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Have You Gone Organic?

Emerging design paradigms for online courses mean open, authentic, and customized learning experiences. Are you ready?

INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION technologies have helped bring on an evolution (dare we say revolution?) in the instructional design process by providing tools to create open, authentic, and learner-customized experiences. This means that new challenges are facing technology leaders in how they ensure their IT infrastructure supports this emerging "organic" paradigm for eLearning courses.

The assumptions that have guided traditional course design in the past-- analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate, known as the ADDIE process-- need to be updated. Learners today are more hands-on and engaged; content for personalized learning is now much more accessible; a wealth of resources and communication tools are now literally at everyone's fingertips (check out the Top 100 Tools for eLearning). Linear learning experiences won't satisfy these learners, nor will they leverage the powers of new technologies available to higher education.

An organic design process acknowledges the sea change that has occurred in learners and their tools, and allows us to create and support learning experiences that make the most of the serendipitous intersection of immersive learners, faculty open to experimentation, the challenges of learning outcomes, and the characteristics of the technologies available.

What are the hallmarks of organic courses that you should be aware of as you build the infrastructure and choose the tools to support your online programs? Some of the characteristics are: flexible course structures; open and authentic content within expansive content repositories; learner-generated content; and customized and personalized learning experiences. The chart below summarizes the most important differences between a classic and organic instructional design approach and some of the eLearning strategies and tools that enable organic learning experiences. You may find it useful to refer to this chart as you build your eLearning programs to empower your faculty and students to go organic.

  Classic Instructional Design Organic Instructional Design eLearning Strategies and Tools for Organic Design
Course Structure Well-defined, but fairly rigid with little planned variability for learners Well-defined, but flexible and open to accommodate learner's specific goals Learners personalize goals in a discussion forum or blog; faculty provide mentoring and coaching with text, voice, and synchronous meetings.
Content Core concepts with a set of defined content resources; may have some authentic and interactive content Core concepts with flexible and customized choices of resources including wide range of authentic and interactive content Learners identify content resources that best fit their goals in shared reflective assignments, using tools such as discussion forums, VoiceThreads, podcasts, blogs, and wikis. Content needs to be integrated and accessible to all learners.
Learners Designed for anticipated set of learners using planned resources Designed for anticipated learners with choices for customization, including learner-generated content Learners choose from formats to demonstrate "evidences of learning." Tools include podcasts, synchronous presentations, and social networking tools with integration into grading and ePortfolio apps.
Defined set of tools and technologies for specific course community Constantly evolving set of tools and technologies accommodating outreach to many communities and audiences Learners and faculty welcome participation by external experts and interested parties. Participation needs to be seamlessly accommodated while maintaining appropriate security.
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