Instructional Design Principals: Impact of Open Source

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December 2, 2012 by idinnovation

MP900403159Tasked with choosing a free Open Course site seems like a simple task.  There are numerous to choose from ranging from top name brick and mortar schools such as Harvard’s Open Course System, EduServ in the UK which offers an interesting sounding Saas (software as a service) course, and finally the school I choose Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  I knew what type of course I was interested in the moment I read the assignment details.  Learning programming is something I believe will assist me in becoming a better instructional designer.  After reviewing the site I choose two separate courses as ideal for an introductory course.

The course that I selected is a beginner’s course called  Information Technology Essentials taught by Professor Thomas Malone.  The Information Technology Essentials course covers a broad range of topics in technology.  Attention is given to concepts and trends in current and future developments in information technology, fundamental principles for effective use of computer-based information systems and provides emphasis on networks and distributed computing including the World Wide Web.  The most important descriptive wording for me is “little or no background in computer technology”(Malone, 2005). Learners seeking to enter the technology field or students wishing to refresh their skills might find this course beneficial to their professional development.

The course designer provides detailed information on the course syllabus that includes the course description, reading, grading activities and score breakdown, instructor expectations, required software, recommended Web materials and optional textbooks if students need additional resources.  Class participation accounts for 20% of the class grade however, the method in which the distance learner is expected to participate is not specified.  A common mistake in distance learning design is not adequately planning for interactivity; the designer should plan activities that allow for student group work and encourage and promote a supportive social learning environment (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). That led me to conclude that the designer of the course did not fully plan for distance learning.  As noted by Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek (2012) a course that has Businesswomanappropriately planned for distance learning has activities that encourage interactivity and the site does not include resources for participating actively in any of the various collaborative technologies.

In fact is seems that the course was simply uploaded onto the website and not “retooled” in order to shift the visual presentation to engage learns and present materials at appropriate times (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  The course documents include PDF documents that assist learners in completing the assignments as well as preparing for the final exam thus the participation element of the course cannot be completed by distance learners with the current format.  The formatting of the handouts present issues in readability.  The PDF handouts were in PowerPoint slide format and allows for students to view the slides in the order in which a presentation would be presented however, the chosen colors of royal blue, yellow and white and sometimes black made it difficult to read the content on the slide.  Instructors that design distance learning courses should be mindful of legibility, the choice of font and the size of the font as it influences how easily text can be read.  Students use handout resources to prepare for test and to assess their learning (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).

Young Man Sitting at ComputerAvailable resources are an element of distance learning that must be considered by instructors in the instructional environment (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). The syllabus provided the necessary information to complete the course in regards to technology.  Students are expected to have access to both Microsoft Frontpage  and Microsoft Access.  The instructor provided specifics to the assignments that would require the different software.  Webopedia was recommended as a learning resource for students (Malone, 2005).  Due to the course being an Internet-based course it can be assumed that all the students would have access to the website.  Instructors should be concerned with the tools that will be available to students at the distance learning sites (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).

The instruction followed a linear design structure where all the learners move in the same order through the “lectures” and assignments and completed the same test.  Different instructional designers use various terminology to describe the units, blocks or modules of a course (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). In this course the instructor has simply broken it down by lecture which draws into question if the course was as I mentioned previously simply a traditional face-to-face course MP900444507uploaded and thereby converted to an online course. As noted by Moller, Foshay and Huett (2008) web-based training products can lack effectiveness if they violate basic principles of instructional design and ID professionals tend to underestimate the significance of this damaging trend.

My initial choice was Introduction to Computer Science and Programming the learner audience is students with little to no programing experience.  The course would provide an understanding of computation in problem solving and aimed to create confidence in the learner’s ability to write small programs using Python™ programming language (Grimson, and Guttag, 2008). It sounds like an amazing course but I don’t know what Python™ is and I needed a course a bit more basic. While the instructor might have analyzed the cognitive abilities of potential learners and clearly defined the prerequisite knowledge and skills required for successful completion of the course I think this course was not a good fit.  MP900433180Because of the varying backgrounds and learning experiences of learners, student may be unprepared for the content presented for a course and might become frustrated and unsuccessful in the learning experience (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).  This is the primary reason that Information Technology Essentials was selected.

It seems that the Information Technology Essentials course is following a more traditional style of distance learning which includes concepts of independence, place-bound, self-motivation, being a disciplined self-starter and goal orientated learner (Dabbagh, 2007).  As was the case I assume with this course designers should begin with a syllabus which acts as an instructional plan (Laureate Education Inc.) and ensure that they consider all the components of successful learning as it is the interactivity of the learners, content, method and materials, the environment and technology that can create the type of learning experience necessary for learning to occur.  Online learning increases communication among learners including “re-conceptualizing” learning by changing learning  from a one shot term to a multi-learner process thus a significant amount of  learning occurs through learner-to-learner communication (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008). Because of the lack of communication amongst learners in this course I can only conclude that learner-to-learner learning is not occurring and only instructor-to-learner learning is occurring. Instructors must redesign their courses by looking at their goals, objectives and learning activities in order to effectively integrate the online learning activities with the face-to-face learning experience (Hybrid Courses, 2012).


Dabbagh, N. (2007). The online learner: Characteristics and pedagogical implications. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 217- 226.

Grimson, Eric, and John Guttag. 6.00 Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, Fall 2008. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 29 Nov, 2012). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Hybrid learning: Maximizing student engagement — campus technology. Campus enterprise networking & infrastructure — Campus technology. Retrieved November 11, 2011, from

Laureate Education Inc. (2012) (Producer). Planning and Designing Online Courses [transcript]. Dr. George Piskurich and Jacqueline Chauser.

Malone, Thomas. 15.561 Information Technology Essentials, Spring 2005. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), 29 Nov, 2012). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA Retrieved on November 29, 2012, from

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (Part 1: Training and development). TechTrends, 52(3), 70–75.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

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