Sunday, January 23, 2011

Selecting Distance Learning Technologies

(for a Walden University assignment: to identify distance learning technologies that would be appropriate for the given situation)

The problem: "In an effort to improve its poor safety record, a biodiesel manufacturing plant needs a series of safety training modules. These stand-alone modules must illustrate best practices on how to safely operate the many pieces of heavy machinery on the plant floor. The modules should involve step-by-step processes and the method of delivery needs to be available to all shifts at the plant. As well, the shift supervisors want to be sure the employees are engaged and can demonstrate their learning from the modules."

 To me, the key here is the last sentence: "demonstrate their learning from the modules". Given that we're talking about safety issues, I want to make sure that we don't advocate a strictly online learning format: safety is too important to allow people to "demonstrate" their safety skills solely within the confines of a computer. As such, I want to make sure that floor personnel are invested in the safety factors and willing to participate in an in-person assessment during the training course.

In terms of teaching the information, I like the idea of combining several distance learning concepts: training videos, podcasts, and social media. With training videos, we can show learners exactly how to do the specific tasks associated with biodiesel safety in situ--that is, in the actual factory environment. By breaking the training videos into manageable chunks, we can build them into podcasts that the factory employees can carry with them--either to learn the material at home or, even better, to take it on a portable device and learn the safety concepts while standing on the factory floor. This offers the kind of situated, context-based learning that constructivist theory holds to be valuable.

Finally, we'll use social media concepts to encourage learners to comment on the podcasts with things they've learned from the shop floor. This will help to scaffold new learners, may help us to update or improve the training in future, and also demonstrates that we value the wisdom of experienced workers--which is important for motivation reasons as well as fostering the kind of engagement our clients want to promote. Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2009, p. 244) write that collective knowledge, networking, and collaborative combination of wisdom are critically important in developing Web 2.0 learning tools, and I think our training program should take this approach.

Heilesen (2010) completed a literature review of the academic value of podcasting and concluded that, although the evidence supporting academic podcasting is currently weak, there is reason to believe it will improve in future. In particular, he suggests that podcasting may help to shorten completion times and aid retention of material. Schlairet (2010) examined the efficacy of podcasting with regard to retention and learner understanding in a nursing school. She found that podcasting aided both motivation and understanding of technological issues, which makes her findings highly relevant for our proposed safety training in a biodiesel plant.


Heilesen, S. B. (2010). What is the academic efficiency of podcasting? Computers & Education, 55(3), 1063-1068. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.05.002 

Schlairet, M. C. (2010). Efficacy of podcasting: use in undergraduate and graduate programs in a college of nursing. Journal of Nursing Education, 49(9), 529-533. doi:10.3928/01484834-20100524-08 

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

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