Good online learning – affordances and the online shift

This is the concluding post in my mini-series of Good Online Learning. I looked at groupwork, asynchronous delivery, learning design, assessment and resources. I could have covered many more topics – accessibility, pedagogy, new technologies, community, etc., but let’s stick with these five as a good basis to start considering developing online courses.

Essentially I’ve been saying the same thing in each post, which is “consider what you can do differently online rather than just replicating f2f”. A few years ago we used to talk a lot about “affordances“. This came from the psychology work of Gibson, but found more popularity from the design application of Donald Norman. It is a term that can generate lots of argument, but in our context we can take it to mean something like “the behaviour that a technology suggests or more readily lends itself to”. It doesn’t bear up to much detailed investigation, but as a loose concept it can be quite useful (if a bit behaviourist).

In our loose, sloppy sense we can think of online education in each of our examples as having some things it is good at, and some it is less good at, as having some form of educational affordances. For instance, asynchronous discussion is good at detailed dissection and analysis of a document, but not very good compared with synchronous tools for decision making.

So, for each of the five elements I’ve covered, we can think of a scale when creating an online course. At one end there is what we can think of as the “face to face equivalent, but online”. At the other end is what we might term “designed for fully online”. For example, in assessment we might have “online proctored exam” as the face to face equivalent and something like “co-created open resource” at the other end. You can imagine examples of the others also (eg learning design might have “plan lecture series” – “multi-disciplinary design team”). The actual examples at each end of this spectrum will depend on your context.

This is not to suggest that one end is necessarily better than the other, but in any one online course you might consider them sliders and have a different range for each. For example, you might want to have largely asynchronous delivery, a face to face group element, a light touch individual learning design approach, with an eportfolio and a set of pre-recorded lectures accompanying and open textbook.

I’ve mocked up the model (see Interactive Version) just as a way of thinking below (yes I am still learning how to use Canva).

So if you’re considering developing an online or hybrid course, one way to start might be to do the following:

  • Start with these five elements – consider what is at the end of each spectrum in your context. Think of the affordances of online delivery in each case.
  • Do any research into elements and examples of good practice.
  • For each element determine what is feasible, ie how far along you want to shift each slider.
  • Consider if there are other elements beyond these five that it would be meaningful in your context.

Anyway, I hope this series has been helpful, and if not, it’s been useful for me as an antidote to the “online learning is inherently evil” narrative that is coming to dominate in popular media.

[UPDATE – Tom Woodward made a lovely interactive version of the sliders]

3 Comments

  1. […] Über die Bedeutung dieses Satzes muss man aus meiner Sicht nicht lange diskutieren. Der Punkt: Wir versuchen zu häufig, mit dem Einsatz von Online-Medien bestehende Probleme oder Aufgaben zu lösen. Die letzten beiden Corona-Jahren sind dafür exemplarisch. Das verschließt häufig den Blick auf die Möglichkeiten, die über die bestehende Praxis hinausgehen. Martin Weller, The Ed Techie, 22. Juni 2022 […]

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