Online Learning Pathways

Conventional e-learning relies on the SCORM module (sometimes called the SCO – ‘shareable content object’ by those in the business). The SCORM module is a good concept – effectively an online learning activity that includes interactions and assessment that can be delivered via any SCORM compatible LMS (effectively all LMS’). But there are some serious limitations to SCORM so are there other ways to develop e-learning or online learning that don’t require the use of SCORM?

Yes there are, and they are becoming increasingly popular for a number of reasons.

I’m currently working with WillowDNA where we are busy ‘unpacking’ e-learning and creating what we call ‘learning pathways’. This isn’t a new term but there are some nuances to the way we are designing and building learning pathways online.

Why unpack SCORM? Well there are some key things that SCORM doesn’t support and the most important of these in my view is interaction with other learners or with a facilitator or trainer. By packing everything into a single object (the SCO) SCORM also creates barriers to access. You really enjoyed a video you saw or liked the scenario at the end – you can’t access these unless you are within the SCORM module.

Online learning pathways allow for a wider range of learning activities organised in a more flexible format. They can still include SCORM objects of course but the SCORMs are generally much shorter. Learning pathways can also incorporate existing assets such as documents, videos or web based resources.

So what does an online learning pathway look like and what learning activities are possible?

Here’s a graphic that illustrates the pathway approach.

Online-Learning-Pathways

 

Creating learning pathways isn’t exactly rocket science but they do need some insightful learning design if they are to be truly successful. Designing online learning pathways requires the skills of an instructional designer combined with the skills of a good face-to-face trainer or facilitator.

Learning pathways come in a variety of types depending upon the level of learner to learner and learner to trainer interaction. There are four basic types:

Autonomous

This has no social elements at all. It performs the same type of tasks as conventional e-learning. The advantage is that it can be completed independently by the learner so it’s good for compliance or other types of basic knowledge acquisition.

Social

This adds learner to learner interaction into the mix. To be successful this type of pathway needs to have a number of learners working through the material at the same time. We call a learner group in this context a ‘cohort’. The cohort can be loosely connected – for example they don’t all need to start and finish on a specific date/time. Adding a social element really helps transform e-learning from something that you do on your own to something where you can genuinely interact with others and hopefully learn from them as well as from the course materials.

Supported

This adds both learner to learner interaction and also facilitator or trainer support. The facilitation can be light touch but adding it enables social activities to be included in the learning mix (for example a workplace assignment). Supported learning paths can also include synchronous (live) events such as webinars.

Blended

This mixes online elements and face-to-face elements. This is ideal where you have a course where some elements are best done face-to-face whilst others are ideally suited to being delivered online. This type of learning path can also adopt a ‘flipped classroom’ approach with knowledge building activities done online prior to a face-to-face workshop where skills or techniques are practised.

Learning-Pathway-Types

 

I’ll look at the various types of pathway in more depth in a future post.

The only downside is that pathways generally need to be designed with a specific learning platform (LMS or VLE) in mind.

Willow have their own platform – called unsurprisingly Pathway – but learning pathways can also be created on other platforms. Moodle is good at supporting the pathway approach. But of course a pathway is less simple to move between platforms so it’s less flexible than a SCORM module if you want to distribute it across the planet. But in practice most online learning is bespoke for the organisation and the audience – it is rarely shipped and distributed (unless you are attempting to compete with an off-the-shelf provider such as SkillSoft). On the positive side many of the ‘activities’ in a learning pathway are even more transferable – PDF files, video files, audio, and SCORM lessons can all be moved and re-used simply and easily. It’s just the ‘conversations’ that will need re-creating but then they are unique to each learner cohort anyway.

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