Reflection: Personal Learning Theory

Write a reflection on the feedback you received from peers and instructor. What do you agree with? Why? What do you disagree with? Why? How has this experience changed or not changed your perspective on your theory?

The feedback that I received from peers was positive.  As a matter of fact, they didn’t have anything to add.  I enjoyed the questions from the faculty who asked specifically to defend my position (training for the dissertation defense?).

F: “I don’t believe it, convince me…”  

S: “Well, I have evolved as a learner…. and it is my personal learning theory”

When I consider the feedback, I’m left with the question… is my personal learning theory a theory at all… ?  It is simply modifications to pedagogy?  Is it methods of engaging learners or does it impact the way learning occurs?  I keep thinking about how our brains are rewiring and how we are all “plugged-in” to the internet. I can’t stop thinking about it, OHHHH the agony of it all…

I have evolved as a learner and work in a role where I MUST remain on the leading edge of the tools, pedagogy, research, and the trends in higher education and online learning. It is the pressure of the half-life of information that pushes me to continually check my PLN for new details that may transform the way we teach and learn.  

Perhaps I have heard one too many speeches on the disrupting of higher education and am in a dire need of a vacation.  Note to self: retire on an island somewhere without internet access.


Designing Instruction for Online Learning

What is my personal “best method” of designing instruction?

I use 4 simple steps.

  1. Focus on mapping out the topics of instruction for each week of the course (6 weeks = 6 topics)
  2. Write the learning objectives for each week.
  3. Create the assessment items that will carefully measure the learning outcomes that I have highlighted in the objectives.
  4. Then carefully choose the content that is necessary for the learner to be successful in achieving those outcomes.

It is a combination of competency or learning outcomes based design, backward design, and rapid instructional design methodologies.  

How did you learn to design instruction?

I have been creating online curriculum since 2001.  I learned by “doing” it.  My process became more regimented when I began working with Institutions of Higher Education in 2006 and build 100s of online courses over a period of three years.  As an instructional designer for SunGard Higher Education, I had a hand in the design and development of programs at 25 different institutions in the United States and in my current role, I’m designing programs for schools in Australia, Bejing, Manilla, Latin America, the UK, and Spain.

Does your process for designing instruction match your theoretical perspective?

Great question.  When I design my own course, yes.  But when I’m designing other’s courses, I am flexible and want to let the teaching philosophy of the instructor come through in the design of the course.  

Canvas LMS – Benefits of the LMS for teaching and learning

Using a structured space for teaching and learning:

There are many benefits from using a structured space for teaching and learning especially in the early years, undergraduate programs and in many cases even in Masters degree programs.

  • Makes teaching and learning simple by centralizing or providing a hub for learning
  • Students know where to go to find out how they are doing in the course (receive feedback and grades)
  • Communications can be documented and centralized (things tend to get lost in multiple email accounts)

How well does the structure of an LMS fit with your theory of online learning:

While the STRUCTURE of the LMS does not totally match with my theory of online learning, Canvas integrates with so many open source tools and OER content that it is the best of the platforms that are available today.  Using a Canvas course as a “hub” of the activity and repository of information for the course but leveraging the power of the open and messy web for curation, remixing, aggregation, communications, and exploration seems to be a good match for my personal theory of learning.

The reasons why I prefer Canvas as a LMS:
1. Simple User Interface
2. Flexibility – (a) allows for the addition of LTI tools (Learning Tool Interoperability) (b) allows me to choose the pedagogy and instructional design methodology
3. Video EVERYWHERE: The use of video has been proven to increase student’s sense of connectedness and belonging. Increasing their connection to the content, instructor, and fellow students can increase persistence and their overall satisfaction with the course.

Open Educational Resources (OER): Breaking down the barriers of Quality, Policies, Copyright, and Sustainability

There is a significant movement in higher education to move toward a model of openness, where courses are offered for free on platforms like Coursera, Udacity, and edX. The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) hysteria has been widely published over the last year, however, Open Educational Resources have been in the public eye since the advent of MIT’s Open Courseware initiative which began in 2001 (Rolfe, 2012). The UNESCO definition for Open Educational Resources as stated in Clements and Pawlowski are “technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaption by a community of users for noncommercial purposes’ (Clements, K. & Pawlowski, J., 2012).

