Marrying Constructivism & Instructional Design


Carr-Chellman (2010) describes both constructivism and behaviourism as “beliefs about how people learn” rather than as learning theories (p.2).  Due to the conflicting nature of these beliefs or learning theories, Carr-Chellman offers in this chapter, a means by which to integrate constructivist principles into the ID4T model.  Carr-Chellman offers solutions to the potential conflicts between the goal and results orientated behaviorist approach of ID4T and the learner-centred views of constructivism.


The shift in education due to digitally connected classrooms has led to a call for the integration of constructivist principles into instructional design models.  This shift towards creating participatory, digital learning is the difficult but essential work of teachers. The Alberta Education (2013) Learning and Technology Policy Framework (LTPF) requires of all teachers to “use technology and research to design personalized, authentic and student-centred learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs and interests of all students” (Alberta. Ministry of Education, p. 30).  This connected approach and philosophy to learning and teaching requires personalization, a shift with far reaching implications for instructional design. In a constructivist approach, the teacher moves from the content knowledge expert who supplies information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey, 2010, p.241).  In order to make these shifts to constructivism within the ID4T model, a teacher is required to be responsive using Branch’s (2009) ADDIE approach to constantly analyze the learner and the context  in order to be able to create the plan for learning materials, activities, technology and authentic assessment required to meet the learning goal.  As Branch describes, this approach to instructional design is both behaviorists and constructivist in nature where “intentional learning should be student centered, innovative, authentic, and inspirational” (Branch, 2009, p.2).   Jacobsen (2015) makes the distinction that although the theoretical framework of constructivism is learner-centered, the role of the teacher as designer in essential.  “The most powerful thing teachers do to engage students is to design engaging, meaningful, and authentic work and technology-enhanced learning experiences. In other words, teaching matters.”

The role of instructional design is necessary in order to create, implement and assess learning outcomes. But, this is not done through better instruction alone, instead through combining instructional design methods with constructivist principles, “teachers who design for peer collaboration and individual reflection on learning cultivate stronger learning outcomes” (Jacobsen, 2015).  Alignment to curriculum objects is key when using the constructivist notion of authentic assessment in order to ensure that learner outcomes and objectives are being demonstrated. In a learner-centered constructivist approach, learning goals would be set “in collaboration with your learners” but the teacher is ultimately responsible for ensuring that designing learning that aligns with (CBC) curricular objectives (Carr-Chellman, 2010, p. 4).  In a constructivist approach to ID4T, students would start their learning at individual entry point based on their prior learning assessment. Before any instructional model or learning experience could be designed, the teacher would first analyze where each student is entering the learning, assessing their context, experience and understanding (p. 5).

An area of potential conflict between ID4T and constructivism as identified by Carr-Chellman is in the selection of learning resources (texts, media).  In most instructional design models, the teacher is as the designer of learning chooses the appropriate learning resources and experiences to reach the behavioral objectives and performance outcomes prior to beginning the instructional unit.  In a constructivist classroom, texts “can be more broadly defined” and used to support authentic tasks and problem-solving (p.5). In this way, an exhaustive list of resources and experiences would be very difficult to define prior to engaging in the authentic task and would need to be designed in collaboration with the learners. One bridge for implementation that Carr-Chellman offers between behaviorism and constructivism is through the use of scaffolding. Carr-Chellman believes that “scaffolding can allow a bit more of a traditional tinge to the classroom experience” (p.4).  Jacobsen takes the notion of scaffolding one step further where nothing in the instructional design is left to chance. “Strong discipline-based inquiry work exhibits a number of very discernible characteristics, including academic rigour, authenticity, assessment that is deliberately woven into the work, digital technology that is used in purposeful and authentic ways, connections with experts beyond the school, constructivist approaches to learning, and relevance beyond the classroom.”  Due to the iterative nature of a constructivist classroom explicit examples for implementation are difficult to produce.  Carr-Chellman stresses that constructivist learning design is very interpretive in nature as it depends on the learner and the context and therefore is difficult to use a specific example as a guide to implementation (p.6).

Final Question:

What considerations are required of teachers in order to adopt a constructivist approach to the ID4T model in order to ensure that learning is as both Branch (2009) and Jacobsen (2015) describes: deliberate, rigorous, purposeful, authentic, innovative, relevant and inspirational?


