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In search of instructional design principles for online learning in higher educationLou Siragusa
Curtin University of Technology
The assimilation of the Internet into higher education for delivering course materials to students has become common place. We have seen how the Internet has been successfully used to deliver courses entirely online as well as supporting traditional face-to-face classes. What is found, however, is that it is often just used as a depositary of information (such as course outlines and tutorial notes) for students to access, download and to print out. Educators are hearing from students dissatisfaction with the use of the Internet for learning as it appears that some costs of the course are being transferred to the students without any apparent benefits. Much of the online course development work being carried out is not informed by the vast body of knowledge of existing instructional design principles. There are ongoing concerns with how online learning can be made more meaningful to students.
This paper presents a research study currently in progress that seeks to identify effective instructional design principles for online learning. The initial phase of this research will be presented with focus on how the survey instruments are being developed. The survey instruments are intended to collect students' and lecturers' perceptions of effective instructional design principles.
The vast body of knowledge and research referred to as instructional design has been largely overlooked by designers and developers of online learning environments. The Internet has undoubtedly provided a unique method of communication and delivery for participants in higher education (McBeath & Siragusa, 2000). Although creating Web pages is relatively easy, creating effective and useful Web pages is still difficult (Pan, 1998). It has been argued that existing principles of instructional design has application to this relative new medium in which all designers of educational Web-sites need to be acquainted with.
This paper presents a study in progress that aims to identify effective instructional design principles for online learning environments in higher education. It emphasises the development of survey instruments used to collect students' and lecturers' perceptions of the effectiveness of online learning environments.
Published literature regarding the use of the Internet for learning frequently comment on the need for sound instructional design to create effective online learning environments Chen (1998). The literature also reveals that decisions made at the instructional design phase of course development can influence and encourage different learning strategies that can be used by students (Smith & Ragan, 1999, pp. 138, 233-234; McLoughlin & Oliver, 1998; Bull, Kimball, & Stansberry, 1998, pp. 40-41).
The following will present some of the instructional design principles and learning strategies that were investigated by educators and researchers. These have been categorised as: Structure, Content, Motivation, Feedback/Help, Interaction, and Learning Strategies. The types of questions presented in these investigations have contributed to the design of the survey instruments used in this research.
Figure 1: The Dick and Carey systems approach model for designing instruction
(Dick & Carey, 1996, pp. 3-4)
Figure 2: Summary of the research design
As this research will focus on higher education, the questionnaires and interviews will be aimed at students and lecturers in universities within Western Australia. This will invo lve examining as many online educational Web sites as possible by finding online lecturers and students willing to participate. By questioning as many students and lecturers as possible, a clearer picture of what they perceived to be effective instructional design principles in online learning can be made.
The task, therefore, was to create questions that solicit students' perception of how well instructional design principles had been applied to their online learning environment. From the instructional design model shown in Figure 1, the questions in Table 1 were developed. These questions assisted with collecting students' perceptions of the effectiveness of each stage of the instructional design process.
|Assess needs to |
|The learning materials were meaningful to me.|
I clearly understood what was expected of me.
I clearly understood what resources (eg., textbooks, software, etc.) I required to assist me with my learning.
I clearly understood when I should use these resources throughout the unit.
|I clearly understood the steps that I needed to follow throughout the unit.|
I understood how the skills and knowledge that I learned throughout this unit helped to build my overall knowledge of the subject matter in this unit.
|I felt that I had enough prior knowledge to succeed in this unit.|
The learning materials in this unit fitted in with my stage of development in this course.
|The objectives of this unit were clearly described to me.|
I clearly understood what skills and knowledge I had to learn in this unit.
|I clearly understood whether I had the required prerequisites to succeed in this unit.|
The test(s) in this unit provided a clear indication of what I had learned in this unit.
|The learning materials for this unit were well organised and followed a logical sequence.|
This unit was interesting.
The online learning materials were appealing.
The objectives for each topic were clearly defined.
Which of the following activities did you participate in:
* Group discussions
* Case studies
* Other (Please describe)
|Develop and select
|The online component of this unit really helped me with my learning.|
My lecturer/tutor put careful thought into the development of the online learning materials (topic notes, lecturer notes, lab notes, etc).
Please comment on how the online learning materials that you worked with could be improved.
|Design and conduct
|I had no difficulties learning new information in this unit.|
I learned all I needed to know for this unit.
I learned information that is relevant to me
I can use the information that I learned with other units within my course.
The content in this unit held my attention.
I felt confident working through the course content.
The content was clear and easy to understand.
I was satisfied with my progress of learning as I worked through this unit.
|Revise instruction||Please comment on the strengths of the content in this unit.|
Please comment on the weaknesses of the content in this unit.
Please comment on how the content could be improved.
|Design and conduct
|My results were better having a unit with an online support than units without online support.|
I found it easier to study with a unit with online support.
It was more enjoyable to study a unit with online support.
