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As you will see when you look at the Units, they are organised according to the topics that we think are important for online tutors supporting distance learners. Each unit has

  1. A list of outcomes for you to choose from, to help direct your reading and thinking
  2. An overview of the key issues related to the topic of the unit, often including an illustrative case study or scenario
  3. A set of web pages relevant to the theme of the unit
  4. Reflection activities within each page for you to think more deeply about these issues.

But it's not only learning outcomes and that help you direct your learning. In order to be a course, the material supporting the achievement of the outcomes needs to be organised into a learning pathway which establishes sequence, coherence and a cumulative experience that results in effective learning. In online courses, the learning pathway is typically organised around key activities. The distance education principle that ‘the course is more than the materials: it is learning designed into the materials’ [see Saide 1994, Well-functioning Distance Education] holds good for online learning as well. The learning pathway is one of the main expressions of learning design.

A learning pathway and activities are designed with particular learners and contexts in mind. This learning pathway and series of activities assumes that that you are:

  • a computer literate prospective online tutor with a personal computer/laptop and internet access
  • working through this course together with others
  • using a learning management system or community site.

It also assumes that there will be a course facilitator to manage the process and model the facilitation skills described in the course materials.

Most of the activities are designed according to Gunawardena's Wiscom model. Key to this model is building 'wisdom communities' through mentoring and learner support in order to achieve knowledge innovation. It is the activities that drive the process of engagement. Each activity typically has five stages:

  1. The challenge – the tutor or course writer sets the task/poses the problem
  2. Initial exploration – the learners explore resources relevant to the challenge
  3. Share ideas/consult with your peers – they discuss their views/discoveries with each other
  4. Reflection and reorganization – they adjust their ideas/approach in response to what they hear from others
  5. Negotiation and preservation – they summarise/synthesize or in some way make available their learning and knowledge to others.

(Please see Charlotte Gunawardena et al. New Model, New Strategies: Instructional Design for Building Online Wisdom Communities. Distance Education, vol 27, no 2, August 2006, pp217-232 for a full explanation of the model.)

In addition to being based on social constructivism, this model also gives expression  to Etienne Wenger’s notion of learning as involving both ‘participation’ and ‘reification’  (See Etienne Wenger. 2001. Communities of Practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, p.63).

In a Web 2.0 environment, there are many more opportunities than in conventional distance education not only for 'participation' (communication, engagement with others); there are also more varied opportunities for 'reification' (publishing, making an artefact of your thoughts and learning). Activities in online learning situations need to create opportunities for both ‘participation’ and ‘reification’. The five stages of the Wiscom model provide a structured way to do this.

Click on the "Before you start" button below to start your journey on the learning pathway we have developed.