Friday, August 11, 2006

I have listened to many presentations at Conferences and Seminars and listened to academics presenting their use of technology in their teaching and learning process, whether it is the use of communication technologies such as teleconferencing (being general here) or the Internet. Each time it still left me wanting. There is something still missing in all this endeavours. Then it struck me! What was the problem? That's what it is. Nobody actually cited the problem, the real reason why they decided to embark on a certain technology!!

So if you are testing or piloting some new thingy, whay are you doing it. If you are trying to introduce something new in terms of the use of an equipment in a teaching process and find out that it is NOT well received by the students, don't you wonder WHY? Well, you can actually do some kind of questionnaire and present the percentages of students who liked it and those who don't. So what? And we are excited that 50% of the class liked it. Huh? what about the other 50% who DIDN'T like it??

This brings us back to the definition of technology. Yeah, right, we are going to take a BIG step backwards before we put another step forward. Well, what is the definition of technology?

Technology has a number of characteristics. Did you know that? Technology involves DESIGN!!. In fact, at the CENTRE of technology lies DESIGN. The design process in technology is a sequential process which
  • begins with the perception of a need,
  • continues with the formulation of a specification,
  • the generation of ideas and a final solution, and
  • ends with an evaluation of the solution.
Did you have all these four characteristics before you embarked on using any technology at all? When you have conformed to this, you will never be off-based!!

Further, Technology involves MAKING!!
This is so powerful and it relates to the whole point of the process of education which is engagement, constructing and activity. The motivating factor behind all technological activity is the desire to fulfil a need.

This is where our usage of technology breaks down, WHOSE need are we fulfiling? the students? the headmaster? the politicians? the businessman? the education system??

For this reason all designs should be made or realised - whether that be through prototype, batch- or mass- production or some form of three-dimensional or computer model - if the need is to be truly fulfilled, the design is to be legitimately evaluated, and the design activity is to have been purposeful and worthwhile.

Try it .. ask yourself all these questions next time you look at a piece of equipment, say a computer ... and ask all these statements and answer them in your own context. Tell us in the Forum or any feedback that meet your requirements. Talk to you again ....... have fun ..

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What's a Big Deal About E-Learning?

We CAN get things done if we just stop making excuses. I think this is one of the great secrets of highly successful people (err…who? Me?). Excuses always get in our way, but who gives the excuses in the first place? All of us are guilty of giving excuses of all sorts. Now, what am I rambling about? What actually is the topic of my writing…oh, it’s not about giving excuses, but it’s about 10 Good Reasons for Developing E-Learning Course.

It’s silly of me coming up with this topic not knowing whether I can think of 10 original reasons (good one) to develop e-learning or online course. Actually, at this moment I’m writing (typing), I have some anxieties or perhaps excited in anticipation of my big interview later this afternoon. I won’t say what the interview is about but as in any other interviews, you will try to anticipate the questions and try to prepare mentally the best possible answers. Oh, I’m digressing again…who cares about my interview…here we go…

Why would you want to bother about e-learning? This is my personal view, without any hard data to substantiate (scientists always want evidence, no data no talk):

  • Going with the trend - We are living in a digital age, digital generation. We (educators) may come from the past but we are now in the present. Teaching and instructional technologies are moving fast forward. Although traditional teaching methods are still relevant, sooner or later educators have to catch up with the technology advancement and utilize the tools at their disposal.
  • E-learning provides new and different learning environment – It’s not just about going with the trend, just for the sake of being trendy. In one of our e-learning workshop to discuss and formulate e-learning policies for the university, someone asked, “what’s wrong with our current teaching methods?. “E-learning is just another trend, it’s the ‘in-thing’ now, but it will cool down, so what’s the havoc?”. Well, I know, sometimes we get too excited. New things come and go, but I think e-learning will stay for good. I think the enthusiasm about e-learning is justifiable for many good reasons. I have never read any articles suggesting that e-learning is the only way and the best mode of teaching. The way I see it, e-learning is another mean to diversify the pedagogy – it provides more options for educators and open up more avenues to expand their creativities. E-learning will provide new learning environment for the students, new learning experiences beyond what can be provided in a conventional classroom teaching.
  • E-learning adds value – The traditional classroom teaching has its value – it has a long tradition. E-learning will simply add value to our current teaching. Let’s consider one example. Suppose I’m teaching a course on food processing, say, on refining of palm oil. In the class, I will show a flow chart showing the steps in the refining process, and then perhaps I will show some photos. If a video is available, I will show the video of the refining process as well. There is so much to explain but too little time to explain and elaborate. There’s almost no time for the students to ask question, let alone to have discussion. Furthermore, there’s just too much material for the students to digest in a 50 minutes lecture. This is where e-learning course can play a complimentary role. I can put all the relevant materials, including the video in my e-learning course. The students can now access and view the course material anytime they like and at their own pace. They can view the presentation as many times they wish. Not only that, the way I did for my e-learning course was, I presented the material from different perspective, give different examples, provide more visual materials (photos, etc.) and even narrated the video. In addition, I list more references and selected websites for further readings. This is what I mean by adding value to the course. Now, some people will argue that I’m spoon-feeding my students…well, I usually avoid answering this question. We can argue about it to no end, but to me this is just another excuse for not providing more for the students (discussion on this point is welcome). The demarcation line between what is and what is not spoon-feeding is not clear—very subjective. You can take the horse to the water, but you can’t force the horse to drink…. (or can you?).
  • E-learning course can be designed to suit different learning styles – It’s a fact – different people learn in different ways. What’s yours? (Take this simple test to discover your own learning style) (

