Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Innovative Pedagogical Practices in Immersive E-Learning:Part I

One of the important realizations that should be derived from the advances towards effective immersive E-Learning is that our pedagogy is not static but in fact needs to be agile and adaptive to fully take advantage of this evolving learning environment. To make sure that when we speak of pedagogy we are all on the same page, I refer you to a previous definition which I used in an earlier post, which follows.



 Phylise H. Banner in her blog post entitled: "The Pedagogy of Learning Design: A Translation of Pedagogies" defines what we are talking about and list some essential elements. In the realm of education, the word pedagogy is used when talking about this designed approach to instruction and the alignment of learning elements such as objectives, content, activities, and assessments. She suggested that we need to focus on three key elements in effective e-learning: social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence.

Social presence focuses on creating a welcoming setting that is open and inviting so that our learners will want to engage with each other, the facilitator, and the learning content. Social presence is fostered by activities, methods, or approaches put in place to break the ice, build trust, and facilitate interaction with those around you.
  Teaching presence focuses on three major functions that we take on as training and learning professionals: design, facilitation, and direction of the learning experience. We build teaching presence by designing learning events that guide participants through learning materials, reinforce key concepts, foster critical thinking skills, provide opportunities for formative feedback and support, and evaluate progress throughout the learning experience.

  Cognitive Presence focuses on critical thinking skills. We want our learners to be active learners – to be actively integrating key concepts into their own worlds, exploring related resources, and adding new ideas and new knowledge. Cognitive presence is, in essence, the scaffolding of learning  as we move from the initial stages of knowledge and comprehension toward the critical learning stages of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  

What we are talking about here is a new direction for educators, corporate trainers, instructional designers and learning principles tacticians. The focus is on transformative teaching and on inspiring learners to be agents of change where innovative thinking becomes a natural mindset.The alignment of learning elements that Phylise is talking about requires that we think of what the elements of learning objectives, content, activities and assessments would look like in an immersive E-Learning environment. Keep in mind that previously these elements were defined by the industrial model of education. In order for this to come about there needs to be a change from pedagogical practices defined by the industrial model of education to one that is in sync with a global, networked and collaborative digital age. This requires innovative pedagogical practices.

Innovative Pedagogical Practice

Law (2002) in a paper titled:"Leadership,Change Management and Good Pedagogical Practices" defined Innovative Pedagogical Practice (IPP) as:

"...the product of change as well as a process. As a product, IPP is an organizational response to demands exerted internally or externally on the school "

Researchers of SITES II suggest that an innovative pedagogical practice (IPP) possess one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Promote active and independent learning
  • Competencies and technological skills to search for, organize and analyze information and communicate and express their ideas
  • Collaborative, project based learning involving complex real world like problems
  • Individualized, customized instruction
  • Address issues of equity including gender, ethnic, geographic or socioeconomic factors
  • Break down the walls of the classroom (ie: time, space and participants in the teaching process
  • Improve social cohesiveness and understanding 


When soliciting cases of innovative practices from all over the world, the researchers of SITES II required participating countries to select cases which had the following characteristics:

  • Technology played a substantial role
  • Evidence that indicates significant changes in roles of teachers and students, the goals of the curriculum assessment practices and/or educational materials or infrastructures
  • Evidence of measurable positive student outcomes
  • The innovative practice shows sustainability and transferability.
One point that should be clear is that we can not just transfer old pedagogical practices from brick and mortar classrooms in the past and simply ignore the effect  of working in an online environment.

Next----Concepts of Open Pedagogy and Social Pedagogy as necessary elements in immersive E-Learning.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Transformative Teaching and Scenarios: The Incredible Virtual Journey Continues

In the previous post I introduced a term that I called the "virtual interventionist" which describes a radical change in the role of the instructor and learner within the context of immersive E-Learning. I am of the opinion that for too long we have failed to make use of the great talents and gifts that educators have for making learning come alive. True educators are highly intelligent and creative individuals who love to walk down the road with students as they explore, question and challenge what we know about this brave new digital world. These talents and gifts have largely been driven underground by the imposition of a model of education whose goal is forced conformity to a one size fits all mentality, not only for the learner but also especially for the instructor This needs to change in order that we can achieve a truly transformative education environment.