Open Educational Resources are gaining attention as the Open Learning movement is underway. The largest challenges and barriers presented require innovative thinking in order to expand access to a global repository of learning assets that could transform higher education. Opening up access to materials that can be translated and repurposed internationally will help developing countries save on course content development, facilitate the sharing of knowledge, and address the digital divide by providing capacity-building resources for educators (Olcott, 2012). The barriers presented in this paper (Quality, Policies, Copyright, and Sustainability) are meant to pose challenges for the OER community to respond to in order to better serve our community of learners around the planet.

OER: Barriers to Overcome

1. Quality Evaluation/Peer Review process

High quality resources are in demand globally, however, in some content repositories there is no system of classification related to quality. Educators are willing to evaluate quality by ranking, recommending, or becoming accredited reviewers; user recommendations (peer reviews or rankings) from colleagues or friends would allow them to make selections of resources (Clements, Pawlowski, 2012).

A content repository that overcomes this barrier is MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching); whereby peer reviewers can rate artifacts, which helps users in the selection of high quality resources (Swift, C. 2012).

The MERLOT evaluation criteria:

The MERLOT rating system:

2. Policies (recognition for users/creators/remixers)

In order to properly incentivize participation, submission, and evaluation of OERs; faculty incentives (reward and recognition) are needed along with support staff to continue to build up OER repositories. (Nikoi, S. Armellini, A. 2012)

D’Antoni presents the lack of academic recognition of the development of OER by teaching staff as a barrier to adoption. However, she also points out that sharing knowledge is aligned with the tradition of the academy (D’Antoni, S. 2012). If career advancement for faculty does not include incentives for using OER it would be difficult to argue the case for OER (Olcott,D. 2012).

3. Legal (copyright)

Copyright is incompatible with sharing, creativity, and learner engagement and therefore the wrong tool for OERs, however, Creative Commons provides the needed legal tools to reserve rights, but open content in a variety of ways (Bissell, 2012).

Creative Commons Licenses

Copyright is simply inflexible, creative commons offers the options required for educators to ensure their work is not closed. Creative commons is the infrastructural glue for the OER movement (Bissell, 2012).

Creative commons allows educators to place the permission on the artifact in advance, thus eliminating the time and expense associated with gaining copyright permissions to use copyrighted materials (D’Antoni, S, 2012).

OERs mentioned on the Creative Commons website:

4. Sustainability

In Rolfe’s paper she mentions literature that points to the demise of 11 different content repositories in the present decade (Rolfe, 2012). The support and maintenance for the technology, the community, and the content can become expensive, however, even those with small budgets like Utah State University ($120,000) have had their funding pulled. It is conceivable that the lack of a revenue stream creates the issue with sustainability (Olcott, D. 2012).

Critical to the mission of open access, universities and their faculties must break down these barriers and build up the repositories of content understanding that it should be translated, repurposed and distributed internationally. The technology exists to deliver OERs on a global scale. The world needs one technology platform that aggregates all OERs, allows them to be translated easily, and empowers learners and educators globally with access. This OER digital content sharing will transform developing countries, democratizing education and empowering the knowledge economy. 


Bissell, A. (2012). Permission granted: open licensing for educational resources. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning, 24(1), 97-106. doi: 10.1080/02680510802627886

Clements, K., & Pawlowski, J. (2011). User-oriented quality for OER: understanding teachers’ views on re-use, quality, and trust. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 2012(28), 4-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00450.x

D’Antoni, S. (2009). Open educational resources: reviewing initiatives and issues. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning, 24(1), 3-10. doi: 10.1080/02680510802625443

Nikoi, S., & Armellini, A. (2012). The oer mix in higher education: purpose, process, product, and policy. Distance Education, 33(2), 165-184. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2012.697439

Olcott, D. (2012). OER perspectives: emerging issues for universities. Distance Education, 33(2), 283-290.

Rolfe, V. (2012). Open educational resources: staff attitudes and awareness. Research in Learning Technology, 20, doi: 10.3402/rlt.v20i0/14295

Swift, C. (2012, August). Be recognized as a merlot peer reviewer.

Why Educators Need to Know Learning Theory

Debbie makes an important point regarding the need for educators to know Learning Theory – One set of instructional methods are not “better” than the other, rather they should be reflective of your teaching practice.
Keep in mind that your teaching practice should evolve over time.

Online Learning Insights

This is the second in a three-part series about Learning Design. The first post introduced the Learning Design Framework; a guide for educators to create optimal learning experiences for students by leveraging: 1) content resources, 2) collaborative web resources and 3) human resources. This second post focuses on learning theory and how it applies to not only course design, but educators’ role in creating excellent learning experiences for their students.  Note: this is a revised version of a post that appeared on January 19, 2014. 


