Sunday, 15 January 2012

What should you consider before designing an online learning experience?

“Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”
Chinese Proverb.

When I deconstruct this Chinese Proverb from a learner’s perspective, looking through the lenses of behaviourist, cognitivist and constuctivist learning theories, I see the following... 
  • “Tell me and I forget” – behaviourist theory - passive learner, assumed no prior knowledge, requires direction or some form of external stimulus.
  • “Show me and I may remember”– congnitivst theory - exploring the psychological aspects of how people learn and incorporating participation to encourage the learner to think and problem solve.
  • “Involve me and I'll understand” – constructivist theory - active, contextualised learning through the use of authentic tasks/assessments designed to promote knowledge acquisition by drawing upon ones personal experiences and their immediate environment.
Why am I harping on about these well known and understood learning theories? This Chinese Proverb I believe summarisies the myriad of online learning experiences currently existing out there in cyberspace. It is assumed by many that it is simple to create an online learning experience. You just put text on screen, upload PDFs or PPT slides and let people find the information and absorb it via osmosis (behaviourist). However a more practical approach is to create online learning experiences that are non-linear, dynamic and interactive (with content and peers), scaffolded and to an extent, learner controlled, to give them the opportunity to engage with the content (congnitivst /constructivist).

henever creating or migrating any content to an online setting, I believe that some of the following questions should be asked:
  • What do you want to ultimately achieve?
  • What are the essential foundations of any course design?
  • Would you agree that it is important to design a learning experience, observing best suited instructional theories?
  • Why begin with the latest and greatest, interactive learning technologies if they will not do what you want them to achieve in your online learning experience?
  • Should you be mindful of which learning technologies that you want to use when creating the content or vice versa?
What other questions might educators ask themselves prior to creating or migrating content to an online setting? I’d love to hear your thoughts as this by no means is an exhaustive list.


  1. I like the way you have identified the various learning theories with this proverb. Have you looked at the "newest" theory of learning, Connectivism, proposed by George Siemens. Do you think it is a valid theory? Would we need to add another aspect to the proverb? I think the questions you have asked are all very relevant for designing any learning experience. And I'm sure we will all come up with various responses to them for our own contexts.

  2. Hi Jenni,
    I have responded to your comment by putting up a new blog post... See the post 'When I think of Connectivism, I think of an information vortex'.
    In terms of adding another aspect to the proverb, I agree with you and love that idea. I still have my thinking cap on... :)