Designing e-learning content that is engaging and effective for all students is impossible without an awareness of and consideration for student diversity (Liu, Liu, Lee, & Magjuka, 2010). Before one can begin to effectively address student diversity through instructional design, one must examine the concept as it appears in the research literature. Surprisingly, the characteristics that form the concept of diversity within student populations are not addressed by a unified model or theory in any of the studies consulted for this paper. However, researchers have investigated student diversity from a variety of perspectives, including cultural dimensions, disability, geography, and language (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010; Shimoni, Barrington, Wilde, & Henwood, 2013). Despite this apparent diversity of ideas about student diversity, the majority of studies on the topic deal solely with the cultural dimensions of diversity and rely heavily on the work of Geert Hofstede for their theoretical frameworks (e.g., Wang, 2007). Though popular as a measure of cultural difference, the usefulness of Hofstede’s model has been criticized for oversimplification, inconsistency, lack of empirical evidence, and a view of culture as largely static (Signorini, Wiesemes, & Murphy, 2009).
Learning Styles: A Critical Appraisal
Learning styles-based instruction is a method of teaching that matches instructional techniques to a student’s preferred style of learning. The benefit of matching instructional techniques to learning styles is that students will learn more. This claim is known as the matching hypothesis. Despite the theoretical appeal of learning styles, the evidence for the matching hypothesis is minimal in the current research literature (Cuevas, 2015; Rohrer & Pashler, 2012). Of the 31 studies published since 2009, only one—not without its methodological flaws—has supported the matching hypothesis. With the lack of empirical support for learning styles-based instruction, downplaying the need to accommodate learning styles seems not only correct, but also necessary. Educational resources are limited, and time and money need to be spent on interventions that have been shown by empirically-supported research to improve student learning (Newton, 2015). In the following sections, I will examine learning styles and related theories, my own experience with learning and education, my preferred way to learn, and my success with various learning modalities. I will show that learning styles are merely preferences that have little effect on actual learning. Read More …
I work for two large community college systems in the Houston, Texas area where I am a part-time instructor, or adjunct faculty member. Lone Star College and Houston Community College have both adopted e-learning programs that allow students to complete a two-year degree entirely online. Lone Star College has an average enrollment of approximately 95,000 students and offers an online Associate of Arts degree with optional concentrations in Business, Criminal Justice, Speech Communication, and International Studies as well as an online Associate of Science degree with an optional concentration in Computer Science. Houston Community College has an average enrollment of approximately 47,000 students and delivers a slightly more varied selection of online degree plans by offering an Associate of Arts degree with concentrations in Communication, Business, Social Sciences, Humanities, and Fine Arts as well as an Associate of Science degree with concentrations in Computer Science, Engineering, Health and Natural Sciences, and Mathematics. Both institutions have invested heavily in e-learning as a viable alternative to traditional classroom instruction, as evidenced by their slick promotional web sites (http://www.lonestar.edu/lsc-online/ and http://de.hccs.edu/) designed to sell e-learning course options to prospective students.
Even though e-learning has been around for decades, there is still a need to identify best practices in the field for practitioners new to the discipline. While there are many approaches to the subject of how to identify best practices for e-learning, the most common are institutional (Irlbeck, 2008; Stansfield et al., 2009), which looks at the implementation of e-learning from a institution-wide perspective, and pedagogical (Keengwe, Onchwari, & Agamba, 2014; Reilly, Vandenhouten, Gallagher-Lepak, & Ralston-Berg, 2012), which looks at the implementation of e-learning from the more limited scope of classroom integration and practitioner training. Pachler and Daly (2011) identify several different eras of e-learning research, but are careful to caution that the field is fast-moving and is liable to slip the bonds of any classificatory system before it is brought into mainstream use. With these facts in mind, I wish to examine the various findings concerning best practices for e-learning, first from an institutional perspective and second from a pedagogical perspective. Then, with an understanding of the best practices from these two perspectives, I will offer an overview of the challenges, opportunities, and best practices in e-learning as a unified discipline.
Positive and meaningful e-learning experiences are essential for student satisfaction with online courses. However, there are several approaches to identifying and promoting such experiences in practice. A review of the literature on positive and meaningful e-learning experiences revealed not only that course design and human connection are important for high levels of student satisfaction, but also that IT support and institutional infrastructure are vital to student satisfaction as well (Boling, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, & Stevens, 2012; Carter et al., 2014; Salyers, Carter, Carter, Myers, & Barrett, 2014). All of the studies consulted recommended interactive learning based on socio-constructivist principles as the most appropriate means for ensuring positive and meaningful e-learning experiences (Boling, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, & Stevens, 2012; Carter et al., 2014; Luyt, 2013; Salyers, Carter, Carter, Myers, & Barrett, 2014; Watkins, 2014). Watkins’ (2014) study even provided examples of learning activities that could be easily integrated into an online course without extensive instructor preparation or training.