What are the most important considerations an online instructor should make before implementing technology?
Technology is the primary, if not exclusive, vehicle, means, and facilitator of all the interactions that a student experiences in an online learning environment: student-content interaction, student-instructor interaction, and student-student interaction (Simonson et al, 2012). This being said, the importance of utilizing technology judiciously and appropriately cannot be overestimated (Laureate Education, 2010). It is only when there is sound pedagogical reason for using a technology or multimedia that they serve to enhance an online learning experience and engage the learner. However, incorporating a tool – however popular and widespread outside the learning environment – just because it is available, “is not a good way to go” (Laureate Education, 2010). The use of any tool should support the learning objectives and outcomes, otherwise, its use in the course will confuse the learners, impede learning, and reduce learner satisfaction and learning effectiveness.
What technology tools are most appealing to you for online teaching as you move forward in your career in instructional design?
I would not say that I have any particular favorites among the many technology tools available for an instructional designer. However, I increasingly appreciate a mix of synchronous and asynchronous tools for communication and collaboration. I used to lean towards the asynchronous-only learning environment as I saw an online learning setting as very distant from any same-time interaction. Boetcher and Conrad (2010), however, point out that “synchronous gatherings support constructivist and social learning strategies” as well as “the social, teaching, and cognitive presences that combine to make learning effective and satisfying” as they meet the students’ need “to be socially active and related while learning” (p.137). However, as if to check my newly-developed enthusiasm for synchronous tools, Burgstahler (2006) warns that such a tendency is dangerous if and ID gets carried away with it as synchronous tools are among those that can create accessibility barriers for students with disabilities.
What implications do usability and accessibility of technology tools have for online teaching?
A very important issue was raised in some of this week’s learning resources – that of accessibility and usability of online learning tools and online course materials. Accessibility is defined as “the ability of the learning environment to adjust to the needs of all learners” (IMS Global Learning Consortium, as cited in Cooper et al, 2007, p.232) and is “determined by the flexibility of the e-learning system or learning resource to meet the needs and preferences of all users” (p.232). An e-learning system’s accessibility is intertwined with its usability described by Cooper, Colwell, and Jelfs (2007) as “the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which users can achieve specified learning (or learning related) goals in a particular environment or with a particular tool or learning resource. We have often discussed accessibility and usability in the context of different learning styles, learner readiness for an online learning experience, learner engagement, or learner needs related to the bandwidth, location (time zone), availability of a technology. However, this week, a new dimension was added to the issue – that of meeting the needs of learners with disabilities so often overlooked in the design of online courses (Burgstahler, 2006).
Although “legislation mandates that programs be accessible to qualified people with disabilities” (Burgstahler, 2006, p.80), and although “some claim online learning will bring education to anyone anywhere at anytime, this goal cannot be realized unless distance-learning programs offer courses that are accessible to all potential students, including those with disabilities” (p.80, original emphasis).
As Cooper et al (2007) point out, “accessibility and usability impact directly on the pedagogical effectiveness of e-learning systems or resources for all learners, but particularly for disabled learners”, which “should be reason enough for them to be addressed in all e-learning projects” from the earliest stages of design and development and all through the projects’ lifecycles (p.233). Early attention to the accessibility and usability of an e-learning system “is far more cost-effective than any retrospective accessibility response and is usually less costly and better pedagogically than the provision of an alternative but comparable learning experience for disabled students” (Cooper et al, 2007, p.233).
“Use of an ‘ad hoc’ or ‘as needed’ approach to IT accessibility will result in barriers for persons with disabilities. A much better approach is to integrate accessibility reviews into the earliest stages of design, development, and procurement of IT”
(US Department of Justice, as quoted in Burgstahler, 2006, p.83).
Burgstahler (2006) calls for Instructional Designers to take the Universal Design (UD) perspective to online course design and development. The concept of UD is described by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (Burgstahler, 2006, p.81). Figuratively speaking, an online course should have a sound wheelchair ramp built in”.
“…distance-learning courses that incorporate UD features can be accessed by students with diverse characteristics, including those defined by age, race, ethnicity, gender, native language, and level of ability to hear, see, move and speak”
(Burgstahler, 2006, p.82).
What did you learn that would help you implement effective online instructional strategies in the future?
Most of all, I was struck by Cooper et al’s (2007) and Burgstahler’s (2006) rationale for considering the needs of disabled students from the early ADDIE stages. I confess, before I read the researchers’ ideas on the topic, I had viewed a course’s accessibility and usability for disabled students as a logical last-minute add-on to a ready course. The concept of Universal Design, as applied by Burgstahler (2006) to the context of instructional design, came to me as almost a revelation: although it seems so natural and reasonable, it had escaped me before Burgstahler (2006) introduced me to it this week – people often tend to overlook important things just because they seem so simple and a matter of course.
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Burgstahler, S. (2006). The development of accessibility indicators for distance learning programs. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 14(1), 79-102.
Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 15(3), 231-245.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Enhancing the online experience [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.