The Virtual Interventionist As Scenario Conductor & Co-Collaborator

It is not very often that I would suggest that you take useful lessons from Hollywood when it comes to the design of immersive E-Learning scenarios but strangely enough, some dated movie block busters from the past were eerily predictive of the potential of real world problem solving scenarios set in a virtual reality environment. What we see in these movies are:

  • A problem based scenario
  • Collaborative actions in order to arrive at a plausible solution
  • Unexpected conflicting variables that highlight the re-evaluation of the problem and solution
  • Decision making that results in immediate feedback to the decision makers
  • Branch scenarios that develop and change how the story unfolds.
I must warn you that the following movie clip, which is from 2003  has the typical Hollywood hype to the point of being "cheesy". However, stripping away all the attempts to get people into theatre seats,take a good look at how well its fits the nature of a scenario of a real world problem based collaborative exercise where the collaborators act out a purposeful role that is of benefit to society. Naturally, the problem could be alot more realisic but the concept is viable.

Scenario Synopsis: Geophysicist Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) discovers that an unknown force has caused the earth's inner core to stop rotating. With the planet's magnetic field rapidly deteriorating, our atmosphere literally starts to come apart at the seams with catastrophic consequences. To resolve the crisis, Keyes, along with a team of the world's most gifted scientists, travel into the earth's core. Their mission: detonate a device that will reactivate the core.

Another movie in the same mode that goes back even further, 1960's, is titled: "The Fantastic Voyage".

 Scenario Synopsis: The brilliant scientist Jan Benes (Jean Del Val) develops a way to shrink humans, and other objects, for brief periods of time. Benes, who is working in communist Russia, is transported by the CIA to America, but is attacked en route. In order to save the scientist, who has developed a blood clot in his brain, a team of Americans in a nuclear submarine is shrunk and injected into Benes' body. They have a finite period of time to fix the clot and get out before the miniaturization wears off.
 If the idea of miniaturization makes you think this idea really misses the mark, then you need to update yourself on recent research in the area of Nanotechnology and Robotic Surgery.

Now, take these scenario and visualize them in an irresistibly engaging immersive E-Learning scenario making use virtual and augmented reality technology where the characters are learners and you, as an instructor have the option of joining them as a co-collaborator or as the virtual interventionist who injects problem variables that result in the development of branch scenarios.

Within immersive E-Learning, if we start with sound pedagogy and harness the technology that is available to us, translating virtual real world problem solutions to the test ground of the real world problem solving arena will be facilitated. We will have learners who will be engaged with a purpose to contribute in real ways to the health of our societies.

One important consideration that should become apparent is that more innovative pedagogical practices will become necessary as these new designs of learning scenarios using augmented and virtual technologies take shape.

 Next.... what research has to say about innovative pedagogical practices in a digital world.

Transformative Teaching and Scenarios: The Incredible Virtual Journey-Part I

 Choosing Technology for the Right Reasons

In the design of irresistible learning experiences, we need to remember the symbiotic relationship between pedagogy, technology and change management. An advancement in one element of this triumvirate will cause needed adaptations in the other two. The point that should be made very clearly is that smart pedagogy needs to take the lead. Advancements in technology need to be assessed in terms of how they may enhance the learning experience of the learner and the sobering question that needs to be asked is:

"Is the technology being considered the best means in helping us meet and extend the learning experience objectives or is this technology just not as effective compared to what is already being used?"

There is an unfortunate attitude that some educational organizations have that every technological advance that comes out needs to be incorporated and adapted to demonstrate that they are a 21st century school without considering whether or not they will help enhance effective pedagogical practices. An analogy is what happens when a new Apple IPad enters the marketplace and people line up for hours to get one. Please do not misunderstand me; Apple products are awesome in what they do but I question the necessity to go out and wait in long lines for hours when the Apple IPad that you already possess already does a magnificent job of meeting your needs now and even your future needs.

