If an Image is Worth a Thousand Words, How Much is an Animation Worth?

Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and James H. Fowler, Ph.D. recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network.

What is fantastic with this article published online is that there is a page with supplementary material containing an animation entitled: Dynamic Graphic Representation of a Portion of the Framingham Heart Study Social Network (pump up the volume).

I’ll admit – I didn’t read the article. My eyes are too exhausted from editing my thesis (and yet somehow I find the will to blog). However, the animation was clear enough, and though I may not have as much information as I would have had by reading the article, I believe I got the essential information that I needed, and because I’m a very visual person, was able to comprehend the message quite quickly.

If only I could have done a giant Tag Cloud of my jumbled thoughts for my thesis!

Reference:

Assumptions about eLearning

eLearning is a human performance improvement initiative that employs electronic technology. By that definition, consulting an Internet-based dictionary to find out the meaning of a word is a form of eLearning. Indeed learning is occurring, therefore improving performance by the means of an electronic technology. Though it is incidental and informal, it falls within the parameters of eLearning.

One of the pitfalls many encounter when developing an eLearning strategy is ignoring the wide spectrum of eLearning possibilities. They limit their potential by centering their approach around the digitization of content via impressive technology. They forget that, much like in the case of the user consulting the Internet-based dictionary, meaningful learning is personal, context-related and most effective when answering a specific need.

This error often occurs because somewhere along the line, we forgot that learning is an activity and we tried to turn it into a product. We packaged it, made it stand-alone and made it so universal that it lost its meaning. This approach might have been successful for short tutorials but doesn’t work well within an eLearning strategy geared towards performance improvement.

7 Assumptions About eLearning

Because it’s online, it’s interactive – Not necessarily. Too often, courseware applications are simply digitized content and are limited to back/next type navigation. Their evaluation components are often limited to rote memory testing. This approach doesn’t take into account the need for personalised and contextualised learning. When we develop an eLearning program, we need it to truly engage the learner via contextual interactivity, getting the learner to truly reflect. These strategies need to be built into the design in order to promote meaningful learning.

eLearning is about putting content online – If this were the case, eLearning costs could be reduced considerably by converting all textbooks to eBooks. We know however that the process of creating the right context and environment for meaningful learning is more complex. An instructional design strategy to breakdown, organize and contextualise content with the goal of teaching concepts and strategies geared at improving performance is required.

eLearning is essentially classroom training online – By now, you should recognise that this is a very limited view of eLearning. eLearning encompasses the wide spectrum of performance improving interventions using technology, for example intranets, knowledge portals, performance support systems, communities of practice, peer-to-peer discussion groups or synchronous text chat, voice or video based course conferencing. For optimal results, the type of eLearning used in must be aligned with the performance and learning objectives.

Using a wide variety of media will accommodate individual learning styles – Again, not necessarily. The degree to which an eLearning program caters to various learning styles is determined by the methodology used at the design and development stage. Certainly, including sound, images, video, animation and text throughout the program will ensure a greater equity for all types of learners. But more importantly, knowing which media best relates which kind of content and activity is a design technique that ensures that the information is communicated in the most optimal manner.

Better technology makes for better eLearning – Technology is simply a support. Finding the best technology to enhance the learning strategy is imperative. However, the best technology in a given instance doesn’t necessarily mean the latest or most impressive technology on the market. One of the biggest pitfalls of eLearning development is letting the technology drive the program. Rather, it is important to determine what the technological needs are and then find the best technology to meet those needs.

Technological improvements means eLearning improvements – Technological improvements can definitely mean lower development and implementation costs, it can improve navigational option and usability aspects, but it doesn’t guarantee a better instructional strategy or design. Technology can assist in the gathering and analysis of the information required to develop your strategy, but cannot develop the strategy. In addition, as technology becomes more complex and sophisticated, designing to exploit the full potential of the technology becomes an even greater challenge.

eLearning is expensive to produce, implement and update – If the wrong approach is used, it most definitely can be. Initial needs assessment, instructional design, prototype development and analysis, change management strategies and planned updates are all strategies that can reduce the costs of eLearning development. They should all be part of your strategy. In fact, the most expensive mistake in eLearning development is using the wrong eLearning strategy and having the project fail as a result.

Developing an eLearning Strategy

In order to make your performance improvement driven eLearning strategy a success, you must:

  • Perform a front-end systemic analysis of performance needs and organisational objectives;
  • Profile your learners, understanding their learning styles, needs, abilities and availabilities as well as the factors that will motivate them to participate;
  • Plan the development of your project with sufficient time and with milestones and deliverables;
  • Develop a prototype in the early stages to ensure that your project is on the right track. The prototype will also give you a better idea of what the project will look like, permitting you adjust your strategy early on and get a better idea when costing the rest of the project;
  • Implement a change management strategy and identify early on areas which will require updates, which in turn will help reduce costs;
  • Develop a promotional strategy to get learners motivated once the eLearning program is implemented. This might require getting some learners on board early on;
  • Evaluate your eLearning program regularly and make the required changes.

eLearning is a human performance improvement initiative that employs electronic technology. By that definition, consulting an Internet-based dictionary to find out the meaning of a word is a form of eLearning. Indeed learning is occurring, therefore improving performance by the means of an electronic technology. Though it is incidental and informal, it falls within the parameters of eLearning.

One of the pitfalls many encounter when developing an eLearning strategy is ignoring the wide spectrum of eLearning possibilities. They limit their potential by centering their approach around the digitization of content via impressive technology. They forget that, much like in the case of the user consulting the Internet-based dictionary, meaningful learning is personal, context-related and most effective when answering a specific need.

This error often occurs because somewhere along the line, we forgot that learning is an activity and we tried to turn it into a product. We packaged it, made it stand-alone and made it so universal that it lost its meaning. This approach might have been successful for short tutorials but doesn’t work well within an eLearning strategy geared towards performance improvement.

Rethinking Multimedia Instructional Material Design for an Equitable and Critical Pedagogy

I presented on the subject of Rethinking Multimedia Instructional Material Design for an Equitable and Critical Pedagogy at two conferences this spring:

  • In Touch with Technology conference presented by the Association of Media and Technology for Education in Canada (AMTEC), Laurentian University
  • Pioneers in a New Age conference presented by the Canadian Association of Distance Education (ACED/CADE), York University

Summary of Presentation

There is a need for educational environments that integrate multimedia learning materials that go beyond basic thinking skills, and incorporate creative and critical thinking skills too. A complex thinking framework fosters multidisciplinary ways of understanding a topic, engaging a student’s awareness of their prior knowledge and ways of knowing, to then work collaboratively with others and develop a broader and more inclusive perspective.