Alberta. Ministry of Education. (2013). Learning and technology policy framework 2013. Retrieved from

Branch, R. M. (2009). Instructional Design: The ADDIE approach Springer Science and Business Media. (Vol. 722).

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge.

Jacobsen, M. (2015). Teaching in a Participatory Digital World. Education Canada. 55(3).  Retrieved from

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244. doi:10.1080/13540600903478433

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Lipstick on a pig? Learning Theory and Instructional Design

Tonight I have learning theory on my mind.  In particular this involves learning theory as it is applied to instructional design.  I have just read  from Carr-Chellman (2010) that instructional design, “does work on the whole within a behavioral framework, meaning that the underlying notions of learning are those of information transmission rather than learner construction” (p.8).

This quote sits uneasily with me as I wrestle with unpacking its implications. I personally believe in the need to design learning experiences and opportunities for students that allow for co-construction of knowledge through constructivist and connectivist principles.  In this approach knowledge is co-created by students and teachers through a community of inquiry (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000).  The implication is that teachers are not only content experts but, more importantly, they must help students to understand that the “capacity to know more is more critical than what is already known” (Siemens, 2005, p.4).  Knowledge is created by making connections through personal learning networks. This social constructivist or connectivist approach is somewhat counter to behaviorist learning theory that works on knowledge as directional transmission from teacher to student.


My question is, how do we or even yet should we marry these approaches to learning?  Carr-Chellman stresses that instructional design can be used to, “alter the model and work a constructivist solution within the behavioral model” (p. 9).  In my current work I find teachers who are tied to behavioral learning theory find it difficult to move into constructivist and even further into social constructivist or connectivist approaches to teaching and learning.  Is this altering of behaviourism, as suggested by Carr-Chellman, the best approach or do we need to approach instructional design from a more emergent and contingent model that leaves behaviourism in the past?  I worry that this altering approach may be as Bates (2015) describes, “old wine in new bottles” (p. 145).  This is just one of many questions that I lose sleep over and have yet to find the answer to.  I cannot wait to hear your thoughts!


Bates, A.W. (2015). Chapter 5: Chapter 4.2: Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning, in Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning (pp. 145-182), Contact North.

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge. eISBN: 9780203847275

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. Elearnspace. Retrieved from


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Research as Reflexive Practice: Inquiry, Interpretation and Worth

This week’s readings led to a great deal of reflection on why we take up educational research.  The readings provided specifics related to how to conduct qualitative, quantitative and action research including how to conduct a literature review, literature mapping and the use of working titles from Creswell and  how to use reflection to guide research through reflexive inquiry from Hendricks. The more important reflection for me was that researchers need to truly understand what work is worth whiling over and therefore worthy of conducting a research inquiry.  Creswell (2014) warns that research projects require a great deal of time and energy and therefore a researchers must examine how their research topic can help fulfill them personally in the pursuit of understanding a topic of inquiry (p. 27).  Creswell provided questions that a researcher must ask oneself about whether a topic should be studied. Creswell addresses the standard questions such as does the “study add anything new to the body of research” and does the research add to the collected knowledge of a topic (p. 27).  Something new that Creswell adds to the discussion is the notion of how research can be used to further civil society.  He asks us to consider if the research inquiry “lifts up the voices of the underrepresented groups or individuals” (p. 27).  The idea that research can be a means in which to further social justice and to address ideas, beliefs and transform society is powerful and with it come great responsibility for the researcher.

Once such means of determining the worth of a research topic, which Hendricks (2013) addresses in Chapter 2, is through the use of reflexive inquiry (p, 31). Through this practice educators “place present thoughts and actions in the context of past thoughts, actions and history” (Hendricks, 2013, p. 31).  They therefore ground their research inquiry in their experiences acknowledging that they influence their beliefs and actions (p. 31).  Similar to that of of reflexive inquiry, Hendricks stresses that the nature of qualitative research “is to understand and interpret phenomena as they occur in natural settings” (p. 3).  This desire to study situations and contexts, rather than to control them allows researchers to “make meaning” from the deeply complex and nuanced situations that exist in our schools (p.3).  Jardine, Clifford and Friesen (2002) take up this work of using research to make meaning such as Hendrick describes.  In their writing they explain, “simply put that our research is interpretive in character.  It also means that classroom events that we are interested in are themselves interpretive in character” (Jardine, 2002, p. xxii).  Jardine acknowledges that classrooms are made of complex relationships and living histories that cannot be controlled but can be studied in order to make meaning together with students.  As we begin to consider our topics of inquiry for our research may we endevour to “while over a topic – working at it, composing it, composing ourselves over it, remember and cultivating one’s memory of it” and in doing so learn and share with others something worthwhile about ourselves and the world (Jardine, 2002, p. 226).


Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Hendricks, C. (2013). Improving schools through action research: A reflective practice approach (3rd ed.). Montreal, QC: Pearson Education.

Clifford, P. Friesen, S. Jardine, D. W. (2002). Back to the Basics of Teaching and Learning: Thinking the World Together. New York: Routledge.

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Organizational Culture and Leadership for e-Learning

This week’s readings which included the WICHE (2013) survey and the Skype recording of an interview with Vivian Forssman (2013) drew many parallels in terms of leadership and organization to promote e-learning in institutions. Clear themes emerged regarding what is required for e-Learning initiatives in order to be of high quality, attainable and sustainable. I thoroughly enjoyed the recording of Forssman’s Skype call and frantically took over three pages of notes while viewing it. According to Forssman leadership and organization are of particular importance when shifting to e-Learning because, “even in the year 2013 where technology should be the bread and butter in our life, organizations are still grappling with technology enabled learning.” In order to have quality e-Learning, institutions need to understand that the, “politics of adoption and diffusion far supersedes the technical issues.” The themes that emerged from this week’s readings and Forssman’s recording were that institutional leaders must invest significantly in the following: budget, culture/professional learning, policy, and collaboration.

Garrison and Kanuka surface the same themes as Forssman in their 2004 article that provides an action plan for post-secondary institutions interested in moving towards blended approaches to learning. They state that in order for a redesign to successful blended learning approaches, learning organization will require a strong and careful plan. For the authors, these areas of focus for organizations fall into one of five categories which echo that of Forssman and the readings: “policy, planning, resources, scheduling and support” (p. 100). First and foremost, a shift requires a “clear institutional direction and policy” (p. 102). This direction would require an organization to fully understand the commitment required and to plan for resources: human, technical and financial. Care and attention to scheduling and support are deemed to be essential in a redesign toward blended learning. Of the themes outlined by Forssman, and Garrison and Kanuka are of particular interest to my research is the focus on culture and models for professional development and faculty adoption of e-Learning. The biggest challenge for institutions is how to appropriately invest in staff in order to facilitate change. Forssman stressed that an institution can talk about pedagogy but if there is not financial support for technology integration, it will be left to individual innovators rather than institutional innovation. Small or large, budget capacity to invest in professional development that leads to attainable, sustainable adoption and diffusion of technology integration, is still a struggle for most institutions. Even in institutions that have the fiscal capacity, faculty adoption is still a huge challenge. Often times, when there are efforts to invest in PD, there is still minimal uptake due to the fact that there is no time, no reward, and no recognition for moving towards e-Learning. Forssman states that one of the challenges for uptake is that in the post-secondary world, professors are rewarded for publication, not for teaching and definitely not for teaching with technology.

This leads to the question: What does work to foster technology integration? The WICHE (2013) survey found that respondents expressed they experienced success in shifting culture when they “have full time faculty who are paid a stipend to be online lead faculty. They have the responsibility of making sure faculty (full and part) in their content area are meeting the minimum faculty responsibilities for teaching online courses” (p. 36). As well as incentivizing e-Learning adoption, approaches for supporting e-Learning need to be carefully considered. Forssman stressed that a great deal of resources and money go into staff development plans that are often poorly attended. Instead of mandating professional development for all staff that is one size fits all, she suggests that success can be found in individual one to one support that is individualized and just in time. For instance, drop in centres for faculty that are less formal than organized professional development workshops but provide access to support for integrating innovation into courses for those who are ready and willing. The respondents in the WICHE survey also support this idea: “We offer individualized on-campus support sessions for the two weeks prior to the start of the online learning semester. These are extremely popular with online learning instructors and it gives them a chance to fine tune their course or skill” (p.35).

