Content Delivery or Learning Experiences

Great content delivery is an adequate form of education, but is there more? Do you have experiences of sports coaching or studying where a teacher just gave you raw information and then left you to your own devices? Do you have experiences of teachers leading you through a process of reflecting on information and applying it to your own situation?

I believe that great content should always be one part of our educational environment. It is a very important part, but just one part. How we structure and package our delivery will make the difference between whether we have great content, or great experiences of learning.

Here is a silly little example. Pretend that the picture is a video lecture, presentation or reading that you think has very good information.

Great content

Option 1: Great content

What if we were to use this example as part of an intentionally created learning experience? We could make an attempt to draw a student in, through their own past experiences, and then use these a tool to help them to understand. We could provide space for the student to reflect appropriately on the content, and to apply it to their own lives. We could also provide a space for students to share in the experience of the entire class by posting responses to, and reflections on, the great content.

Option 2: Great content as part of a learning experience

Option 2: Great content as part of a learning experience

Trying to set up a deeper educational experience will take some extra time and thought, but this gives a space for students to think more deeply about what they are learning.


Advantages of this type of learning experiences:

  1. Students get to apply information immediately.
  2. Students are able to learn from other students in the class by seeing their comments.
  3. Seeing how they apply it to their own lives also gives you immediate feedback on whether or not they are actually learning from the materials.
  4. Lecturers and tutors are able to model engagement with the content through their own comments.


  • Can you think of anything where you have learnt through immediate reflection and engagement? How were those learning experiences?
  • Do you see any problems with this style of learning experience?

Feel free to use the comment section that should appear below.


8 Tasks of Online Education

Online education is not easy. I know that I often don’t feel like I am doing the job that I think I should be doing for my students. Part of my trouble is that I often just don’t feel like I have enough time  to do the job that I want to do for my students. But sometimes it is more about not knowing exactly what I should be doing.

Here are eight tasks that we maybe need to try and fulfill in our modules.

  1. Tour guide
    Teachers guide students through the learning experience
  2. Cheer leader
    Encourage students to keep doing what they are doing, or to get more involved in the module.
  3. Learning coach
    Teachers should give students opportunities to experience and practice skills under guidance.
  4. Individual and group mirror
    Students need feedback on how they are doing.
  5. Social butterfly
    Like a great party host, teachers need to facilitate social interactions in the online space.
  6. Big brother
    Check up on students who are not engaging with the course, or who have missed important pages.
  7. Valve control
    Control the pace at which students are able to access and engage with work.
  8. Co-learner
    Teachers should never stop learning

(For a video to perhaps hold in tension with this, see Sugata Mitra speaking on the future of education, and a pedagogy that relies in some ways on the absence of the teacher)

What would happen if we were to take these functions and put them into a marking rubric for ourselves? How would we score as online educators? Take a few moments to think about your personal style and workload in class. Maybe score yourself on a scale of 0 – 5 for the above 8 tasks. How happy are you with your self-assessment?

The value of quizzes: weekly or by-weekly

In some conversations that I have had there has been a resistance to multiple choice quizzes.

  • They do not test deep understanding
  • It is difficult to test for application
  • It is easy to cheat in an online environment

Feel free to add your own issues to the list. I must admit that I am a skeptic, and have taken shortcuts on my fare share of online multiple choice quizzes. However, looking back I can see how the well set tests achieved the results set out in the arguements for quizzes set out below.

Use quizzes to:

  1. Set the pace at which students are working
  2. Direct students to what they should be focusing on in the readings.
  3. Reinforce the learning that has been done.
  4. Provide immediate feedback.
  5. Save time for the instructor.
  6. Give students a chance to re-learn their work and improve their grade.

Quizzes can be a valuable learning tool, if teachers put the required prep work into them. There are a few things that we can do to set effective quizzes that save us time, evaluate effectively and are good learning tools.

  1. We can place a time limit on quizzes
    This will force students to do their readings before coming to the quiz.
  2. We can randomize both the order of questions and the order of answers. We can also set more questions that the test needs, and then allow Sakai to randomly choose from the pool.
  3. We are able to allow multiple attempts
    This encourages students to go back to their work to learn the answers that they didn’t get the first time, or re-read their work because they realized that they just didn’t learn it well enough the first time.
  4. Therefore, we can set 30 questions on a reading, set Sakai to randomly choose 15 questions, allow students 20 minutes to complete the quiz, and give 3 attempts. We can be almost 100% sure that students who want to improve their marks will not still get original questions on the third attempt.
  5. We can include on or two paragraph questions, slotted in between multiple choice questions to test for deeper understanding.

Online Tutorials: push through to learn great things

As I write the draft for this blog post I am struggling through a tutorial using Adobe Connect, it is coming from the USA, and quite frankly, I am surprised that I am still signed in. I have discovered that on this internet connection I can stream a YouTube video smoothly, but I can’t listen to smooth audio in this tutorial. Adobe connect is supposedly the best online tutorial software available, and for me it is not working.

At Cornerstone conducting tutorials via Google hangouts, and have really struggled with some aspects of them. At the same time, many students who are not able to come in to campus have found the tutorials to be very helpful. Some have especially appreciated the ability to watch recordings of the tutorials.

