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Videhi Bhamidi

Education and training in e-Learning and Instructional Design

Videhi Bhamidi has worked as a training assistant, content analyst, and technical writer before she decided to pursue an M.S in Learning & Technology from the University of Oxford, UK. She says her coursework has not only broadened her understanding about diverse applications of e-learning related research, but has helped her unveil the theoretical underpinnings of her prior work experience. It has also offered useful insights into the creation of research-based and effective learning experiences.

Videhi-Bhamidi

How do you perceive formal education in the field of Instructional Design (ID) for e-learning design and development in India?

A majority of instructional designers worldwide have stepped into e-learning by accident, let alone in India. We can often notice them hailing from related fields of content, technical writing, design, teaching, training, mass communication etc, who justify their role to a great extent without a prior academic foundation in e-learning. One can reason it as overlapping of aforementioned fields, by the virtue of which these professionals are able to adapt to business needs and enhance through virtually mediated personal learning networks.

Nevertheless, a structured educational program would aid in instilling the necessary confidence to engage at a holistic level in order to understand the learners and design meaningful solutions. At the end of it, it may depend on the affinity and core ID skills of a designer to craft a useful learning solution; but the fact that a formal foundation will strengthen the effectiveness of a job done cannot be neglected.

So, you feel a formal full-fledged course in e-Learning design and development is necessary…what about the courses offered today?

I feel, in India we have few distance, integrated and short term programs from Symbiosis Center for Distance Learning, SNDT university, IIT Bombay etc. Here, many senior professionals look for solid experience than formal qualification to offer an ID job and hence a formal degree is often treated as optional. However, the surge of e-learning industry with K-12 education, digital schools, corporate e-learning, e-tutoring etc is creating an enormous job market. Besides indigenous e-learning initiatives, let us remember that India has remained a much sought after market for outsourcing of designing world-class e-learning solutions.

Hence, it is time for educational institutions to introduce formal programs in e-learning. Imagine this talent pool being armed with the right foundation from the beginning; I can’t wait to see India become an epicenter of e-learning revolution.

You must have studied about the opportunities to enroll in research and development at reputed universities in India while pursing your masters in e-learning. How do you describe your experience?

I’d say opportunities are very limited in Indian universities. There isn’t much awareness created about the e-learning initiatives and projects especially from higher education domain, especially from Govt. of India. But the good news is few corporate organizations like Microsoft Research, HP Labs are actively involved in investigating the affordance of technology mediated learning in the Indian context and hence we do stand few opportunities.

Can you share your insights from experience in domain specific interactions for example with internal and external clients, other stakeholders?

Internal clients can be encouraging and approachable, as we tend to observe them from close quarters. In fact, this vicinity helped me implement user/learner observation where I’ve gained first hand information about them through simple ethnography, interviews, scenario building. Further, I could trial new learning designs and test the learner experience extensively by encouraging them to talk aloud during us... 

I've had brief external interactions and I observed that time is money! Few skills and practices that surfaced were – lots and lots of homework (user research, market research, analysis), sharp interviews (ability to ask just the right questions to elicit the exact requirements), mediation and negotiation (on time, design elements, tools with client, designer team, and business analysts), continuous testing and introspection.

As we know, the instructional designer plays a key role in facilitating learning by interacting with the design and development team and the stakeholders/decision makers (the customer, the SME) and others. Did you get a chance to interact with the learners?

Yes, I did get a chance to interact directly with learners to understand their learning requirements that are further translated into business requirements. Typically, the business requirements are broken down into features, tasks etc. which determine the job goals of learning designers. To understand your learner

  • Elicit as much information as you can from development and business teams.  Interview the decision makers/development teams with some serious learning and learner related tacit questions (Use the major constructs of learning and cognitive theories to frame your questions) and not just feature related details.
  • Ask questions until you learn what is needed by learners in order for them to complete their tasks and to help them learn all the information needed to be successful
  • Unlearn and  get into the learner’s shoes– context, language, background, cognition, computing conditions etc and start running to see if your solution really works or is it just another off-the shelf product.
  • Record your thoughts and observations of the experience and let yourself reflect on what went right and wrong.
  • Feedback from your learners is vital to refine your next version. If surveys are clichéd, employ simple analytics to trace their interactions and engagement levels. However, an informal interview with few learners would be ideal and motivating to broaden our thinking.
  • Learn to design interactions not just interfaces, and design interventions not just artefacts.

What about the tools in e-learning content           development: do you think tools have taken over Instructional Design since they claim to have been designed 'instructionally'?