We need to study learning theory so we can be more effective as educators. In this post I bridge the gap between learning theory and effective educators; describe why we need to start at A to get to B.  I also describe how a grasp of learning theory translates to knowledge of instructional methods, that moves educators towards creating optimal learning environments.  Post one of this series…

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Week 9: Community of Inquiry – Annotated Bibliography

In preparation for a MicroMOOC that I began teaching a week ago on the Canvas open network, it was necessary to evaluate research that had been done around the community of inquiry framework.

While what ended up being created as a result of this research became an annotated bibliography, however, there was one article that caught my attention.

A model for Social Presence in Online Classrooms by Wei, Chen, and Kinshuk was published February 21, 2012 in Education Technology Research and Development (an AECT journal).  This paper proposed five hypotheses and took on the creation and evaluation of an instrument for measurement prior to conducting the study.

The study had 522 participants and the data supported the researchers hypotheses.

1. User interface has a positive effect on the learners’ perceived social presence in online classrooms.

2. User interface has a positive effect on learners’ perceived social cues in online classrooms.

3. Social cues have a positive effect on leaners’ perceived social presence in online classrooms.

4. Perceived social presence has a positive effect on learners’ learning interaction in online classrooms.

5. Learning interaction has a positive effect on learners’ perception of their learning performance in online classrooms.

The study was rich and meaningful, produced a new instrument that I will make use of in the MicroMOOC, and contributed new knowledge and constructs to the field.

The other articles that were reviewed in anticipation of this effort are also included here below:

The Human Element: A analysis of the literature regarding the Community of Inquiry

Ice,P., Curtis, R., Phillips,P. & Wells, J. (2007). Using Asynchronous Audio Feedback to Enhance Teaching Presence and Students’ Sense of Community.

In this article, Ice et al. (2007) state student satisfaction is increased due to audio feedback as opposed to text feedback. The study consisted of a total of 27 graduate students.  The researchers found that students were three times more likely to incorporate audio feedback from their instructor rather than text feedback. Not only did students prefer audio feedback they also indicated that they would use this characteristic as a deciding factor for taking future online courses. Students found that audio feedback was helpful in understanding nuances and decreased social distance. From the instructors’ perspective using audio feedback reduced time by 75% and it improved the quality of feedback by 255%. This technique also increased retention and helped facilitate deeper learning on content.

Akyol, Z,, & Garrision, D.R. (n.d.). The Development of a Community of Inquiry over Time in an Online Course: Understanding the Progression and Integration of Social, Cognitive, and Teaching Prescence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(3-4), 3-22. Retrieved from

Akyol and Garrision (n.d.) focused on how social, cognitive, and teaching presence evolved over time, as well as how these three presences influenced each other. The study sample was 16 graduate students. While the majority of the course was completely online and asynchronous, the instructor did host synchronous office hours and consisted of one synchronous Elluminate meeting. During this Elluminate meeting students were given the opportunity to ask questions in regards to course content and process. Akyol and Garrision generated transcripts based on the nine weekly discussion posts. In the coding process, social presence was coded on “affective expression, open communication, and group cohesion”. Cognitive presence was coded on “the triggering event, exploration, integration, and resolution.” “Teaching presence was coded for design and organization, facilitating discourse, and direct instruction” (p. 10).  Akyol and Garrision found that students reported higher teaching presence and claimed that cognitive presence increased their level of their perceived learning. In addition, the research shows that affective expression decreased over the three time periods; however, group cohesion increased as affective expression decreased. Students also revealed a higher rate of integration contributions (using other resources to express and support their statements) than exploration. In addition, this study reified pervious research, it found “positive relationships between teaching presence and cognitive presence, teaching presence and perceived learning, teaching presence and satisfaction…[However,]compared to teaching presence, cognitive presence was found to be a more influential factor on students’ learning” (p.17).

Ke, F. (2010). Examining online teaching, cognitive, and social presence of adult students. Computers & Education, 55, 808-820, doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.03.013.

Using mixed methodology with a study sample of 10 online courses, Ke (2010) found that instructors that provided clear expectations and were flexible with assignment due dates were perceived by students to be more caring and approachable. Students found individual assignments to be more effective than group assignments. According to students, the top two desirable characteristics of online instructors are social presence and individual student attention.  Furthermore, Ke (2010) found that instructor self-disclosure coupled with discussion post feedback on individual student’s posts strengthened the sense of connection and motivated students. Synchronous conference calls received mixed feelings in regards to effectiveness and had low attendance. Based on this research, instructors should stay away from synchronous sessions, provided feedback timeline, and create discussion boards that consist of student-instructor, student- student, and student- content interaction. Backing up other research, Ke found that high online presences and a sense of strong community were positively correlated with learning satisfaction.

