Owner at Lucid Way, Tim Hunter explained that “It’s a capstone project of everything we do as a company. Projects like this are challenging, creative, fun, and rewarding. By helping a person or school with these hard to understand topics in engineering, we are in a lot of ways helping our own future.” Lucid Way was an integral part of designing the online instructional delivery at the college.
The project takes simple STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) subjects that are normally taught with a chalkboard or a book, and transforms them into an interactive 3D model that explains the inner workings of various engineering technology topics. The website http://engineertech.org has over 150 simulations that can be downloaded or embedded into a learning management system, website, or be viewed on a classroom project. Everything is free and is available under a Creative Commons license.
The Associate in Applied Science Degree at EICC is designed so that roughly the first three semesters are identical and students can take courses at any of the three colleges. In the final semester, the student has the choice of specializing in four different areas: Automation, Electro/Mechanical, Process Control or Renewable Energy. These courses are delivered with a hybrid approach that works for both people in the workforce and full time students. The courses are offered through the online platform of the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC), and a classroom/hands-on lab environment. Students can enter the course at any given time throughout the year and instructors are available every day and night to help the students with their lab work. This unique approach allows students to complete the courses around their own schedules, but also get the personal face-to-face contact with instructors that is often lacking in fully online courses.
The engineer technology website offers over 150 engineering simulations and is free to use and distribute.
If your students know what needs to be learned in order to master a particular objective, they will know what areas to focus on the most.
In online and distance learning in general, learning objectives are key. Students will often experience problems if there are not clear objectives and instructions in order to achieve mastery of that particular objective. Remember that you cannot take a real-time formative assessment of your students understanding of the material (the look in their eyes) , so writing clear objectives helps to guide your students and your quizzes, assignments, and discussions will help you know if they mastered that objective.
The question we must ask is “What will the learner know, be able to do, demonstrate, feel, etc. when these tasks have been completed?” Then how do you evaluate or assess that indeed they did learn it? This can be accomplished by designing your evaluation tool based on your objectives. We call this instructional alignment.
Let’s talk about a few key reasons writing objectives should be important to you – and your students.
Instructional objectives offer a means for the instructor to design appropriate instruction that will facilitate effective learning.
Instructional objectives provide a framework for devising ways to evaluate student learning.
Thirdly, objectives guide the learner. The rationale is that students will use the objectives to identify the skills and knowledge they must master.
The preceding points taken from “Designing Effective Instruction” 2nd Edition Kemp, Jerrold; Morrison, Gary; Moss, Steven).
In 1956, Benjamin Bloom led a group of educational psychologists who identified 3 levels of intellectual behavior important to learning. His taxonomy, “Blooms Taxonomy” is still widely used in education today.
Instructional Objectives are categorized into 3 domains according to Bloom’s Taxonomy:
Cognitive Domain – (Mental Skills and Knowledge)
Psychomotor Domain- (Manual or Physical Skills)
Affective Domain – (Growth in Feelings or Emotional Areas – Attitudes)
We’ve been busy working on some new projects. One thing we strive for always is our user interface and usability. It cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, you find many online courses and e-learning training doing the wrong things which ultimately shuts the learner down and puts them into the “just get this done” mode – rather than “I want to learn more” mode.
A few things we always keep in mind when designing our e-learning interfaces:
Audience – Are they computer savvy? Are they an older demographic? Are they kids? It all matters. Do not underestimate the importance of this.
Colors – Again, look at your audience. Get a book such as Pantone’s Guide for Communicating with Color or find some other resources for how color affects the psychology of people who see your designs. Ever wonder why banks almost always have the color blue in their logos? It’s because blue is associated with water and the sky which are considered constant and dependable.
Buttons – we like simple buttons for custom e-learning apps – Exit, Help, Continue, Go Back. Keep it simple. Don’t overthink things and make sure the user can navigate effectively. For online courses, don’t overcomplicate your LMS – keep things simple and concentrate on the content you provide – be a facilitator, not a complicator.
Content – keep the content engaging and on the screen. If you just provide PDF files or PPT files for learners to download and post to a discussion, it’s OK but aren’t there better ways of engaging your learners?
Multimedia – Just because “you can” doesn’t mean you should. Drag and Drop interactions and multimedia interactions look cool, but often times are unnecessary. If there is a particular concept that is difficult to teach through the written word or a lecture, consider developing a multimedia interaction that helps to illustrate the concept. We’ve seen time and time again where e-learning developers spend too much time on multimedia and forget about the entire instructional design. Work on your instructional design first, then build it out.
Get a wire diagramming tool to help you develop, test, and get approval of your design prior to development.
Develop your e-learning and get approval along the way. Nothing hurts more than building out the entire e-learning and then showing it off only to find that you have to redo the interface because the buttons are confusing to the target audience test group.
Following this simple advice will help you develop some pretty good training. Simplicity is always best, focus on content and facilitation.
Where Sensei may be lacking, LearnDash may pick up the slack. Here are the features we are looking forward to most. We’ll also review LearnDash when it comes out so be sure to check back.
SCORM Tin-Can API integration. I’m very curious how they have this implemented. This alone would put LearnDash ahead of the crowd. It seems they have done work for the government in the past, so my inclination is that they needed to develop a solution for SCORM and now they are rolling it out to the masses. Very cool!
Certificate creation: Upon passing score of quizzes, users can download a certificate on the spot. We like this for training courses so that workers can download a certificate to present on job sites.