Lastly, a design approach to shift to e-Learning is required that allows for “strategy prototypes” and pockets of innovation to emerge and stand as exemplars that point to institutional learning. From such prototypes, the hope is for organizational learning to be applied to a larger scale implementation. Forssman agrees that the best support for e-Learning is delivered one to one for these early adopters and their pockets of innovation. In Forssman’s experience at Mount Royal University she pointed to concrete examples of these services that could be accessed just in time for both instructors and students. She stressed that the “real power for change in higher education for broad adoption and diffusion actually comes through the students.” Therefore it is essential that every leadership and organization plan include resources to tap into students allowing them to become the agents of change who can demand from their professors what they need and expect in terms of the thoughtful infusion of technology in learning. The culture of learning and the professional development of staff, according to Forssman is the key to an institution’s competitiveness. “Competitive advantage is not in the commodity of your online course, it’s in the flexible access, tuition, faculty and support you have. A great way to have a competitive advantage is through the quality of your instructors.”


Forssman, V. (2013). Exploring leadership issues in Educational Technology implementation (D. MacLachlan, Interviewer. Retrieved from

Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended Learning: Uncovering its Transformative Potential in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 95-105.

WICHE Cooperative for EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGIES (2013). Managing Online Education 2013: Practices in ensuring Quality. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license.

Old wine in new bottles: MOOCs, SPOCs, OCs

The rapid rise and fall of the popularity of the MOOC movement in education is unprecedented.  As evidence of the mainstream exposure of this educational trend, MOOCs even had their five minutes of fame on the Colbert Report when edX president Anant Agarwal was interviewed by Stephen Colbert.  The fact that the Colbert believed that his audience knew well enough what a MOOC was and that they found the interview hilarious, illustrated the rapid exposure, acceptance and ultimate decline in popularity that we see the MOOC movement experiencing now.

The overwhelming problem with MOOCs in the way in which they have been taken up by large corporation and private post-secondary institutions is that they tend to ignore sound instructional principles (Baggaley, 2013, p. 126).  Many researchers in the area of distance education (DE) such as Bates have asked why institutions are ignoring the evidence of two decades of experience and research into the best design and pedagogical principles for online learning? The problem is clear to Baggaley, when you reduce the importance of the role of teacher or teaching presence and increase the number of students by a massive amount, the instructors will not be able to provide a quality learning experience (p. 126). The anonymous reviewers of Baggaley’s paper agree that MOOCs have “over-promised and under delivered” because a “focus on technology without a focus on pedagogy” always fails the learner (p. 130).

The question remains, why would post-secondary intuitions choose to ignore 20 years of research and literature on eLearning?  The answer might be found in Kanaka and Brooks (2010) where they argue that “[D]istance education can achieve any two of the following: flexible access, quality learning experience and cost-effectiveness – but not all three at once” (p. 69).  If the balance of all three things is impossible, corporations and private post-secondary institutions set on making a profit will access any learning innovations that favor cost-effectiveness and access to students (who pay) over quality of learning experience.  The massive uptake of MOOCs and now their derivative SPOCs is in one part a way for post-secondary’s to finally accept online learning as a legitimate learning pathway that they historically fought against. MOOCs might be as Bates describes, “old wine in a new bottles” motivated more by profit than by a belief in the learning design.

The fall of the MOOC popularity due to learner negative experience and the new post-MOOC world of SPOC (small private online courses) are simply a return to “the kind of online courses that distance education (DE) institutions have been providing since the mid-90’s” (p. 127).  Although Baggaley cautions that SPOCs may not be better than their MOOC counterparts if the designers continue to ignore the research on DE and online learning that has been gathered over the past two decades (p. 129).  The true test will be to see if the designers of SPOCs and MOOCs can attend to “learner engagement, assessment and feedback” (Baggaley, p.126).  According to Baggaley, the new uptake of Connectivist ideas may have more to do with a backlash against asynchronous delivery and learning and a “timely reminder of the need for more synchronous online interaction” (p. 129). If we are to get to the heart of learner engagement the true test for the future of MOOCs, and their derivatives will be is the designers and instructors can scale to massive and open, quality design that focuses on learning first, technology second.


