I’m not about to become an authority on the subject of constructivism, but one of the challenges with early online learning where instructors who knew their subjects very well but didn’t understand how less-productive it could be to just toss students into an online learning environment and expect that their instincts would take over and they would just ‘figure it out’. Most distance-learning students (including myself) have a certain amount of online survival mechanism built in that very closely mimics survival in the real world.
This is the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome. A few people around me know of my very first experience taking a class online at MCC. It was a history course, and this was a peripheral course to facilitate a social sciences requirement en route to my transfer to the engineering program at ASU. My motivation at the time was “Well, I suppose if I have to take a social sciences class, I might as well take something I find interesting and that will be over as soon as possible.” So I signed up for an Internet History class…during the 4-week winter intersession. This was probably my downfall. Did I like history? Of course, and still do to this day. I was also a computer science major, so perhaps I thought that I could find a way to blend these two interests of mine together by signing up for this course and take it using a computer instead of making to a classroom.
To make a very boring story much shorter, this course content was the product of someone I had never met in person, so I have absolutely no basis to judge this course on the quality of the professor (However it is my understanding that they were let go a semester or two after this experience for an unrelated reason) . This course consisted of a few web pages with a series of unrelated links to historical web sites.
Half of the links didn’t work anymore, and the instructions on what do do were almost non-existent. Seeing as how this was just a step towards a greater good that was experimental for both myself and probably my professor, I had discovered about 3 days into the course that this was just a really bad situation. Part of it was my motivation: I was trying to drink from the fire hose of knowledge in order to get a course out of the way. In retrospect, the hydrant that this hose was connected to had lines coming into it from the sewer.
All in all, it was just a bad situation for both myself and the instructor so I elected to ‘Flight’ or rather, flee. I dropped after the first week and was not eligible for a tuition refund. This was way before MCC had invested in a course management and delivery system, so I wonder how my experience would have been different if there were some sort of direction or basis for this course that told me how to get from point A to point B.
A course management system such as WebCT, Sakai, Moodle, or Blackboard doesn’t automatically solve this problem but it does provide a basis for how problems like this can be avoided.
I’ve been experimenting with other course management systems this week (just experimenting) and one of my curiosities is how the inventors of these things envision them increasing the actual learning of the users who enter the learning environments they provide. In my playing around I came across a system called LAMS, which is an acronym for Learning Activity Management System. It appears that its basis is around setting up sequences of e-learning activities as a template that can be repurposed for the masses of learners. In other words, an e-learning activity could be something like…
- An online discussion
- A poll
- Reading a web document
- Participating in a chat
The goal with LAMS it appears is to provide learners in its environments with a structured order of simple activities and also provide instructors with a visual approach to designing the flow of activities in order to achieve a learning outcome.
I haven’t had time to fully play with it, but it’s nice to see that innovation is taking place in design of learning paths. In one sense a constructivist approach to online learning still seems to apply here. But in my opinion, that’s the fight part in the ‘Fight or Flight’ syndrome. Fighting is best done when there’s a goal in sight. Fleeing seems to happen when students can’t see that goal, or they see it and they think that it’s out of reach. I’ve done both (fighting and fleeing) and I prefer to fight, but I also know when I’m beat.
At any rate, I think it’s worth a demo. You can try it yourself at their website. For a more visual approach, they have a small online presentation about what a LAMS environment looks like. Check it out here.