Daniel Staemmler

Things about eLearning, Educational Technology, and more…

Problems and Obstacles with Online Learning (2/4)

Before going into detail on some criteria for selecting appropriate learning content, here a quick outline of problems and obstacles that learners might encounter when learning online. Once learners utilizing new information and communication technologies, they might encounter two fundamental problems. On the one hand this is the problem of orientation and on the other of cognitive overload.

Disorientation of Users

The problem of users disorientation is closely tied to his navigation behavior in structured network systems online. As such, for instance, the Internet in its entirety is referred to with its many individual web pages containing different content (text, graphics, video, animation, etc.) that are linked with each other.

Due to the depth of information it can be hard for the user to identify his precise position within the variety of the content presented, and secondly to actual determine his state of his learning progress. Therefore the problem of orientation is very closely linked to cognitive overload. An obvious conclusion is to put more emphasis onto the structure, in a sense of predefined navigation, in order to minimize the users orientation problems in online (learning) environments.

This seems contradicting, since a certain degree of disorientation can be considered very useful for discovery-based learning. A strong pre-structured navigation sequence results in a user behavior, which is rather determined form the outside than self-determined. Due to this determination individual learning differences are not taken into account, more so those of a third party/ person (e.g. designers, programmers, etc.) who sketches out learning paths. It is rather desirable, that the learner can choose independently from several options available the one who will unlock the learning content for him. For students with no or little experience in learning with new media, it is advisable to offer a predefined learning path which helps them to orient themselves. Good mechanisms to support the learners orientation are for instance tables of contents, indexes, maps, and “fish-eye” perspectives which highlight important parts and reduced the unimportant in size or faded color.

Cognitive overload

Mentioned earlier, there is a correlation between the disorientation in online (learning) systems and cognitive overload. This problem occurs because the user always has to keep in mind and remember the system learning/ working in. Meaning the user must constantly be aware of: “Where have I been already? What did I already read? How and in what way did I get there, what kind of information do I still have to look into and how can I get there?” Storing all this information has nothing to do with the actual process of information acquisition and processing learning content. However, a quiet large part of memory capacity is needed to store this secondary information and demands additional attention.

Part I: E-Learning: Choosing the right Learning System and Learning Content
Part 2: Problems and Obstacles with Online Learning
Part 3: Particular Design for Online Courses (coming soon)
Part 4: What is Interactivity and Interaction? (coming soon)


Filed under: eLearning, , ,

Choosing the right Learning Management System and Learning Content (1/4)

Part I: The right choice of Learning System and Learning Content for Online Learning

The constant flow of information steaming off of new discoveries and achievements in our society as well as new insights in everyday situations call for innovative learning strategies. Especially in the health sector knowledge as a resource increasingly gains importance. The demands on health services is to promote the development of new solutions for knowledge transfer. Great opportunities and possibilities arise for apprenticeships, education and trainings with the so called new technologies and the Internet.

Why E-Learning?

The shift of educational and training activities from the classroom and face-to-face teaching into the virtual space and an online course increases the flexibility for all participants. Especially in hospitals where many employees need to be up to date with their level of knowledge, is the organization and coordination of training and working hours necessary. Online courses once available, can be accessed from any computer or mobile device (e.g. smart phone) at any moment in time.

E-learning or teaching and learning online is nowadays, as one form of knowledge transfer and knowledge acquisition, part of many areas of continuing education. The term e-learning stands for electronic teaching and learning utilizing one or more computers, laptops or mobile devices which are usually connected through a network. Online learning can be open on the Internet and self-directed or staged for a specific user group in a walled off space. Such a closed and secured  learning environment can offer students specific and didactically prepared information, e.g. who are highly relevant to professionalism at work. In addition there are a variety of application scenarios aimed at different target groups. The latter range from school children to students to professionals who see themselves constantly faced with new requirements and regulations in their everyday work.

Technical Requirements

The technical requirements for the implementation of online courses can be met and fulfilled relatively quickly. There are a variety of fee-based learning platforms (e.g. Blackboard and Clix), and free open-source products (such as Moodle and ILIAS) to significantly simplify the administration of course content and management of users. Once installed on a computer that acts as a server, the learning materials can be set up. Searching for and choosing the right system demands to carefully think about which requirements need to be met.