Baggaley, J. (2014). MOOC postscript. Distance Education, 35(1), 126- 132. doi:10.1080/01587919.2013.876142. Retrieved from ogin.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=95609836&site=ehost-live

Bates, A.W. (2015). Chapter 5: Chapter 4.2: Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning, in Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning (pp. 145-182), Contact North.

Kanuka, H. & Brooks, C. (2010). Distance education in a post-fordist time: Negotiating difference. In M. F. Cleveland-Innes & D. K. Garrison (Eds.), An introduction to distance education: Understanding teaching and learning in a new era. New York & London: Routledget of conventional conversation rapidly and massively.

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The State of E-Learning

As access to technology increases in K-12 classrooms, a shift in the way in which learning is designed and delivered has emerged. This trend towards alternative delivery of learning is happening locally in Alberta where in 2012-2013, 10.3% of the K-12 students took some form of distance education (Barbour, 2013). Internationally, the trend towards  e-learning has made headway in educational circles, both in K-12 and post-secondary contexts. According to a survey conducted by The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), “global online and blended learning initiatives show(s) the widespread growth of this digital strategy. The report concluded that elementary and secondary-level students living in North America, Western Europe, Asia, and Oceania have the most access to blended and online learning choices. While not part of national agendas yet, 24 states in the U.S. are experimenting with blended schools” (cited in Johnson et al, 2014, p. 12). As teachers shift their classroom practice towards technology-enhanced learning in its variety of models and classifications, understanding of the pedagogy, theory and practice of this type of learning is required. Because e-learning is complex and continues to evolve, the need for research within the K- 12 system has materialized. “At the moment, one of the biggest challenges facing the growth of empirical knowledge into K–12 online distance learning is the lack of scholars focused in this area” (Barbour, 2013, p.2).

Issues in how data is collected and reported have hampered researchers in fully understanding the landscape of e-learning. Similar to the findings of iNACOL regarding the lack of national agendas on e-learning, Allen and Seaman report that “over 20 percent of all higher education institutions claim that online education is critical for their long-term strategy, but also report that online education is not ‘significantly represented in my institution’s formal strategic plan” (2014, p. 9). This may point to a larger issue in that when learning organizations and governing bodies lack strategic and formal plans for e-learning pockets of teachers use various forms of e-learning but are not easily tracked for data collection purposes.  In Canada, the data collect by Barbour in the State of the Nation may suffer from similar issues in that there is not a national strategy for data collection on e-learning.  According to the Canadian Council on Learning, “To date, Canada does not have a comprehensive or coherent approach to align e-learning’s vast potential with a clearly articulated and informed understanding of what it could or should accomplish. Instead, e-learning in Canada consists of loosely connected provincial, territorial and federal e-learning networks, educational providers (public and private) and targeted initiatives. The consequences of this approach include duplicated efforts, fragmented goals and objectives, and sporadic and short-term initiatives” (2009, p. 7). The definition of what constitutes e-learning may vary from teacher to teacher, school to school and province to province. Where no strategic plan exists for data collection on e-learning, it is nearly impossible to form a full and complete picture of the impact of e-learning on students. We see this in Alberta where the Ministry of Education has no formal means to collect information on e-learning. With many teachers moving towards blended approaches to learning, the numbers of e-learners that are reported become even less clear. Each teacher or school may define their version of technology enhanced learning as blended learning, flexible learning, online learning, e-learning, distributed learning or any combination thereof. The decision about instructional delivery of e-learning is left up to individual school boards and therefore Alberta Education makes little or no effort to collect this type of data making it difficult for researchers to access.

Another problem seems to be the lack of empirical research and reporting in K-12 has historically been an impediment in programming for student success. “E-learning holds tremendous promise and potential, yet it remains a largely unexplored field. There is a lack of Canadian data related to e-learning—in particular, relevant empirical and longitudinal research on e-learning that would shed light on the effectiveness of current Canadian e-learning initiatives” (as cited in The Canadian Council on Learning, 2009, p. 9). According to Barbour, “This lack of research – and literature in general – has also created a deficit of information available to policy makers to be able to inform the regulation of K –12 distance education” (p. 17). In the US Department of Education’s Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning, “an unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education)” (2009, p. ix).