The point is that in immersive E-Learning we choose technology that will markedly enhance our ability to engage, inspire and deepen the learning experiences for learners. It should be chosen to push the boundaries of learning and skill development for the learner.

The Incredible Virtual Journey 

One of the key areas for expansion of immersive E-Learning is to adapt technology to create a truly immersive environment in which the learner becomes the traveler with a mission. Pedagogically speaking the combination of experiential learning with problem based learning principles can be greatly enhanced by the virtual reality technology that is now reaching a stage of refinement where it can help create irresistible engagement and deeper sustained learning.

Credit: Collis & Moonen, 2002
The concept of using augmented and virtual environments to enhance immersive E-Learning is now becoming more and more of a reality thanks to advancements in these technologies.
Remember! In order for these technologies to be useful, they must be able to demonstrate that they help enhance, extend and empower pedagogical practices in a transformative manner. In order for learning experiences to be irresistibly engaging and lead to deeper sustained learning they must satisfy certain requirements which have been outlined in previous posts.

Educator and Learners As Agents of Change

 In immersive E-Learning using augmented and virtual technology, the roles of educators, trainers, and learners radically change, but in a good way. The educator/ trainer becomes what I would term a "virtual interventionist". Within this role as an agent of change, you would have the following possibilities:

  • virtual interventionist as an academic guide or mentor within a scenario
  • virtual interventionist as a scenario conductor who directs and introduces challenges into a scenario dynamically(or while in play)
  • virtual interventionist as co-collaborator with the learner is a realistic problem based scenario
With respect to the first possibility, consider taking a 3D, first person voyage through the human body such as shown in the clip below:

Now, consider the possibility of creating a platform object that you and a learner can stand on as you travel through the human body. You, the instructor point to various points on your journey as you travel through 360 deg. space, as an avatar with the learner as an avatar. This type of scenario can be played out in any exploration oriented scenario in which a real place can be digitized into a virtual environment. It could be a virtual exploration of the archaeological site and dig of the boy king, Tutankhamun of ancient Egypt. The virtual interventionist could be a foremost Egyptologist.


In this case, as you can see, the virtual interventionist as academic mentor, is an interesting approach but it is missing a key ingredient, that being a real world problem that the learner must solve in a way that allows a personal contribution to new knowledge and skill sets. Including these ingredients further emphasize the role of agent of change for both the instructor and the learner.
Now, if your thinking that we are way too far away from this level of sophistication in immersive E-Learning, think again!
 A recent article published in LinkedIn by Mr. Rambo Levin described the combination of Moodle, a popular LMS with the Second Life virtual reality environment to produce a hybrid virtual application called Sloodle. When you consider the importance of the introduction of the Microsoft's Hololens demo using the popular Minecraft , the continuing advances in OS's for computing devices, the incredible virtual journey is beginning in earnest.

However, what about an actual dynamic, story driven, irresistible scenario that incorporates collaboration within a virtual environment?  These represent the next two possibilities listed above. The next post takes us into that realm.....

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Building Irresistible Engagement: Branching Scenarios and Linkage to Novel Scenarios--Part III

In the previous post, the case was made that within an immersive E-Learning environment that learning objectives might be transformed from being a static element to a dynamic and adaptive element that reflects "real time" change in skill development. In order for this process of change to be measured accurately, assessment can not just be the assessment done at the end of the course. Also, the emphasis shifts from being less assessment of learning to more assessment for learning. This assessment for learning occurs during the movement through the scenario learning experience, both on an individual and collaborative level. The means to accumulating "just in time data" can effectively obtained through the use of branching scenarios.