Part I: E-Learning: Choosing the right Learning System and Learning Content
Part 2: Problems and Obstacles with Online Learning
Part 3: Particular Design for Online Courses (coming soon)
Part 4: What is Interactivity and Interaction? (coming soon)

Filed under: eLearning, , ,

TEDTalks – Hans Rosling

Did you ever wonder how to visualize your data that people understand and grasp the information easily? One man who really understands how to do that in the field of international health is professor Hans Rosling from the Swedish Karolinska Institute, who also is the “… founder of Gapminder, a non-profit that brings vital global data to life“. He gave a presentation in February 2006 at Monterey, California at TEDTalks and gave a quiet stunning example of his outstanding work and how to visualize data . To see a recording of his presentation click here. I highly recommend visit the Gapminder tool at the Google website since it “… makes it possible to search deep into Gapminder’s moving graphs visualizing world development“.

The question remains is there any tool or WebApp out there that helps you to visualize, display, share and discuss your data. Actually there is and it is called Many Eyes. I only briefly explored this tool which seems to be pretty comprehensive but easy to use. Any kind of feedback is greatly appreciated.

Last but not least there are a couple of books out there on how to visualize data. A name to mentioned in this regard is the one of Edward Tufte. Here is a list of his books at Amazon. I once went to a seminar here in San Francisco he gave and wasn’t impressed and left after lunch. However, is books are definitely worth to have a look at.

Filed under: How-To, Technology, Web 2.0, , , , , ,

Information is the Key

We certainly live in the Information Society and information is the key to make decisions in a rapidly changing world. There are tools and websites out there that can help us on how to stay on top of the information flood that we experience every day. There are web-based RSS Aggregators out there, e.g. the Google Reader (see here for a review), that enable you to bundle the news and information you are interested in. Retrieving information in this way requires you to find the websites you are interested in, find their news feed, and import it into your news reader. That works for some people quiet well for other not.
Another way to stay on top of new information is to use an email alert service like the one from informaworld. Using their service allows you to get updates on journals, books, reference works, and abstract databases from Taylor & Francis, Routledge, Psychology Press and Informa Healthcare. This is a great way to stay on top of latest academic research and scientific discoveries.
There is also the possibility to set up your own email alert using your own search term. With a Google account you can create alerts that will be send to you per email whenever Google discovers a new web resource that contains the phrase you are looking for.

These are some suggestions to get a grip on all the information that is out there and might be of importance to you. Feel free and add other resources that you know of and that other readers might benefit from by using the comment function of this entry.

Filed under: How-To, WorldWideWeb, , , , , , , , ,

List of Open Source eLearning Tools

Open Source tools are great and there are a lot of them out there that help you to develop eLearning modules / online courses. There are also listings and comparison tools available that go way beyond of the list I came up with in this post but more about that a little later. First of all start with some definitions of what I am talking here about.

There are Content Management Systems (CMS), Learning Management Systems (LMS) and there are Learning Conten Management Systems (LCMS). In general CMS are being used to handle huge amount of data / content on rather bigger websites. The main focus of this software application lies in his capability to handle different versions of documents, multi user workflow and last but not least to publish data / content. In contrast a LMS combines the six following features: (1) registration, (2) scheduling, (3) delivery, (4) tracking, (5) communication, and (6) testing. An LCMS is more of a hybrid of the before mentioned two systems. It combines the learner administration features of an LMS with the content creation capabilities of a CMS. For further and detailed information please go to http://www.e-learningsite.com/lmslcms/whatlms.htm.