Brinthaupt, T.M., Fisher, L.S., Gardner, J.G., Raffo, D.M., & Woodard, J.B. (2011). What the best online teachers should do. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7 (4), 515-524. Retrieved from

Brinthaupt et al conducted an analysis based on Ken Bain’s book “What the Best Colleges Teachers Do”. Brinthaupt et al concentrate on outlining behaviors and examples of how an online teacher can foster student engagement, stimulate intellectual development, and build rapport with students. Granszol and Grandzol (2006) argue that the quality and quantity of interactions among peers and faculty create a sense of community which fosters student engagement. Brinthaupt et al point out that student-student interaction based on quality and quantity correlate to student success. In addition, scholars highlight that lecturing should not be the only mode used as a teaching strategy because it increases learner isolation. To facilitate effective and desirable student engagement scholars recommend use of humor, multimedia (videos, podcasts, etc), blogs, and discussion forums. Brinthaupt et al. support Bain’s assumption that the best teachers explain their teaching philosophy and learning opportunities which ultimately helps the student “get to know” the instructor. Therefore, they recommend an introduction instructor video, presenting assignments as learning opportunities as opposed to course requirements, creating small group discussions and group projects. Posing provocative questions is key for stimulating intellectual development. It is recommended that these question be created by students and be posted in a discussion board. Lastly, posing interesting and creating interactive questions is ideal. For building rapport with students, it is recommended that instructors get to know their students by outlining a “getting started” section in the course in which the student is given the opportunity to self-disclose and learn about the instructor. The main instructor characteristic needed to build student rapport is flexibility. Overall, Brinthaupt et al reveal how different methodologies, techniques, and technologies can help create an ideal student learning environment and experience.

Nagel, L., & Kotze, T. (2010). Supersizing e-learning: What a COI survery reveals about teaching prescence in a large online class. Internet and Higher Education, (13), 45-51.

Nagel and Kotze highlight the peer review success in the 2009 course, which consisted of an 87% course completion rate in a cohort of 186 students. This study consisted of a mixed methodology, qualitative and quantitative. This study revealed that consistency in course design is essential for creating a positive online experience for the student. Nagel and Kotze debunk the myth of an ideal class size and argue that an effective and desirable online learning experience is not something that will occur in the future but rather is already occurring. Due to the large number of students, the instructor created a document checker template that was used by 67% of the class. A peer review process was an addition to the previous course due to instructor time constraints. Student perceived the peer reviews as positive. In this investigation, three themes emerged based on student’s least favorite thing about the peer reveals; which were high feedback expectations, higher cognitive review feedback, and dissatisfaction with the lack of grade association to the peer review assignment. In addition, the peer reviews increased cognitive presence and a sense of student belonging.

Hostetter, C., & Busch, M. (2013). Community matters: Social presence and learning outcomes. Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13 (1), 11-86. Retrived from

Hostetter and Busch examine the correlation between student’s learning outcome and social presence.  They define social presence as degree to which an individual is perceived as a real person through mediated communication. The study sample consisted of 121 participants in completing a survey on social presence. In addition, an analysis was conducted on the student’s discussion posts.  The analysis revealed that students found the discussion forums to help them create a feeling of belonging and community. In addition, the students that had “the highest amount of social presence had the highest scores on the Classroom Assessment Technique” (p. 82). The research results reveal that students with high social presence did better on assessments. Ultimately, the researchers found that social presence increased student performance and argued it can be a helpful tool for retention purposes, as well as help build a sense of community.

Broup, J., West, R., & Graham, C. (2011). Improving online social presence through asynchronous video. Internet and Higher Education, (15), 195-203.

Broup, West, and Graham examined three courses to investigate if video- based strategies such as voice thread and YouTube influenced student perception of the instructors’ social presence, their perceptions social presence and their own. One of the instructors in this study used voice thread to facilitate student-instructor interaction, which consisted of a weekly topic discussion. The second instructor used VoiceThread to for instructor to small group interaction. The instructor used VoiceThread to explain assignments to students, facilitate small group discussion on course topics and to provide feedback to the completed projects. The third instructor used YouTube to give class announcements, introduce weekly assignments, and pose questions to student. This instructor required students to respond with videos. The results revealed that many students found the videos diminished the distance between them and their instructors. They found the videos were natural and helped clear up confusion on content. Students also found that instructor self-disclosure and fidelity made them feel like they “knew” the instructor. Furthermore, students attributed the videos to their feeling of closeness and sense of commitment to their instructors. Some student found the asynchronous videos to have some disadvantages because other students did not see their videos due to the assignment only required posting a video once a week. This found that this requirement of posting only once a week limited the possibility for having an extended conversation. Many students commented on the ability to see personality and learn about their peers’ background due to the asynchronous videos.  Researchers found that some students did not feel connected to other students due to students used text instead of video, lack of emotional expression present in postings, and lack of student feedback or viewing of other students’ videos. The researchers advocate for the ability to have extended threaded conversations to help facilitate student-student and student-instructor interactions. In addition, they advocate for further research to be done on student performance as opposed to student perception.