Branching scenarios are a means by which we see and assess decision making among learners. These types of scenarios are ones in which the decisions made by the learner changes how the story or narrative develops and also the potential outcomes. Branching scenarios that involve telling a story in which the learner is a main character have the following benefits:

  1. Stories or narratives have more power to engage than non-narrative communication in which the learner is a passive spectator.
  2. Stories or narratives can create a sense of self-efficacy which is a crucial building block for leadership development.
  3. Stories or narratives make attitude change more persistent by engaging the cognitive and affective level of the learner.
  4. Making wrong or bad decisions in character in a non-threatening environment is educationally useful
  5. Stories or narratives can create para-social relationships that are conducive to future learner collaboration within a corporate environment or educational organization.
Branching scenario development also bring with them certain cautions to be aware of:
  1. Narrative branching scenarios should carefully consider the number of branches that will be used. Too many branches can lead to confusion and be unproductive.
  2. In the design of branching scenarios it is advisable, when developing the story, to make use of story boarding and flow charting. Programs such as Articulate to name one are useful in helping to plan out and test ideas.
The following is a simple example of a decision making tree:

Credit: Debbie Richards (NAC)
I would suggest, partially tongue firmly in cheek, that if you really want to see branching scenarios at work in a collaborative, online environment, get involved in an online collaborative video game. In such an instance you will experience how immediate feedback changes decision making and impacts learning objectives. The skill development becomes self-evident when the "gamer" or learner is exposed to a novel unfamiliar scenario.

Novel Scenario Linkages and Assessment

One problem that needs to be addressed is how do learners who progress through an irresistibly engaging scenario test their new skill development in order to establish confidence that these skills can be transferred to the reality which is their work place? They need a testing ground. No matter how many branching scenarios you use, when learners are successful in making their way through the scenario, the last task should be the proving or testing ground. The last link in the scenario should lead them to a completely new scenario that they have never seen before in which they are tasked with  a challenge where their newly developed skill sets will be called upon in a mission critical situation. The instructor or trainer in the blended learning situation should have the ability during the scenario to introduce into the scenario unexpected variables which requires the learners to re-think strategy. In such a theater, assessment can happen on many levels which helps build the learning profile of learners and speaks to adjustments to be made in future designs.

Next.....Maximizing Immersive E-Learning Through Virtual Technology.

Building Irresistible Engagement: Plotting New Paths With Scenarios and Branch Scenarios in E-Learning

In the previous post, I suggested some of the necessary qualities that should be part of the design of E-Learning scenarios in order for them to be effective.

One design element that should be in place is the means to enable skill development and tracking for the learner. This suggests that in order for this to happen, we need to look at learning objectives and assessment in a different light.

Today as in the past,  learning objectives are stated at the beginning of a E-Learning course . Usually, if it was higher end thinking skills that we wished to assess in the learner, we used Bloom's Taxonomy or the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy to help compose effective objectives and then a completed assessment was done at the end.

Learning Objectives and Assessment in an Immersive E-Learning Environment

 One of the changes to E-Learning is the emergence of immersive E-Learning environments.

When we use scenarios in an immersive E-Learning format, learning objectives may not remain static but instead may evolve as learners progress through the scenario learning experience. They in fact become adaptive. Here is the logic behind this:

" As learners make decisions while progressing through a scenario, they receive immediate feedback concerning their decisions. This I will refer to as 'just-in-time data'. This data not only addresses future decisions made by the learners but also impacts learning objectives forcing them to adapt and evolve to the progression of skill development of the learners. Since skill development is a dynamic process, it also forces learning objectives to be adaptive and agile."

In this, we start to see true individualization of learning. Ruth Clark (2013) had the following to say about scenario based E-Learning:
"Scenario-based e-learning is a pre-planned guided inductive learning environment designed to accelerate expertise in which the learner assumes the role of an actor responding to a work realistic assignment or challenge, which in turn responds to reflect the learner's choices" (Clark, 2013).

As you can see, this process is not a one-way process.

This brings up a reasonable and obvious question:
"How can we possibly measure or assess such a process?"