A further limitation of the current research in e-learning is that it is often focused on higher educational context and employs the adult learning theory which approaches learning through collaborative problem solving, builds on personal experience and emphasizes a community of learners. Further research in the K-12 context to determine if and how e-learning can be designed, delivered for younger learners using the connected learning model is greatly needed.  As teachers shift their approaches to teaching and learning in the digital age, much care and attention should be given to research into cognitively appropriate means of applying learning science to the experience of K-12 students.  “Educators making decisions about online learning need rigorous research examining the effectiveness of online learning for different types of students and subject matter as well as studies of the relative effectiveness of different online learning practices” (US Department of Education, p. 54, 2009). The implications for students learning in the digital world, the development of web literacies, assessment practices and the changing role of the teacher from content expert to lead learner require further research.


Allen, I. and Seaman, J. (2014) Grade Change: Tracking Online Learning in the United States Wellesley MA: Babson College/Sloan Foundation

Barbour, M. (2013).  State of the nation: K-12 Online learning in Canada.  Retrieved from

Bates, T. (2014). Tracking online learning in the USA – and Ontario. Online learning and distance education resources. Retrieved from

Canadian Council on Learning. (2009). State of E-Learning in Canada. Retrieved from

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

U.S. Department of Education (2009).  Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning.  Retrieved from

The Future of Blended Learning is…

The future of blended learning is that it is just learning.

The future of blended learning will not confine students to one platform, LMS or digital tool.  According the George Siemens in Learning Management Systems: The wrong place to start learning, “Essentially, most LMS platforms are attempting to shape the future of learning to fit into the structure of their systems, even though most learning today is informal and connectivist in nature” (2004).  As on online teacher and online graduate student, I have been able to experience firsthand the way in which various learning management platforms shape dialogue and discussion.  It is true that the future of blended learning will be defined by “our ability to capitalize on technological developments will most assuredly be founded on our understanding of a worthwhile educational experience” (Garrision, 2008, p. 1). Ultimately learning that is placed in a real context, that encourages critical discourse and that allows for continuous reflection facilitates deep and rich learning.  Therefore it is the role of educators to access a variety digital tools in order to design learning tasks and experiences that allow for deep and rich learning to take place (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes).

Recently, at the ULead Conference, I had the opportunity to hear Abdul Chohan speak about his school Essa Academy in the UK, a school that could be considered on the forefront of the future of blended learning.  According to Bonk, Kim, & Zeng (2006) the future of all learning will be strongly influenced by mobile devices, ubiquitous access to connection, and a demand for learning at any time, any place and any pace.  At Essa Academy we are given a glimpse of this future as students access digital tools that are simple and reliable to both access content, explore ideas and to demonstrate their understanding.  The key to this approach is that the school offers students access to or allows students to bring their own devices that are mobile, not just portable.  The differentiation between mobile and portable devices is an important one.  At Essa, all students are given an iPad to be used both at school and at home.  The school uses both a flipped classroom and a blended learning approach, offering students access to their course material online at any time through iTunesU and allowing them to take their mobile devices home with them so that learning can continue beyond the school hours.  According to the department of education who audited Essa, “teachers use well students’ access to hand-held technology to promote investigative skills and to ensure that students reflect on their learning” (Ofsted).   Essa Academy offers us a glimpse into the future of learning.  When asked if he considers his school to be a blended learning school, Chohan replies that Essa is “just a school where learning happens, blended or flipped.” Garrison and Vaughan agree with Chohan that in the future “there will come a time when the blended learning distinction will dissolve as a useful label.  The reason is that all learning will be blended to some degree” (Garrision, 2008, p. 15).  I think schools like Essa Academy and many others show us that the time has come.  The future of blended learning is that it is just learning.