    There are three basic types of learning styles (these days people talk about multiple intelligence). The three most common are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. To learn, we depend on our senses to process the information around us. Most people tend to use one of their senses more than the others. It is not unusual to use different learning styles for different tasks. That's why people can respond so differently to the same thing. Let’s think about how traditional classroom lecture can meet different learning styles of the students. Some students learn best through seeing. These learners need to see the teacher's body language and facial expression to fully understand the content of a lesson. They may think in pictures and learn best from visual displays including: diagrams, overhead transparencies, videos, flipcharts and hand-outs. Okay, that’s easy, we can do that in a face-to-face classroom setting. What about e-learning? Designing e-learning course for this type of learners requires careful planning. There are specific technique or approach that can be used, for example by incorporating video or talking head (see my showcase for example). For visual learners, learning objects such as animation of complex process, video for demonstrating specialized technique, colorful photos/pictures, etc. can be incorporated in the course. The advantage is, they have more time to peruse, download and study the learning materials. I would not elaborate on how e-learning course can be designed for the other two learning styles but it can be done.
  • E-learning can provide more interactivity - Discussions have long been a valuable method of learning through interaction with other learners and all teachers know how effective this shared learning is for the application of knowledge. Class discussions promote reflection and further exploration of issues and topics. But how much time do we have for effective discussion in a classroom? With e-learning course, discussion can be conducted online. The advantage of online discussions is that there is no time limit and students have many opportunities for reflection and exploration of issues before such time that they are required to respond to a question or comment. True e-learning provides many, if not more, opportunities for interaction than teacher-led learning.

    Let me illustrate a typical blended e-learning scenario that includes a high degree of interaction:

    To begin his learning experience, the student logs onto a self-paced e-learning course to familiarize himself with basic layout design or interface (I’m using Moodle, an open-source learning management system for my e-learning course – the students find the Moodle interface very easy to understand and navigate). The content is presented in modularized segments that are easy to absorb (this can be presented by week or by topic), and there are plenty of engaging interactions requiring the student's input (e.g., quizzes, forum). The student receives effective feedback immediately and is given the opportunity to go back and review material if necessary. If he has a question, he can browse the course content, explore the references or web links given, post a message to a discussion forum or click a link to initiate a live chat with the teacher (using Skype or similar program).

Err... did I say 1o Good Reasons? Well, I have come up with five good reasons for doing e-learning. I think this article is getting quite long, perhaps I will come up with another five in another article. Now, that’s an excuse!

By the way, if you are interested to learn more about various learning styles, here are some links:

  • Knowing your learning style will help you develop coping strategies to compensate for your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths. Learn more...
  • What's your learning style? Take this test to find out.
  • Some people prefer to read about a concept to learn it; others need to see a demonstration of the concept. Learning Style Theory proposes that different people learn in different ways...Learn more.
  • What kind of learners are you? Time to check it out.
  • Learning styles: A multiple intelligences approach. Learn more...
  • Discover your learning style - graphically - This website contains extensive information on learning styles. Go to website.
  • Abiator's Online Learning Styles Inventory - The Learning Styles tests, Analytical/Global Thinker Test, and the Multiple Intelligences Assessment available on this site are intended to help you come to a better understanding of yourself as a learner by highlighting the ways you prefer to learn or process information. Go to website.
  • We each learn and process information in different ways. You probably didn't realize this earlier because most of us attended schools where teachers delivered instruction in one way. Learn more...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Implementing E-Learning in School

Journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. In any endeavour, one has to take the first step to move forward, even in the face of insurmountable challenges and constraints. This was my message to the participants attending a workshop on educational technology recently. The participants were primary and secondary school teachers from Perlis (northern state of Malaysia Peninsular). Obviously, the implementation of information and communication technology (ICT) and educational technology in Malaysian school is gathering momentum but the pace is left much to be desired. A long list of problems (or rather challenges) in implementing ICT in school has been compiled from the participants, many of them are overlapping. These range from infrastructure, infostructure, time, technical know-how, etc., etc. My first impression when I looked at the long list was…overwhelming. The question is: how do we deal with these problems? I would like to hear how teachers from other schools (in Malaysia or other countries) implement ICT and various educational teachnologies in their school. What are the problems? What are the possible solutions? Is there a need for a major paradigm shift? Are the teachers ready, willing and well equipped to take on ICT agenda? Does the government or administrators really understand what it takes to make ICT agenda in school a successful venture? How long can we sustain the enthusiasm?

Generally we recognise that the development and production of computer-assisted learning (CAL) or online learning technologies is an expensive and labour-intensive proposition for both schools and teachers. According to one research, it may take as many as 2,000 hours to develop one hour of CAL instruction. Well, I guess it really depends on the type of course material and how elaborate and details you want to design the course. Still, for classroom teachers, the amount of time required to develop and implement high-quality CAL or online learning environments is tremendous and that often is overlooked by school administrators.

Time is always cited as one of the constraints and this, in my opinion, is a real problem. I think if the government is serious about implementing ICT in schools, a major review of the current status of ICT in schools should be conducted. An honest analysis of the state of ICT implementation, or the lack of it, will reveal various flaws in the system. A comprehensive strategic planning should be devised based on inputs from various parties. Too often, a new program is proposed based on the current trends without giving sufficient time to evaluate the actual needs and capacity to implement the program. It is important to take a hollistic approach in developing the strategic planning for ICT in school. A thorough study by respective authorities should be done to assess the weaknesses of the current set up and if possible, a good model from other countries can be adopted.

Ferdinand Krauss writes in his blog (
"I have seen many elearning projects that were not sustainable because the decision-makers did not set out realistic, long-term objectives that were achievable given the environment they were operating in."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Designing E-Learning Course for Adult Learners- Things to Ponder

First off, my writing here will focus mainly on designing an e-learning course for adult learners, in my case, university students. I guess, the instructional approach will be slightly different when designing the course for learners from different age groups. Compared to children and teens, adults have special needs and requirements as learners. Understanding how adults learn and applying these principles as we create e-learning content can help us produce more effective and engaging information that users truly learn and appreciate.

In this article, I will review some of the theories or views (more fancy terms – school of thought) on adult learning and try to relate them with my own experience and observation. I do hope that other readers can share their own experience on this subject matter.

I must admit that when I first embarked on the project (developing my first e-learning course), the issue of how adults learn didn’t cross my mind at all. And I must humbly admit also that, after more than 12 years teaching, I didn’t know much about the various learning theories and pedagogical aspects of teaching-learning (ignorance bliss?). You see, I’m a food technologist. Soon after I completed my Ph.D in Food Technology, I came back and joined the university as a lecturer – and I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to teach the adult students! (that was back in 1994). I think most university lecturers do not have sufficient knowledge and exposure on pedagogy, learning theory or instructional methods. Of course, there are “induction” courses and other programs conducted by the university for young lecturers but these are still largely inadequate to equip them to become good educators. So we end up using our best teacher/lecturer during our school/university days as a role model and try to emulate them.

So, whether we are teaching in a classroom or designing an e-learning course for adult learners, ideally the e-learning team members (especially the subject matter expert and instructional designer) should have some basic understanding and should be aware of the current learning theory on adults learning. By the way, adult learning theory is a relatively new field of study and there’s a special term for it -- andragogy (I don’t know how many more “gogy” is out there, but you can start to add it in your Microsoft Word dictionary, otherwise you’ll get that irritating red underline!).

So, how do adults learn? Although there are ongoing debates in academic circles about how adult learning differs from child learning, the ideas of adult education expert Malcolm Knowles* are generally accepted as a foundation of adult learning theory. He identified the following characteristics of adult learners:

  • Have real-life experiences;
  • Prefer problem-centered learning;
  • They prefer to manage their own learning
  • They are goal-oriented;
  • Have varied learning styles;
  • Expect learning to be meaningful;

Obviously adult learners are unique in that they have more life and work experiences on which to draw. What kind of experience? It could be professional experience, practical work experience, previous education and training or perhaps even family experience. Adults can connect learning to their life experiences and should be respected for having that knowledge. Think about it…if you are teaching high school or college students, they have between 16 to 20 years of “experience” behind them. Hmm…not bad ha..

