Online First Instructional Design

I don’t really blog much anymore, but wanted to capture an idea, in case it is useful later.

I was talking with a colleague today about how online learning fits into thinking about instruction in general. In the course of the conversation I realized that the way I think about how the two fit together is related to a concept that is widely known about in web development circles, but not necessarily widely discussed in education ones.

The concept is Mobile First. Web designers and developers often talk about starting with the mobile interface, then moving to larger format screens. There are a number of reasons for that:

  • Starting with mobile means you ensure the most important information is front and center, no matter the device the user uses
  • It makes it easier to guarantee that the primary functions work on all platforms and devices
  • Constraints can help when finding creative solutions

The analogy in my mind is:

mobile first :: web design
online first :: instructional design

The parallel is that if you start with a perspective of online learning you can gain benefits that help you in your face-to-face instruction just as Mobile First web design can help you end up with a better desktop website. Potential benefits of Online First include:

  • Intentionality about learning outcomes
  • Media that is useful in a number of contexts: online learning, hybrid instruction, flipped classrooms, self-paced instruction, etc. (a la universal design)
  • Instructors have tools to enable them to think about how to create authentic learning situations, with help at a specific point of need.

Of course, we don’t all teach online. I have never worked at an institution with a focus on online education, or even significant online education for undergraduates. However, a solid grounding in online education and eLearning practices has enriched my teaching in face-to-face instruction, whether in a classroom or at the reference desk.

So as we build our online learning team, I’m thinking about Online First Instructional Design and its potential role for my library. (Though, of course it’s wise to keep in mind that there are good arguments for a measured approach to any model, even Mobile First web design.)

A Bit on Learning Environments

As is so often the case, a blog languishes when a lot is going on. Over the past year and a half a lot has been going on: a new job, family stuff, and most recently some new focuses at work.

It’s an exciting time to be at Tech. We’re aligning more closely with our strategic plan, we’re restructuring in ways that will enable better communication and collaboration, and generally it’s exciting to be positioning ourselves to meet our new mission, vision, and aspirational identity. Some of us are finding ourselves in new roles as a result of this focus, and on July 1, I’ll begin the role of Director for Learning Environments at Virginia Tech.

Today I had the opportunity to begin speaking publicly about what that means at an NLI workshop: Transforming research, teaching, and learning through the new University Libraries.  I suspect this is the first of many chances to hone the message around what “Learning Environments” are, but to briefly describe it, we’re framing Learning Environments as the environments in which learning takes place, as well as the services and partnerships that are situated in those environments.  In our thinking, this includes online learning environments, circulation, reference, point-of-need (roving assistance), spaces, and academic programming. Putting these units and services under one umbrella will allow for some really strong partnerships and collaborations within the library, as well as providing a context from which we can offer consistent learner experience and messages that reinforce one another.

The larger Learning Division also includes Learning Services, where a lot of traditional instruction falls. Learning Environments and Services will be close partners as we are both stakeholders in a number of overlapping areas (such as classrooms, online learning, etc).

If you’re interested in our first stabs at outlining this work, we posted a LibGuide for the workshop and I’ve posted my slides here. (I’m hoping by the third or fourth time I talk on this topic I can move the slides to something more typical of my presentation style. :) )