What I have learnt tonight is that even when technical things go wrong, we can still learn a lot. An engaged learner, somebody who actually wants to learn, will be able to gain important information even from the glitchiest tutorial.

We have struggled with:

  • Poor connections
  • Not being able to hear one presenters
  • Not knowing all of the technical aspects of this software.

Perhaps it is not our Institution or our software alone that are struggling so much. There is perhaps another systemic issue at play that hampers the delivery of great webinars and online tutorials in South Africa. Either way, here is a summary of some lessons learnt.

What I have discovered through this 1.5 hour struggle:

  • As I am listening to bits and pieces, and seeing bits of slides, I am getting links to valuable content and hearing snippets of good stuff.
  • It is frustrating that the audio comes and goes, but I am able to have a space to think and work while this lesson is going on in the background ever now and then.
  • Even a glitchy tutorial can be valuable, it becomes what the student makes of it.
  • Visuals communication is very important when presentation is not smooth.

Some important resources and ideas that I have found as a result of this:

Stay tuned for the next few blogs based on important lessons I learnt through this seminar that went so badly.

What I learnt while making movies

Ok, so I wasn’t really making movies. What I have been doing was making videos. I have learnt a few good lessons here.

The idea is that we want to make instructional videos that are engaging for students. I want to make sure that students feel like they are being spoken to, that they feel like this video is made with them in mind. I also want to make sure that they see the need for this video that I am making.

So, understanding that I don’t feel like I have achieved this yet, here are a few lessons that I have learnt.

1) Keep it short and simple.

Unless your video is AMAZING, students will not be able to stay focused for very long. So make sure that you only include the essential aspects of this video in this video. It is very easy for us to keep rambling on. If you need a follow up video, then make a short potent follow up video. Students then have control over what they watch when, keeping them more focused and more engaged.

2) Be well prepared.

Sometimes you can get away with being a little unprepared in a classroom. When you have students in front of you then in conversation you can work with them, you can correct yourself, etc. A video is less forgiving. Know what you want to say before you start. Know how you want to say it. Maybe even know what facial expressions you want to use at what parts. If you want to use pictures or slides, then make sure that you have them prepared beforehand.

Practice what you are going to do and say beforehand so that when you get to doing it you know the flow well, you can then focus on connecting with the students on the other side of the camera.

3) Have a script.

Part of the preparation process is writing a script. This, firstly, helps to make sure that you stay on track and say what you want to say in the best possible way. A script also helps video editors to do their job quickly and effectively. You will be able to know exactly where you made a mistake and you will be able to go back to the exact point where you went wrong. You will be more likely to get your grammar correct and you will be more likely to say those key phrases that you want to say.

Practice then allows you to work through your script in a way that is fluid and natural.

4) Be friendly towards any tech guys that you are working with.

If you make their jobs pleasant and easy then they will make you look as good as they can. A video editor will do his job for a person that is difficult to work with, but they are likely to go above and beyond for a person who is good to work with. They will be happier doing the work, they will then do better work, and finally you and your students will be happier.

5) Have fun.

For more insights see the follow resource, or find your own and post them in a comment.
Best practices for using video in e-learning

PS. Watch what you wear.

  • Stripes don’t tend to work so well.
  • Big swinging jewelry also doesn’t work so well.

Does academic study have meaning without experience?

Experience does add meaning and purpose to academic studies.


It is incredibly important for us to create ways in which students can connect their academic learning to real life situations. Some sort of “experiential learning” is essential for this. Bemidji State University has developed a teacher training programme in which distance students are required to do service in the community that is related to the subjects they are doing.

While we at Cornerstone Institute require certain practical modules, we do not require a practical/service aspect within each and every module. Bemidji State University has had amazing results through requiring a service aspect from students’ second semester of study, right through to the end of studies.

We may not want to require students, for every module, to do some sort of service within their communities. We do need to make sure that there is a bridge between studies and real life. We need to ensure that students are applying what they learn in real world, every day, often mundane situations.

Some things to consider:

  • Service allows students to apply what they are learning to things that are important to them.
  • Service give an opportunity for students to explore calling/vocation.
  • Service creates future connections between students and community organisations.
  • Reflection on experience gives students opportunity to incorporate what they have learnt into a new understanding of who they are in relation to academics and their world.

Some questions:

  • How can we ground our academic content in concrete experiences of life?
  • How can we encourage reflection on that experience?
  • How can we facilitate opportunities for students to apply our theory to things that are important to them, to their life, and to their community? 

See this article for a deeper reading:

Online really can be better

When a skilled online facilitator teaches a well-written online course, the opportunities for learning are incredible, even better than traditional learning, also known as a face-to-face (f2f) class. This is the radical truth proposed here: that online education can be better than traditional classes.

This is the sentiment of Lehmann and Chaimberlin in their 2009 book Making the Move to e-learning. They believe that a well run e-learning course is able to engage students more, remain more current, more convenient, more flexible, etc. 

It seems that e-learning, or distance education, is able to result in learning that is deeper. Not because the student necessarily sat in a class listening to the lecture, but because they were given space to ponder, think, and then engage, as well as sitting and listening to a lecture as many times as they want.

It seems that e-learning, distance education, really can be better for students than traditional in class education. 

For a better description find this book somewhere (like EBSCO) and give it a read.