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Simple and effective approaches for prototyping elements of learning design #oldsmooc

At first, this week’s topic and activities relating to prototyping (testing) elements of learning design within OLDSMOOC looked quite tricky. However, after a little perseverance,  the aim of prototyping, together with a few “simple” prototyping techniques, became clear. It also became clear that an aspect of design that would be useful to test would be something that helped me understand “how learners want to interact with the functionality” of the course or module.

Here, I was reminded of a comment from Ko and Rossen, “in the online classroom, students will seize upon your syllabus as if it were a map. Students will want to know how to proceed and where everything is located. So, one of the first things you must do, whether through the syllabus or in an introductory message, is to explain the ‘geography’ of the course” (p.20). Therefore, to best design for the navigational aspects of the course syllabus, namely the hyperlinks, taxonomies, drop down boxes etc, and to ascertain how students would like to interact with such functionality, I can see how a paper based prototype tool, as demonstrated by Diana in slides 5-10 of her presentation, can best serve this purpose.

[slideshare id=16278460&w=427&h=356&sc=no]

Having undergone the exercise and designed the prototype, I would then get a group of students to undertake a “trial run” and collect their feedback on their experience of the design.

A further activity in the prototyping phase is to carry out an observation. This way you can learn something of how students actually interact with elements of the course design. At the moment, it’s not possible to conduct an observation related to my prototype, so instead I decided to conduct a general observation in order to discover how students go about conducting an online search.

The observation: I asked a current undergraduate Social Care student to locate an article on the Guardian website. However, the details of the article were deliberately “vague”: viz. can you find the article about Social Workers’ use of social media and it’s implications for their professional practice, it’s on the Guardian website, probably in the section dedicated to different professions and it was probably published at the end of 2012.

The results: by undertaking this simple observation I was able to observe the difficulties, lack of strategy and the extent of the student’s perseverance in undertaking this task. The exercise was really eye-opening because it exposed not only the complexity of a search task but also the fragility of not just an important underpinning academic skill, but also an important life skill, which searching the internet undoubtedly is.

So despite this week’s topic looking daunting at first, it actually turned out to be quite straightforward and very very useful.


Ko, Susan; Rossen, Steve (2010-03-03). Teaching Online: A Practical Guide, Third Edition. Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

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One Comment

  1. Marion Manton Marion Manton

    Thanks for this Helen, I think you have really highlighted one of the key benefits of prototyping and observation – it is so easy to think you know what others will do in an online environment, but in reality there are always unexpected approaches. you cannot design for absolutely everyone, but starting to work out what will work best for your target audience gets you a long way in improving a design.

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