Searching (2018)

Today I rewatched the 2018 film ‘Searching’ directed by Aneesh Chaganty. The movie is worth a watch just for the way it is filmed. All the shorts are through the desktop of the main character’s computer, with the story told through video calls, text messages, web searches, and the occasional TV news report. It sounds like it would not work, but it does, partly down to the excellent editing.

The exciting thing about this film is how much you can do with your computer if you set up a link between your phone and laptop. The main character approaches the investigation into his daughter’s disappearance like a ninja project manager. He starts by creating a table with questions that he then goes through each of his daughters 96 Facebook friends completing a row for each. He goes through search history, social media accounts, text messages, and email, meticulously logging everything he learns and gradually finding clues to create a timeline of the days running up to the disappearance. 

The situation in the film is extreme, but it showcases how much of the world’s information is online and how a computer can aid a systematic approach to solve a problem. It raises the question about how much more productive you might be if you learned to use your computer better and how methodical you are in your approach and documentation when problem-solving.

Two tasks for me this week:

  1. Become a power user with my computer
  2. Be deliberate in my approach and documentation in my problem-solving.

How would you go about becoming an expert at designing online learning?

I read a tweet this morning that asked; if you could be in the 1% of experts for any skill, what would that be? I have been building my skills in the design of online learning for several years, so it got me thinking about what expertise looks like in my field. I wrote the following question at the top of a page and started to make a list. 

How would you go about becoming an expert at designing online learning? 

Here are my steps to developing expertise in the design of online and blended learning courses. If you have questions or what to add to the list, message me on Twitter.

  1. Follow a documented set of learning and design principles
  2. Develop a model for estimating effort and costs
  3. Follow a repeatable development process
  4. Know the fundamentals of project management and follow them religiously
  5. Treat the course creator like the hero of the story, support them and collaborate.
  6. Have a Quality Assurance process linked to the design principles
  7. Set clear expectations for students, create metrics to monitor against these, and have interventions in place when they are not met.
  8. Collect and analyse lots of data and user feedback
  9. Iterate, iterate, iterate
  10. Frequently update your learning and design principles, costing model, and development process

Notes: Firstly, I have explicitly focused on the design of courses and separated this from the very different development and delivery skills. Secondly, I have taken some liberties by putting all the learning and design principles into a single step. These two areas are vast and cover everything from accessibility and user experience to psychology and learning and teaching models. Thirdly, within the third step of following the development process, I currently prefer to use the rapid prototyping model that follows the Design thinking steps, including the creation of student personas, and UCL’s ABC workshop for mapping out the course. Finally, this is the first attempt at a list, and I might wake up tomorrow and realise I have missed a whole section of the field and need to update this list. If you are in the area already or are interested in developing your expertise, then I hope this list is useful.

If you have questions or want to add to the list, message me on Twitter. I would love to see other peoples lists for building expertise in the design of online courses too.

CMM and online learning development process design

Universities need to significantly increase their capacity to develop high quality online and blended delivery through the recruitment and training of Learning Designers. Institutional scale requires a shift from focusing on individual Learning Designers’ capabilities to concentrating on the organisation’s capabilities for designing learning. First, universities must consider how Learning Design projects are managed and implement sound project management principles. Next, they need to implement a structured development approach through research, evaluation, and peer review, the creation of rigorous quality standards, a formalised development pipeline, a strong community of practice, and progressive professional development.

Good project management of course design and development projects keeps them delivered on time, on budget, and within scope, and ensure a high standard for the student experience. Most learning development models are in their infancy, with few standards defined. If institutions want to produce novel and innovative online courses, they need to borrow design and development techniques from other fields, including software engineering.

The Capability Maturity Model (CMM), developed at the Carnegie Mellon University for large software projects, evaluates a product development processes level of maturity. It is focused on standardising the process of design and development and so counter to many agile methods but will work well with established teams in large organisations. CMM accepts that design and development processes are idealistic and do not represent most projects’ messy and improvised nature, but that tightly controlled and fully documented processes are better. The messiness level varies from project to project, and CMM aims to categories these into five levels of maturity.

Learning Design teams can use CCM’s five levels to improve their operations and assess how individual Learning Designers perform. Teams work through the levels in sequence to standardise their process to produce consistently high-quality online courses no matter the team working on it. The highest level would be represented by a clearly defined process that can be taught and learned, with clear quality metrics that lead to near-zero adverse outcomes. It includes mechanisms for capturing innovative practice and incrementally improving with each course iteration.  

The five stages of maturity

All stages above level two subsume the standards of the previous level.

Level 1: Initial – an ad hoc process which can be chaotic. Each Learning Designer follows their version of a basic process. This is the starting point for using a new or undocumented repeat process. 

Level 2: Repeatable – each project includes cost scheduling and basic project management practices. Some processes are repeatable, with some consistent results. 

Level 3: Defined – the process for managing and developing courses is standardised and documented.

Level 4: Managed – measurement is made of the process and course quality. These measures are used to control and improve practices. Effective achievement of the process objectives can be evidenced using metrics.

Level 5: Optimising – processes are continually improved through quantitative measures and testing innovative ideas and new technologies. (Few developers are considered to be at this level). 

The next three to five years will see massive growth in online learning, and universities core delivery will keep much of the changes they have implemented over the last ten months. Departments responsible for supporting online and blended learning should be spending time now on process improvement to optimise their design and development model to prepare for this rapid growth.

Get in touch with me on Twitter if you want to discuss the process of design and development of online learning.