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E-learning design: Bridging the gap between theory and practice

A look at how a university course was designed and implemented and the theory that brought that to fruition.

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Mark de Boer
7 June 2013

There are an immeasurable number of ways of designing an online course coupled with face-to-face learning.  In order to provide a good balance of learning face to face with the students use of a Learning Management System (LMS) as a tool for communication and collaboration, a lot of thought is needed to design to maximize the learning opportunities for the students and ability to monitor student progress for the teacher.

This book will outline a course that is in its fourth year of development. There have been many changes, trials and errors and ways that I have set up and executed this course. Currently this is in its most streamlined state, with the onus being completely on the students to get the work done and to take responsibility for their own learning. This book will lead you through the entire set up of the course, notes of how the course proceeded, data results of the course and the linkage between theory and practice that is much needed in the e-learning world.

My undergrad years were not spent learning about education, I was studying biochemistry, genetics, ornithology and cell biology and was prepared to spend the rest of my days doing research and fieldwork. As a teacher, I have always openly confessed to the fact that I don’t really like teaching. There is nothing in my brain that would be worth transferring to the students in the classroom that they could possibly use 20 years from now. The set up for this course took a long time, but once the set up was finished, my role was not teaching anymore. I started the role of a facilitator in the classroom. That for me was a much more comfortable role and interestingly enough, my students were more engaged. What I enjoy doing is making sure students are learning, looking things up, collaborating, or doing things that will earn them a few more smiles from me. The harder they work, the more they learn. My goal as an educator is to make students learn, not to teach them. As for this book, well, as you go through this book, I encourage you to try a few things, see what works, what doesn’t work for you and see how your students respond to having to look up a few things on their own - taking responsibility for their own futures. As they should!

One thing you might notice in this book is the absence of the phrase ‘blended-learning’. There is a very simple reason for this.  While I was sitting in a presentation at the ISCAR conference in Rome 2011, a professor from a South African University said harshly to the presenter ‘Why do you keep calling this blended learning? What are you blending? The students are using tools to learn and based on Vygotskian principles, we should be calling this tool-mediated learning’. He was right. Throughout this book I will be referring to the use of computers, files, language or any other source that students use to communicate and learn using as tool-mediated learning.

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