Bonk, C. J., Kim, K., & Zeng, T. (2006). Future directions of blended learning in higher education and workplace learning settings. In C. J. Bonk, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), The handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local design (pp. 550-567). San Francisco : Pfeiffer. Available online from

Drysdale, J.S., Graham, C.R., Spring, K.J., & Halverson, L.R. (2013). An analysis of research trends in dissertations and theses studying blended learning. Internet and Higher Education. 17 (April), 90-100. PDF Format

Garrison, D.R., Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction is Not Enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Chapter Eight: Future. Blended Learning in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. PDF Format

Siemens, G., (2004) The wrong place to start learning.  Available from: < [Accessed 17 July 2014]

Essa Academy:

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Uplifting Leadership


Over the next few days I will have the privileged of attending the Ulead conference in beautiful Banff, Alberta and one of the keynote speakers today was Andy Hargreaves. In his writing, Hargreaves has classified educational as having moved through four distinct periods, each with its own emphasis or approach to school leadership. His discussion will be useful when considering transformative leadership for blended learning. Hargreaves makes a distinction between each period of leadership by the roles that government, leaders, teachers and students play in learning. In the first period of leadership teachers were autonomous leaders in their own, often very small or one room schools. In the second period, school leaders became managers, concerned with accountability, standardization of both curriculum and assessment. This period took the autonomy away from teachers in an attempt to regulate learning and test scores. In the most recent, third period, leaders have shifted their focus to 21st century skills, performance, human capital, self-efficacy, targets, and technology. Strong and distributed leadership has been embraced by many learning organizations as a means to build human capital and increase performance.

Hargreaves believes that there is great potential in distributed leadership but warns that is must be taken as more that simply an opportunity for teachers to participate in decision making. Unfortunately, distributed leadership at its worst can be a way for leaders to offload responsibilities to teachers without giving teachers any ownership for decision-making. Distributed leadership at its best could and should create a culture and a climate where teachers feel they can bring innovation into their practice without waiting for an invitation or permission. This distributed approach to leadership has the potential to “raise institutional awareness, build support, and cultivate collaborative leadership” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p. 21). In a distributed leadership environment, teachers feel able to connect and collaborate to improve the learning outcomes of their students without waiting for instruction or directive from their leaders. As Garrison and Vaughan state, “Transformation must be driven by the need and demand for higher quality learning experiences” (p.4, 2008). Distributed leadership offer the hope for transformation where leaders see themselves as lead learners responsible for setting a direction, inspiring and supporting their teachers to design learning tasks that are of high quality.

In his presentation, a fourth way to leadership was offered by Hargreaves, in which the role of a leader moves beyond distributed to uplifting leadership. This fourth way of leadership relies on collective efficacy, participation and collaboration. Hargreaves describes uplifting leadership as having the following set of qualities. Uplifting leaders will set the direction for their organization by dreaming with determination. They will set the course based on clear, sound and defensible research and practice. Uplifting leaders are creative in their approach to system level change and work with the forces that may be perceived as resistant or working against them, turning perceived weakness into strengths. These leaders understand that there is great benefit in collaboration and they both push and pull their teachers to create communities of practice. Uplifting leaders do not use data to hold teachers accountable but instead measure with meaning to assure their various publics. Uplifting leaders understand that innovation must be undertaken in a way that is disciplined in order to manage and sustain growth as well as to reflect on practice and the impact that innovation has on learning. Uplifting leaders find opportunities that others have missed including embracing change even when things are succeeding. But most importantly, uplifting leaders know that their role is “to serve those who follow as well as, if not better than, they serve. Finally, and perhaps above all, remember that in all its forms, leadership without ongoing personal transformation is little more than management” (Workman & Clevelland-Innes, 2012, p. 323). Hargreaves agrees that in order to have transformational leadership, “we uplift the people we serve by uplifting the people who serve them.”

Hargreaves, A. (2015). Uplifting Leadership – Keynote ULead2015

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Leadership, policy, and organizational change (unpublished). Blended Learning in Higher Education.San Francisco : Jossey-Bass. PDF Format

Workman, T., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2012). Leadership, personal transformation, and management. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 13(4), 313-323. Retrieved from

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How to Blend Online Learning?

Current Models of Blended-Learning at ADLC:
At the Alberta Distance Learning Centre, the majority of the students we currently teach are those who primarily attend bricks and mortar schools but “choose to take one or more courses entirely online to supplement their traditional courses” (Staker, 2012 p. 14). This self-blended approach is one in which the students experience indirect blended learning by engaging in online learning for a portion of their schooling while attends the majority face-to face.