Please comment on the worst things about studying online.
Please comment on the best things about studying online.
Please make any other comments you wish to make including suggestions for change.
As the survey instruments are seeking students' and lecturers' perceptions (affective), the majority of the questions were written in a five-point Likert-scale style format. The questionnaires also contained a combination of factual questions and open ended questions. The wording of the questions that appeared in the final survey were modified so as to relate to online learning environments in higher education. The Background section presented a number of studies that used questions to identify instructional design principles for online learning. These questions were also incorporated into the survey instruments for this research.
Table 2 shows the dimensions used for the questionnaire and interview schedule to be administered to the students. Table 3 shows the dimensions used for the questionnaire and interview schedules to be administered to the lecturers. The questionnaires for both students and lecturers are to be administered online. The user, after completing the questionnaire, will then click on the Submit button that will pass on the responses to the researcher via email. The responses will then be sorted (by the use of a macro) into an Excel worksheet ready for analysis. The interview schedules will be modified according to the responses obtained from the questionnaire and will be administered to either individual participants or in a group interview setting.
|This described how the information was displayed to students on the Web. This also described in what order the learning materials were found.|
|Content||This described the content of the learning materials that students worked through. Content included the subject/course content, assignments, activities, case studies, lecturer/tutorial/laboratory notes, reading materials, tests, etc.|
|Motivation||This described how the learning materials and the online learning environment were made appealing and interesting for students to increase their levels of motivation.|
|Feedback/help||This described how students obtained coursework feedback and technical help.|
|Interaction||This described how students communicated with each other and with their instructor.|
|Learning strategies||This described what learning strategies instructors encouraged students to use and what learning strategies students found effective.|
|Importance of the use of the Internet for teaching||This described lecturers' attitudes towards online learning. This examined how important to the lecturer is the use of the Internet for student learning.|
|Abilities to use the Internet for teaching||This described what skills do lecturers have to be able to create materials for online learning. This also described the time taken for lecturers to learn appropriate skills for online delivery of classes.|
|Internet support and training||This described what sort of technical support for online learning is available to lecturers and where it is utilised. This also described the amount of training available for delivery of classes online.|
|Decision making process||This described the level of inputs lecturers have with the decision making process of online learning development and administration.|
|Development activities||This described the amount of involvement lecturers have with the design and development of online learning environments. This also described what informs lecturers about instructional design principles for online learning including what learning strategies they encourage their students to use.|
A difficulty with piloting a questionnaire in an online format is getting feedback from students and lecturers. With paper-based questionnaires, respondents can just write any comments about the questions (such as "I don't understand what this question means") directly onto the questionnaire. To overcome this difficulty, text boxes (coloured green) were provided on the pilot questionnaires at the end of each section so that the respondents could type in comments about the questions.
Students from the Faculty of Education at Curtin University of Technology were selected for the initial pilot of the student questionnaire. The students who participated attended a face-to-face delivered class that was supported with an online component. Lecturers from the Faculty of Education at Curtin University were also asked to participate in the initial pilot. The results from these pilots are presented in the following section.
Initial reactions from both lecturers and students to the pilot were generally positive. There were minor comments provided by the lecturers and students about some of the questions in the online questionnaires. These comments resulted in modifications of both the student and lecturer online questionnaires.
At the time of writing, two lecturers participated in the initial pilot of the online questionnaire for lecturers. Table 6 shows the brief statistics for the affective questions in the "Importance of the use of the Internet for teaching" section of the lecturer questionnaire. As with Table 5, Table 7 shows examples of item response charts for questions 13 and 14.
|NR = No response, SD = Strongly disagree, D = Disagree, U = Uncertain, A = Agree, SA = Strongly agree|
The results presented in Table 4 indicate an average mean of approximately 4.09. This would normally be considered a favourable result as 4 represents Agree to the positively constructed questions. There are, however, some questions that may give the wrong impression such as question 30 "There was a good mix of media (eg., graphics, sound and animation)." This question may not be relevant to this particular Web-site as sound and animation may not be needed for this Web-site. Question 30 may unnecessarily lower the average mean. The final analysis, therefore, will need to take these factors into account.
The results of the data collected at this stage are inconclusive as the sample presented here is quite small. The purpose of the data collection was to pilot the questionnaires to assess the validity of the questions and to test the response submission process. The results shown in Tables 4, 5, 6 and 7 demonstrate how the data from the actual sample population may be analysed.
At the time of writing this paper, the author is still seeking lecturers and students in higher education who would be interested in participating in this study. Interest can be registered to the author via email at: email@example.com. All comments are most welcome.
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|Author: Lou Siragusa|
2 Urbahns Crescent, Bateman WA 6150
Ph: +61 8 9332 1114 Fax: +61 8 9332 1114
Please cite as: Siragusa, L. (2001). In search of instructional design principles for online learning in higher education. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2000. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2001/siragusa.html