User Management: Any LMS needs this. Apparently users will be allowed to sign up manually or the administrator can add them. This is a key feature to any serious LMS.
Reports: LearnDash is signaling a Reports feature which will be a great addition to the LMS. It is unclear if it is for SCORM files or for all activities in the course.
Pre-Set Course and Lesson Scheduling: Allowing users to access portions of the course based on a set schedule is a great feature. We think this is a cool thing any LMS should have.
I’m curious to know if there are Roles for Teachers, Students, Administrators, etc. Different LMS management access is key to giving certain permissions to certain people. I think this could also be done with other WordPress plugins like Members. We’ll have to wait and see.
We are looking forward to the release of the LearnDash WordPress LMS. Do you use WordPress for delivering e-learning? If so, tell us about it below.
As stated in my previous post, I’ll give an unabashed review of Wootheme.com’s new WordPress plugin known as Sensei LMS. As a pre-cursor, it should be known that this is the very first version released. There is no doubt that they will improve upon the blueprint they have here, but we’ll review it in it’s current form.
Overview of Sensei LMS
First impression: Simple, fresh, cool.
The plugin adds a “Lessons” menu on your administrative side that has some basic functions such as Courses and Lessons.
You can add a “Course” and then add a “Lesson” inside of the course.
You can see a simple Analysis screen of the Users and their Scores in the Course.
The Settings link offers some simple interface and set up options for the courses and lessons and some Woocommerce options if you wanted to sell your courses.
Adding a Course
Adding a course is as easy as making a new post in WordPress. The problem is that there is no category structure. How do I organize my courses into categories? You can’t.
You can add Course Prerequisites (must complete Course 1 to access Course 2), Feature the course on your courses page, add video, etc. Basically it’s a post.
Simple, save and done.
Adding a Lesson
The Add Lesson screen is very similar to the Add Courses screen.
There are a few differences such as Lesson Length, Lesson Prerequisites, Lesson Complexity dropdown, and Lesson Quiz.
The Lesson has the ability to assign a pre-requisite lesson prior to being allowed into the next lesson. So you must complete Lesson 1 to be able to open and take Lesson 2.
Lessons also have a Quiz (which is very simple) See next section.
There are no other forms of assessment. Quiz only.
The Lessons require you to have a quiz. If you do not have a quiz in your lesson, a warning message will be shown to the student unless you make some template file changes. Yeah, really.
Quizzes offer only one type of question type: Multiple Choice.
You can’t add additional answers, or much more than what you see here.
You can integrate Woocommerce (shopping cart) into the so called LMS, to sell courses. Basically, you’ll create a product and then in the Courses area, you’ll select the product that corresponds to the course you want to sell. That will create the button to buy the course. It’s a cool feature.
The Analysis screen shows an overview of your courses and users inside of the course. It also shows you who completed it and what their score is.
What is looks like on the front end
Love the progress bars that show the student how much they need to do prior to completing the course.
The LMS Breakdown
What We Liked
Simple interface, easy to set up a course, easy to associated a lesson to a course, and content creation seemed to be fairly straight-forward.
The integration with Woocommerce – Cool. Selling courses is attractive and if you can use Woocommerce with all of it’s built in credit card processors to do it – then it’s a bonus.
Beautiful front-end interface. All of the WordPress goodness and easy customization comes along with this light-weight plugin.
Woothemes advertises that other plugins will integrate nicely here so if your favorite plugins shouldn’t have any problems playing nice with Sensei.
What We Didn’t Like
On its surface, we know it’s Version 1. Fine, we get it. There needs to be more work done. However, to charge for this plugin in its current state is preposterous.
It’s buggy. Flat out. It seems their testing was not thorough at all. I downloaded, installed, and played around with this plugin for 2 hours before I found multiple issues ranging from bugs, to layout issues, to theme compatibility problems. I do not recommend this version for any kind of production environment.
Assessments: The LMS offers 1 type of assessment in the form of a MC quiz. It’s not 1995 anymore 🙂 E-learning training and Online learning requires more options for assessment than a quiz. Assignments, Uploads, Discussions, etc. It just isn’t here.
Groups: There are no group options in this version.
SCORM: No support for SCORM, however I did talk with SCORM Cloud yesterday and was really impressed with their products. So if you really needed SCORM support in WordPress, you’d want to look at their pricing. I do not see this as something Woothemes will take on because of it’s complexity. Perhaps they can form a partnership of some sort but for now it’s just not there.
Reporting: Reports are weak. There should be ways to break down courses, lessons, users, etc. You should be able to see export options, charts, etc. It’s not there.
User Management/Grading: One of the biggest things that shows as a red flag is the ability to manage users in the courses. You cannot enroll or unenroll students into courses. The only way is to have the student register themself. You cannot change grades, you cannot give a student credit manually, etc. There is no backend control.
Student Dashboard: It’s the WordPress Dashboard. There should be a more refined dashboard for students to see the courses they are in, what their scores are, etc. Or just lock them out of the dashboard altogether and have everything handled on the front end. Yes, we know this can be done with some custom WP work, but for the average user and wide adoption of this plugin, it should be done for them.
The talk around LMS’s in WordPress lately appear to come from the overly bloated and overly expensive LMS systems on the market. This looks like a good start, but there is much more to do to be taken seriously in any large marketplace. At this point, it’s too simple. Your thoughts?