Dunlap, J.C. & Lowenthal, P.R. (2009). Tweeting the night away: Using Twitter to enhance social presence. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20 (2).

Dunlap and Lowenthal (2009) argue that Twitter is an effective and desirable way to enhance social presence. The researchers state that Twitter allowed students to present themselves as “real people”. While Dunlap and Lowenthal did not make it a class requirement to participate in tweeting, they found that students used Twitter for multiple purposes. Through Twitter the instructors and students were able to collaborate, brainstorm, solve problems, and create experiences. According to Dunlap and Lowenthal Twitter brings the following benefits to an online learning environment: it helps address student issues in a timely manner; it forces the participants to write concisely. Furthermore, due to Twitter being an open community, it influenced students to be thoughtful and sensitive to their audience. Because Twitter consists of a professional community, students were able to discuss and get feedback from textbook authors. Students were given support and resources that facilitated informal learning which they incorporated into their coursework. In addition, Twitter broke the bounds of an LMS structure and extended duration time for student- student as well as student-instructor interaction. Time consuming, additive and promotion of bad grammar are the drawbacks that the researchers outline.  Dunlap and Lowenthal provide five guidelines for using Twitter in the classroom. The first guideline is the instructor should establish how using Twitter is helpful and relevant to the student. Second, the instructor must articulate clear student participation expectations. Third, the instructor should model effective Twitter use and be an active participant. Four, the instructor should encourage students to use information and resources provided in Twitter interactions into their coursework. The fifth guideline advocates for instructors to continue using twitter after the course is completed to achieve a desirable level of social presence as well as creating future interaction with past students.

Week 8: Systems Thinking and Critical Thinking

I am to contrast systems thinking and critical thinking however, I’m finding that they are connected and essential to each other.  I searched the internet for a few hours and watched many videos on system thinking.

Making Systems Thinking Sexy

This talk by Eli Stefanski provided me some insight into the systems thinking process, embedded norms, collaborative innovation, and how to experiment all the time.  Her comments reminded me of the paper we read on Chaos Theory and Complexity.

Eli talks about global giving.  Global giving is a platform for crowd funding to solve wicked challenges in the world today.  She shared how modifications to the platform, making it more user centric, made it a compelling solution.

In listening to her talk about the messiness of innovation, I found myself connecting with this sloppy, innovative process.  I see my PhD journey as a sloppy innovation, the creation of something new.  I’m noticing patterns in my work, behaviors, study habits, and how those relate to the larger process of learning.

TEDxDirigo – Eli Stefanski – Making Systems Thinking Sexy

Critical Thinking: What I’m learning about my own learning: emancipatory learning is often a difficult and painful process. 

I have struggled with thinking past the “obviousness” of systems thinking.  Look at the big picture, break it down into its parts and think about how the parts relate to the whole.  This is meant to help us better understand what it will take to change or modify systems.  I don’t mean that Systems thinking is obvious to everyone, but rather that it is “how” I think.  I’m very analytical and have to understand the big picture before I can get into the details.  I don’t have time for the wrong details and so that drives my thinking.  I think of every little cog turning the larger machine and I see this visually as I’m discussing concepts.  I will typically draw pictures on the white board in my office in order to share ideas with others.  This is also the approach that I take to critically think about actions, policies, project plans with interdependencies, how to manage my staff, and leading change in organizations.

Using Banathy’s environmental systems thinking approach, I analyzed the online instructor as a microsystem.  In doing so, I felt that I was stating the obvious.  I was certain that this approach was to simplistic and would not add value.  However, I was incorrect in my thinking.  When I shared this paper with a colleague at the office, I learned that it was a worthy piece and produced some interesting facts.  It may be necessary to state the obvious every now and then because what is obvious to some is not obvious to all.

I learned a little more about my learning journey and it reminds me of the video below.