Saturday, May 23, 2009

3.2: Research-based evidence for instructional design principles

The latest ALT-J includes the results of a study by Cebei et al investigating e-learning instructional design. The study considers those design elements relating to online courses, that is, courses where instructional materials are optimised for access over the Internet.

Based on a set of interviews with experts, the following key predictors of student success were isolated from instructional design literature:
  • the length of text
  • use of examples and applications
  • exercises (quizzes and homework)
  • multimedia
  • visual integrity
When a variety of actual courses and their grade averages were evaluated acording to these variables, the study found that each of these five factors have a positive influence on students' final grades. The use of examples and applications was identified as the most effective variable.

It is important to get these variables in context. Firstly, they assume a particular approach to course design and communications between educator and student that are not adequately described. This means that, for example, tutorial support is not necessarily considered in the study as being of any relevance. So, it could be that the five variables above are optimal only for those courses that are deliberately designed to be based on individual study. Secondly, and as the authors freely admit, the study considers only instructional design variables. Other determinants of student success are ignored.

Essentially the guides here for online courses are keep text short, use plenty of examples, give plenty of opportunity for feedback, make extensive use of multimedia, and make it look great. These remind me of Horton's excellent book Designing Web-based training, one of the earliest e-learning specific 'how-to' guides. Which, in turn, reminds me of one of my concerns with these principles from Cebeci et al. The courses used for the statistical analysis are all numbered '101', and Horton's book emphasises the term training. I wonder how apt these principles might be for second- and third-year degree study, or for post-graduate instructional design. As with all such studies, the context and assumptions underpinning what is analysed becomes a critical consideration, and one which all e-learning researchers must be wary of.

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