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.