 Next segment--Use of branching scenarios and linkages to novel scenarios.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Building Irresistible Engagement--Scenarios & Branching Scenarios in E-Learning-Part I

One of the main thrusts of prior posts on this site is that whether or not we are talking about a corporate or educational organization, we want learners to become creators of new knowledge and skill sets, and to work collaboratively as agents of change. This goal not only benefits corporate and educational organizations but ultimately our societies are enriched and new generations are inspired in a positive fashion. Skeptics might dismiss this as a "Pollyanna Principle" at work but adapting a skeptics mindset very often results in paralysis of the will to see beyond self-imposed limitations and maintaining the status quo.


This change requires a radical but obtainable and sustainable change in mindset. Simulations and problem based learning are means by which we can build irresistible engagement into designed learning experiences and nurture this mindset until it becomes a part of the natural thinking patterns of corporate and educational organizations.

Another means by which such a mindset may be fostered is through the designed use of online scenarios and branching scenarios.

The Nature of E-Learning Scenarios

 One of the great benefits of online learning is the power that gives the learner and ID to create, experiment and change behaviors of learners in a non-threatening environment. It is similar to what happens to "gamers" who play online video games. When your character makes a serious error during game play, dies or is eliminated, he or she knows that they can be "re-started" at a point prior to where the error was made and take a different approach to the confronted problem. Even "gamers" are given pause after such an event to consider their mistake and think about another course of action  that will allow them to avoid a repetition of the same fate. Some are quick to re-consider a new path and some take more time. This mirrors individualized learners in corporate and educational organizations. However, unlike the video gamer, a learner in a corporate or educational setting, might have limited extra chances to get it right.


Important Design Elements in E-Learning Scenarios

In building irresistible engagement through E-Learning scenarios, certain key design elements that speak to effective pedagogy should be considered. The following elements, although not exhaustive, should be considered as those having the greatest impact:

  1. Focus: In order to covey to learners that they are involved in a meaningful, relevant experience, the design should focus on relevant real world problems and issues. The design should allow connections to be drawn by the learner to their own personalized learning situation.
  2. Story Telling: It is important that a realistic and personally relatable story be told. If the goal is to create an irresistibly engaging learning experience, the story telling must not treat the learner as a passive observer. In this we can take a lesson from great fiction novels in which the author crafts his or her novel in such a way that the reader feels that he or she is part of the developing story. Engagement is more than an intellectual exercise but should involve the emotional and sensory aspects as well. In such a "flow", you not only anticipate what you would do as a participant in the unfolding story, you are driven to see if your own thinking in the situation results in the consequences you anticipate. In an effective E-Learning scenario, the learner operates as a dynamic entity interacting with his or her new environment. Real time for the learner stands still when in a state of flow.
  3. Collaborative: You have often heard it said by instructors and presenters that it is important to know your audience. This is a truism that trainers take as matter of great importance but in E-Learning this takes on a more expansive dimension. It is not enough to know basic data about the audience. It is important to know the learning profiles of the people involved and especially their openness to collaborating with others. Collaboration among learners tasked to arrive at solutions in problem based scenarios requires an awareness of what each collaborator brings to the table to help to arrive at a solution. Collaboration is a key skill set for 21st century learners.
  4. Immediate Feedback: Just as in gaming, immediate, relevant, instructive feedback is required on the decisions that are made both individually and collaboratively during the scenario. Too often such experiments fail because instructors give feedback at the conclusion of the experience instead of during the experience. This is important because it is an influence in the path taken during branching scenarios. It is a dynamic process! It is from plausible consequences that we learn, re-think, re-group and move towards a solution. It is also in these crucial moments that ingenuity and innovation have opportunity to surface.

In using scenarios as part of a hybrid approach to E-learning, what starts to emerge is what the future of E-Learning holds. As what one author postulated, we will see an "Immersive E-Learning" appear on the immediate horizon. The technological aspects are, as we write, being put strategically in place.

Credit: Robert Penn
Next---More scenario elements, branching scenarios and innovative pedagogy.