The following list is not restricted to L(C)MS and the order is random:

  • Drupal, a CMS that includes blogging and discussion forums. I know that Drupal is used at different universities. Read more about experiences here. Drupal also undergoes evaluation at the University Duisburg Essen in Germany (site only available in German).
  • ATutor is an LCMS that states it complying with the W3C WCAG 1.0 accessibility specifications at the AA+ level and adopts IMS / SCORM content packaging specifications.
  • Moodle, which probably is the most well known LMS that is available as an open source application. I have used moodle during my job at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg to deliver online courses and at my current job here at Shanti’s L.I.F.E. Institute. The setup is not that difficult on a Apache server. I must say though that this LMS seems to be better of use in the academic area since a lot of times progress is being measured by grades.
  • Bazaar is a CMS with the intention to deliver course ware, function as a portal or any other myriad type of web based projects. More information also available at SourceForge.net.
  • Elgg is a social networking platform that brings learners together and enables people to create and share their content. To check out the functionalities of the Elgg software join Elgg.net.
  • ILIAS is an LMS developed since the end of 1997 at the University of Cologn, Germany.
  • dotLRN supports eLearning and digital communities. It has been originally developed at MIT.
  • Bodington is an open source Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) / LMS that is being developed at the Oxford University in England.
  • At UCLA ClassWeb is designed to let instructors create and control class websites.
  • COSE (Creation of Study Environments) is a VLE developed and designed at Staffordshire University.
  • CAUCUS is a web-based eLearning classroom and discussion platform.
  • Whiteboard Courseware System is targeted towards colleges and universities.
  • MimerDesk is a web-based collaborative learning and groupwork environment designed for personal management, computer-supported collaborative learning, carrying out projects, and setting up communities.
  • Sakai is a collaboration and learning environment.
  • Manhattan Virtual Classroom is an open source course management system that runs on Linux and other Unix-like systems. It is developed, designed, and used at the Western New England College.
  • Caroline is another eLearning application that is developed from teachers to teachers. What I like about this application is that it takes a pedagogical model of eLearning into consideration to support the learning process.
  • Colloquia is a Learning Management and Groupware System.
  • LAMS is a toll to design, deliver and manage online collaborative learning activities. Interested in more information?
  • Fle3 is a Learning Environment developed and designed at the University of Art and Design Helsinki.
  • NICENET’s Internet Classroom Assistant (ICA) is a free web-based learning environment for classrooms, distance learning programs, and collaborative academic projects.
  • … Please feel free to continue this list by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page.

There are a lot of websites out there that also cover this subject. Please have a look at kinoe’s list of free tools or the listing of the e-Learning Centre in the UK. Another great website to compare different L(C)MS is available at the EduTools Homepage just follow the link to Course Management System on this site. Jane Hart, a learning and performance technologist, publishes on her website a directory of free E-Learning Tools. Another list of open source course management systems is available through EdTechPost Resources.

After all these listings there is still a decision to be made if you’re in the market for an L(C)MS. Maybe you find some help by using the tools at the EduTools Homepage or you also can check out this step-by-step guide from the e-learningsite.

Filed under: eLearning, How-To, Social Networks, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Zweitgeist – Web 2.0 is alive

Zweitgeist LogoDid you ever wonder who is looking at the same website you do right now? There might be a solution for you out there which is called Zweitgeist (German for second spirit). You install a piece of software on your PC (Apple Macintosh is not yet supported), choose an avatar that represents you in your second, virtual life and voailà it shows up on every website you are looking at right now. This gives you the opportunity to meet other fellow surfers on the same website and communicate with them.

The concept is sort of like the one of Second Life. The difference is the existing World Wide Web is used as the virtual world instead of some “second” world developed by a company. What I like about this Web 2.0 Application is that it allows you to get in touch with people that have similar interests as you do.

I have to admit I have not fully explored Zweitgeist since I am working on a Mac and unfortunately it is not supported for now. If you had any experience with Zweitgeist already or try it out let me know how it worked for you? It could be a cool feature for people who run a blog and can directly and live interact with their site visitors.

Filed under: How-To, Social Networks, Web 2.0, , , , , , ,

How to keep your email inbox empty?

Who doesn’t know the problem, tons of emails every day and the email inbox is filling up rapidly. Not to mention that a working spam filter is a must in these days.

I just ran across a blog entry at downloadsquad by Grant Robertson. He explains how to manage the madness of incoming mail by following five simple rules. If you have a problem to manage your incoming mail I suggest to have a look at them.

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