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 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.

The Business of Higher Education

“The Business of Higher Education”

Driving operational efficiencies in order to lower tuition costs

There is a need for increasing concern over the educational future of our country and an objective look at how the system of higher education is structured and how it is paid for. The manner in which future leadership approaches these problems and challenges to the higher education system is likely to have an enormous impact on America’s global position in the long term. Students in the United States are currently swimming in a sea of educational loan debt with total student indebtedness nearing a staggering value of $1 trillion USD as of November 2012 (Doyle, 2012). Tuition costs in many states have risen more than 439 percent in the short seven years ending in 2005 (Auguste, Cota, Jayaram, & Laboissiere, 2010). These problems are very real and have the potential of causing a “crash” that greatly impacts the system of higher education if they go unaddressed. This trend in how costly a degree has become and how students are paying for their education is untenable. The best way to address this is to target how much a higher education costs and drive this burden on students down. If institutions of higher education could find cost efficiencies and reduce their own operating expenses then these savings could be passed on to their students through a reduction in tuition or by lessening the degree to which they require governmental funding assistance (Eyring, 2011).

Cost of Higher Education

(Figure 1: Hemelt & Marcotte, 2011)

Investing in a student’s future has historically been shown to pay off in years past, but is such an approach valid in today’s economy and with current job skill requirements? The attainment of a degree can no longer be seen as an indicator that a graduate will find successful employment. To show this situation clearly, one can look at a recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor from 2011, which reports that, nearly 16 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed and this pool of recent college students is faced with a part-time employment rate of slightly over 34 percent as well (as cited in Doyle, 2012).

American colleges and universities are not typically run like private sector businesses and often overlook cost-efficiencies in their production of graduates. If institutions could become more efficient and cost effective, they would be in position to improve the higher education system in several ways. This would place these institutions in the position of being able to pass savings on to students through lower tuition, reduce the amount of borrowing by students to attain their education, and ultimately reduce the nationwide risk of the student loan bubble bursting (Eyring, 2010). Areas where these institutions can effect such change are seen in the examples of course redesign and competency based instruction. These two proven models can modify existing processes at most colleges and universities and, as a result, can provide considerable cost savings and allow these institutions to become more student-centric at the same time. These types of efficiencies and approaches to education could be adopted to drive down costs at universities nationwide.

Innovations that have created proven efficiencies:

Course Redesign

The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) was founded in 1999 by Carol Twigg and has since been experimenting with using various technologies to redesign courses in an effort to improve the quality of learning and drive down the overall cost of instruction (Meyer, 2011). NCAT uses a four stage iterative process which analyzes the results of course modifications as changes are made and communicates the lessons learned to the teaching and learning community to ensure that effective practices are shared collaboratively (Twigg, 2005).

NCAT Iterative Process

(Figure 2: Twigg, 2005)

The NCAT process, illustrated in the image above, allows for courses to be enhanced to serve a larger population of students and improve student-learning outcomes. While redesign of an online course can provide efficiencies and save money over the longer term, the process can be costly initially. The redesign process typically requires a team of individuals to be involved in the effort, which includes faculty, instructional designers, graphic designers, and software specialists (Meyer, 2011). The longer term costs are outweighed by the resulting benefits of such an approach when NCAT statistics are considered which show that cost reductions of 37 percent on average, improved test scores, and increased retention can potentially be gained (Twigg, 2005).

Subscription/Competency Based Instruction

Western Governors University (WGU) operates on a subscription style cost approach and a competency based instructional model. Students pay an annual tuition similar to a membership fee, which then allows students to enroll in and complete as many classes as they wish (Schejbal, 2012). Testing is utilized to prove mastery in this type of system and rather than traditional instructors, course mentors assist students by augmenting and supporting the provision of online educational materials (Auguste et al., 2010). This approach has captured the attention of states and other groups involved in educational planning. As an example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Reilly, and UW Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Ray Cross recently announced a competency-based degree model that will transform higher education in their state. This will allow students to begin self-paced classes anytime and will award students credit for prior knowledge, whether that be from other educational institutions, one the job, or on their own. “Working together, the UW System, the State of Wisconsin, and other partners can make a high-quality UW college degree significantly more affordable and accessible to substantially more people” (Walker, 2012).


Too often online education is considered a disruptive innovation that will transform the current provision model. While there is evidence of enrollment growth when expanding university offerings online, the need for business process improvement and modification of the human element is required to drive real innovation and change in an effort to achieve efficiencies (Meyer, 2012). If higher education institutions adopt the cost per graduate operational efficiencies of the most instructionally cost efficient quartile of their peer group, they would realize a cost per graduate reduction of 23% and as a result would be positioned to produce one million more graduates per year by 2020 (Auguste et al., 2010).

Engaging an institution in change requires a champion, an authoritarian figure dictating adoption of the efficiencies. In the absence of a strong leader, opinion leaders, who are both early adopters of innovation and serve as respectable members of the faculty, must assist in driving the change or resistance will ensue (Johnson, 2010).


Auguste, B., Cota, A., Jayaram, K., & Laboissiere, M. (2010). Winning by degrees: The strategies of highly productive higher-education institutions. Retrieved from

Doyle, W. (2012). Playing the numbers: The best bad option. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 44(2), 49-51. doi: 10.1080/00091383.2012.655235

Eyring, H. (2011). Unexploited efficiencies in higher education. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 4(7), 1-18.

Hemelt, S., & Marcotte, D. (2011). The impact of tuition increases on enrollment at public colleges and universities. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 44(3), 435-457. doi: 10.3102/0162373711415261

Johnson, K. (2010, May 1). The global campus: Examining the initiative from the perspective of diffusion theory. Distance Learning, 7(3), 49-53.

Meyer, K. (2011). Is online learning a disruptive innovation? Society for College and University Planning, 44-53. Retrieved from

Twigg, C. (2005). Increasing success for underserved students: redesigning introductory courses. Retrieved from

Walker, S. (2012, June 19). Governor Walker and UW system announce revolutionary online degree model. Retrieved from