Okay, what about problem-centered learning? Well, it just means (the way I understand it) that they are motivated to learn as a response to problems and changes. This is where they will have the opportunity to apply their experience and make appropriate strategies to solve the problem. Adult learners are also autonomous -- they are independent and selfdirected. They need to be free to direct themselves in learning activities. In other words, they should be able to work with minimum supervision or hand-holding. Teacher/lecturer should act more as a facilitator. Put it another way, treat them like adults! Well, I have something to say about this. In the context of university students (Malaysian scenario), adult students tend to expect learning to be delivered in a traditional, teacher-led way, and to expect the lecturer to do the “work” of the learning. They are there to absorb the learning. The blame is not entirely on them because, for years, they have been taught via a certain method, namely, teacher-led instruction. They have not been expected to be part of the hands-on and independent learning process. This is a pattern that is in the process of being broken down; however, we are talking about breaking down a pattern that has been in existence for decades. This mindset is not going away easily, and to expect adult students to automatically embrace a brand new way of learning immediately, or without proper orientation, is expecting too much.

Adults learners are goal-oriented – they know what they want to accomplish at the end of the course. Therefore, they would appreciate a well-plan and well-structured course. We should recognize also that adults have varied learning styles (I guess that’s also true for children). This means that the course should be designed to be flexible and accomodative of different learning styles. Wait…say it again…flexible and accomodative of different learning styles. Hmm…I’ve heard or read somewhere about this. How exactly we can design a course to allow that kind of flexibility. I need to research more on this aspect. Perhaps I will get some experts to elaborate on this point….help!

Adults are practical too, focusing on the parts of a lesson that are most useful to them. They may be interested in knowledge for its own sake but it is more important for them to understand the usefulness of a lesson. In other words, adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning something. Learning has to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities to be of value to them. Therefore, instructors must identify objectives for adult participants before the course begins. This means, also, that theories and concepts must be related to a setting familiar to participants. This need can be fulfilled by letting participants choose projects that reflect their own interests.

Another aspect of adult learning is motivation. Unlike children and teenagers, adults have many responsibilities that they must balance against the demands of learning. Because of these responsibilities, adults have barriers against participating in learning. Some of these barriers include lack of time, money, confidence, or interest, lack of information about opportunities to learn, scheduling problems, and the list continues. I have some experience dealing with adult students when I was the Deputy Dean for Student Affairs. I can tell you, it’s a real headache! People are motivated to learn in different ways and for different reasons. For one person, the impetus for learning might be the expectation of improved social interaction; for another, it may be the promise of working more efficiently; and for yet another, it may be satisfying an academic or managerial requirement to achieve rewards or recognition. The best motivators for adult learners are interest and selfish benefit. If they can be shown that the course benefits them pragmatically, they will perform better, and the benefits will be longer lasting. Understanding the diversity of motivation of your students is the first step toward designing effective courses.

Well, after reading all these theories, let’s ponder for a moment…how much of these elements have we (educators/trainers) really incorporated in our own course, be it off-line or online? Hmm….well….errr…all right, just think about it, okay? Now, how do we apply adult learning principles to e-learning? First, we have to recognize that although the technology of learning is changing and will continue to evolve, the principles of adult learning have not changed – and these can be adapted to e-learning course as well. For example, class discussions can still take place in a distance learning setting, in the form of bulletin boards, chat rooms or online collaboration (using various applications such as Webex, Microsoft Live Meeting (did you watch Apprentice 4?), GoToMeeting, etc.—more on collaboration software in my next writing). There are even more alternatives nowdays such as direct conversation using applications such as Skype or Google Talk. As for the assessments of the course, this can be done using Web site forms instead of paper and pencil (learning management system, or LMS, provides an easy way to do online assessment).

Back to the question: how do we apply adult learning principles to e-learning? This would be elaborated further in the coming writing, but for now, these are the essential points suggested by Knowles:

  • set a cooperative learning climate
  • create mechanisms for mutual planning
  • arrange for a diagnosis of learner needs and interests
  • enable the formulation of learning objectives based on the diagnosed needs and interests
  • design sequential activities for achieving the objectives
  • execute the design by selecting methods, materials, and resources; and
  • evaluate the quality of the learning experience while rediagnosing needs for further learning

Why is Malcolm Knowles one of the most frequently cited theorists in adult education, and why is he frequently referred to as "the Father of Adult Learning?" Read more…

*Malcom Knowles has written a few books on the subject of adult learning:

The following books are also recommended:

Here are selected resources on adult learning:

  • How adults learn? -- Marcia L. Conner's comprehensive resource features an overview of adult learning theory, a list of books about how adults learn, and website links.
  • Patterns in adult learning -- Dr. Judy Smith describes five typical patterns in adult learning and explores the implications for teaching and learning in both traditional and online learning;
  • Principles of adult learning --A practical and brief article by Stephen Lieb.
  • 30 things about adult learning --This is a list of 30 things to consider with respect to adult learners and motivation, designing curriculum for adults, and working with adults in the classroom.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Creating E-Learning Course -
My Way...

