AN INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN APPROACH FOR EFFECTIVE SHOVELWARE: Modifying Materials for Distance Education

Article excerpt

There has been a rapid proliferation of online courses and shareable content objects. These courses often include a vast array of information, yet they are not instructionally sound. The primary purpose of this article is to provide a procedure (tool) that will help instructional designers determine if existing e-learning courses and sharable content objects are well designed instructionally, or primarily a collection of information posted as a "course" (shovelware). The procedure employs a reverse engineering approach to produce an analysis of the content and instruction. An instructional design model is then used to determine the instructional adequacy of the materials.

AN INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN APPROACH FOR MODIFYING MATERIALS FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION

E-learning solutions are rapidly becoming an integral part of many university courses, continuing education programs, and training programs in business, government, and the military. A number of experts predict that, in the training area, the number of courses delivered by technology will increase. Cone and Robinson (2001) suggested that the number of e-learning courses was expected to double by the year 2003. Rosenberg (2000) suggested that the expenditures for courses and programs delivered using technology have increased 66% during the previous 5 years. In the private sector a number of companies are reporting the economic benefits of e-learning. As a result of e-learning solutions, IBM saved $20 million in 1999, while Ernst and Young reduced the cost of training by 35% (Strother, 2002). Strother also makes a strong case that corporations are increasing their emphasis on e-learning solutions.

We believe that is necessary to assure that e-learning trainees and students receive courses and training experiences that are well-designed from an instructional standpoint. Cone and Robinson (2001) have identified two problems with e-learning, including "poorly designed e-learning" and "insufficient focus" (p. 2).

In this article we will focus on the problem of poor design or lack of instructional design in e-learning materials. In many cases: (a) training courses, college courses, and other traditional instructional packages are repurposed for use on the Web, or (b) faculty/trainers develop a new course for Web delivery that does not provide adequate instructional support. What really happens in practice? We believe that, for both repurposed courses and newly-developed courses, frequently information is collected and assembled in the form of online course syllabi, class schedules, course notes, assignments or projects, PowerPoint slides, or course module. This information is then posted to the Web using software such as WebCT, Blackboard, Lotus Learning Management System, or other software designed for the purpose of delivering e-learning instruction. In addition, threaded discussions, chats, and e-mail are also incorporated as a strategy. We believe that "courses" delivered in this manner are not necessarily instructional, and that they should really be labeled "Web-based information." Little or no instructional design may have been done ensuring that sound instructional strategies are embedded in the instructional materials. Such materials are labeled as shovelware. Shovelware is defined as "content taken from any source and put on the Web as fast as possible with little regard for appearance and usability" (whatis.techtarget.com). For example, an instructor can collect information and shovel it into an application such as Blackboard or a learning management system to create a "course." The key to high-quality instruction rests with effective instructional strategies developed in the context of a sound instructional design model. Good strategies are typically missing from shovelware courses.

The primary purpose of this article is to provide a tool that will help instructional designers determine if existing e-learning courses and sharable content objects are well-designed instructionally, or primarily a collection of information posted as a "course" (shovelware). …