Authoring tools provide several captivating elements like simulations, videos, hotspots, animations, slideshows etc allowing us to craft an engaging learning experience - sometimes in a rapid development mode. Their job is to aid us design and facilitate better learning experiences, perhaps on a quicker note.

An analogy here can be - unless you know the right sequence and quantity of best ingredients, you can’t really make a delicious dish. Drawing parallels with this, any sophisticated tool would be futile, unless you plan the style and sequence of its elements in an instruction, according to learner needs. 

No matter how automated or trendy tools can evolve to be, they cannot beat the human elements of weaving a learning story that interplays with cognitive psychology of a learner. I think it would be wise to use the tools discreetly, without letting them kill the creative bent of designing solutions.

What are the major differences between designing for e-learning and designing for m-learning? Could you share some insights from your research?

My M.S thesis focused on identifying the design dynamics of mobile learning and in this process, I happen to highlight the below pointers with respect to m-learning vs. e-learning:

Fact: The learners are in the field and on the job, which implies of a pre-set context as opposed to e-learning, where you begin with orienting the learner with a context.

Implication: It is not about course, it is about learning in the context itself.

Fact: The learner is mobile along with the device, and hence is surrounded by several disruptions while reviewing the learning content on mobile devices, unlike the focused computer-based course environments.   Thus, learners would refer just the necessary information, which satisfy the need of the hour and not gleam through the entire course like e-learning. 

Implication: It is not about conventional e-course, but short, engaging and easily digestible learning nuggets as media elements. In other words, it is not about training, it is about Performance support/ Augmentation.

Fact: Since the learners are mobile, they are away from a structured office atmosphere, where they would interact with colleagues or instructors to clarify or seek insight. In the mobile context, the learners may or may not be able to reach out to the colleagues.

Implication: It is not about instructing or clarifying, but about facilitating just enough and just right information for learners to perform the job and making them instructor-independent.

Fact: E-learning has a staging process of instruction, retention and then application of knowledge, which translates to a time gap between when learning happens and when it is applied. Hence, there has been an element of testing the acquisition of knowledge. Given the affordance of portability, this gap diminishes in mobile learning, where the learners learn and apply the knowledge in practice, right at the point of need, which is immediate and hence assessment may not be needed anymore.

Implication: It is not about production of information to demonstrate an increase in knowledge; it is about consumption of quick data to demonstrate the behavior.

Fact: We do not use a tablet or smart phone, the same way as a computer. For instance, we pinch and zoom instead of scroll and click! The user interaction and purpose differs significantly for these hand-held devices and hence we wouldn’t perceive the course from the same lens.

Implication: It is not about course on laptop, it is about nuggets on wearable, handheld and instantly booting up device.

Fact: The notion of learning that occurs via mobile devices outside of formal environments is often categorized as social, informal, situated, constructivist and collaborative. Hence, the learning content or activities must be in line with this phenomenon instead of migrating content from computer to a mobile format.

Implication: It is not about technology, but about pedagogy.

Do social media channels help the designers in connecting, collaborating and reflecting on their knowledge, skills and experience? Do you have any interesting story to share?

 Absolutely! Social media has been instrumental in enhancing my personal learning network that enables me to stay abreast of trends, resolve performance issues, collaborate on new ideas, learn tricks of trade, make resourceful connections and more.

The groups and discussion forums on LinkedIn run several interesting threads of subject related conversations, in which learning colleagues across the globe participate actively. Another platform where you can find a rapid exchange of resources is Twitter. 

To share a personal experience, I got in touch with a m-learning professional after following her tweets for two weeks, and then connected up on LinkedIn. After initial exchange of ideas, she was kind enough to let me have a Skype conversation, to clarify thoughts about mobile learning. These days, I shoot e-mails to her to seek an insight or to discuss anything in order to get that expert advice for my endeavors.

What would be your advice to fellow instructional designers/e-learning professionals in similar roles?

Read. Network. Discuss. Reflect. Write. Experiment. Contribute – both in the fields of theory and practice of learning, cognition and technology. It’s all about making informed decisions and using scientific and practical strategies of the emerging models and technologies.

  • Be critical about the fad factors of emerging learning technologies. Spend time to separate hype from the reality of learning possibilities touted by a technology.
  • Consider emotional engagements and not just intellectual agreements. It’s time to educate the hearts for a better tomorrow and the power is with us, educators to use technology as a vehicle and a means to the end.

 

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