Hi everyone,

For non-techies (in terms of web-related things), creating a website from scratch is not an easy task, not to mention filling it up with good content (I'm not going to define or elaborate on the criteria of "good content" because that can be a subject for one whole book). It can be such a daunting and tedious task for some people and this could be a stumbling block to start the project going. Well, as I mentioned somewhere on my website (, in order to develop good e-Learning course, you really need a good development team. Concentrate your energy and time on what you can do best. Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest. So, if you are the expert on the subject, you will be the subject content specialist (also called subject matter expert, SME) in the team. The rest of the team will comprise a system analyst, web-developer, and perhaps someone familiar with various graphic/multimedia softwares.

In my case, however, I chose to do everything on my own. But if you decided to do everything on your own (one-man show), you would need the 2Ps. Huh, 2Ps? I think I have the 2P's, patience and passion, that is. Yes, you really need patience and passion in tandem in doing and developing an e-learning course. If you have patient but no passion, eventually you will run out of your patient. Your passion will sustain you, at least until your e-learning project is materialised!

If you are an educator, whether in school, college or university, you know very well how much time we have to sit down and start to do something useful, for example, writing a paper or a book. At least writing a paper gets you a promotion and writing a book bring some money in your pocket (and both will give you some recognition among the peer). But developing an e-learning course? Let me ask you this question: Is it really worth the time to develop an e-learning course, especially if the course is taught to a full time students (through conventional face-to-face lecture)? If you are in distance education, then I guess you have no choice. I can only speak for myself. I teach a course entitled "Physical Properties of Foods) to a second year students at my university. This course is rather....hmmm…"dry", you know...physical science principles in the context of food system with some mathematical equations here and there. It is essential for the student to understand the concept rather than memorizing the facts and the mathematical equations. The challenge in teaching this type of "dry" course is, how to make it interesting enough for the students and how to ensure they grasp the underlying concept and apply it appropriately? Designing and delivering the course for normal class room lecture is already a big challenge, let alone developing it into e-learning course. But that exactly what I did in the last semester.

Here how I did it. First, I asked myself whether I’m willing to commit myself for this project. Nobody asked me to do it. Basically no incentive whatsoever, no recognition. But do I have to do it only when there’s some kind of incentive, direct or implied? OK, I can accept the fact that there is no material incentive in doing this and I told myself that my motivation of doing this is simply to add value to my course. Now I’ve got over the mental barrier and be honest with myself. Using Moodle (open source LMS), I started to develop the outline of the course. With no basic idea of what online or e-learning course should be or how it should be structured, I started by putting the basic information about the course. At this stage, I hadn’t put the course content itself. Then what else? Aahh…the course page looks very…hmmm…plain. Should I put some interesting graphics or flashy flash movie or…… One of the multimedia principles for developing e-learning course is that graphics should be used when they are relevant, rather than decorative. I take this as a guideline, not a hard and fast rule or carved in stone. So, my own advice is: use graphic to illustrate a concept or anything related to your discussion and also use graphics for decorative purposes sparingly.

You may want to see how my course page looks like. Follow the instruction given to view my e-learning course. Notice that I have a few decorative graphics (a banner) on the top part of the page. One is animated banner (animated gif) to welcome the student and basically telling them what’s available here. Notice also, instead of using normal text for the course title, and headings (About this course, Objectives, Course Summary, etc.), I used simple graphics to spice up the page. I think the page will look more interesting this way. Below the course title is relevant graphics illustrating the main topics covered in the course. The vivid colour of the graphics delivers a positive, interesting tone to the otherwise “dry” course. Of course, my smiling photo on the top left tells the student that their lecturer for the course is friendly and approachable...smiley.

By the way, I didn’t spend much time to create the graphics. I used a combination of Xara Webstyle 4 and Xara Xtreme to create/edit the graphics in only a few minutes. The softwares are very (or extremely) easy to use. I will say more on this particular software in the next few postings.

There are other features of my e-learning course that I’d like to share with you, but perhaps I will continue in the next posting. In the meantime, any comments from fellow educators are very much welcome.