Another subset of students that ADLC serves is full-time online students in a fully online model. This approach involves very intentional instructional design choices that include, “Supplemental, Replacement, and Emporium models including web-based, multi-media resource, commercial software, automatically evaluated assessments with guided feedback, links to additional resources and alternative staffing models” (Twigg, 2008, p. 4). What we are looking to move towards with this group is a redesign that shifts towards an enriched virtual model where students would blend their time between online delivery of content and instruction and face-to-face experiences and opportunities for instruction. In this approach, rarely would students attend a bricks and mortar school every day, but could use the physical space and face-to-face connection with teachers and peers to supplement their online learning experience.

Redesigning Professional Learning:
As ubiquitous access to technology increases in K-12 classrooms, a shift in the way in which learning is designed and delivered is beginning to materialize. In the k-12 education, technology enhanced learning, whether it be a version of blended, or fully online is a growing and developing area of education. In 2012-2013, 10.3% of Alberta K-12 students took some form of distance education (Barbour, 2013). This trend will likely only increase in the future due to increased access to technology, better understanding of connectivist approaches to learning and demand from learners. As teachers begin to shift their classroom practice towards technology enhanced learning in its variety of models and classifications, a need for deep understanding of the pedagogy, theory and practice of this type of learning has emerged. Because online and blended learning is complex and continues to evolve, a need for professional development for pre-service and in-service teachers within the K- 12 system has materialized.

The Alberta Distance Learning Centre and the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University have begun to redesign their traditional delivery of both teacher professional learning (ADLC) and graduation level courses (AU). In a partnership that pairs, a PhD professor from Athabasca University with a practicing teacher researcher in K-12 online and blended learning, a process of co-creating and co-delivering a new model for professional learning in online and blended learning is being prototyped. The goal is to offer a series of micro-courses that will provide professional development in the theory and practice of online and blended learning. This redesigned model will use either a fully online or an enriched online model to create professional development that is more substantial than a one day seminar and less time demanding than a graduate level course commitment. These courses are designed to teach the theory of online and blended learning through the practice of engaging in the experience that model research informed best practice. Through this learning experience, practitioners will develop a deeper understanding of the opportunities and implications of technology enhanced learning for k-12 students.

Barbour, M. (2013). State of the nation: K-12 Online learning in Canada. Retrieved from
Staker, H. & Horn, M.B. (2012). Classifying K to 12 Blendded Learning. Boston, MA: Innosight Institute. Available online at:
Twigg, C.A. (2008). Six models of course redesign. Available online from

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Reflections on EDER 677 Distributed Learning

EDER 677 was my first course in my Masters of Education in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Calgary and my first attempt at graduate studies work.  I was both nervous and excited to begin my academic journey and Distributed Learning was a wonderful first step.

Platforms and Social Software

As an online teacher, I felt confident that I would have the web literacy skills to navigate the multiple platforms.  I have taught using Desire 2 Learn (D2L) and it was a very interesting experience take on the role of a student using this platform.  I did find that the overall course design was intuitive and very user-friendly.  My personal bias in online learning is to use social software and tools which are authentic and whose usefulness will outlive the task or course at hand and become a tool for continuous learning.  I find that most LMS platforms lack this authenticity as the work that is created within them and the discussion board discourse is deleted at the end of the term.  To this end, I was grateful to use WordPress for our weekly reflection as this is a platform that allows for authentic social connection and the learning that is created in this space can be shared beyond the course itself.

Reflective Practice:

I was pleased to realize that the course would utilize blogging for reflective practice, which is something I try to do on a semi-regular basis for my own professional learning.  This course allowed me to continue my reflection in a public space and gave me the opportunity to receive critical feedback and discourse from both my professor and my classmates.  This practice is in line with the research into connected learning and communities of inquiry in online courses in which continuous reflection, teacher’s presence, and critical discourse lead to deep learning.  I appreciated the way in which our professor was able to find strengths in each of our reflection yet still challenge us to inquire further which to me is the perfect model of critical discourse in online learning.  Thank-you Doug for your fairness and your ability to extend our understandings to create new connections.

Community Building:

I also very much enjoyed the Adobe Connect sessions and the ability the offered to connect with my classmates.  Creating a sense of community online requires repeated interactions and this platform allowed us to get to know one another.  I would have enjoyed more sessions and the opportunity to engage in further discussions.  As a learner, I greatly benefit from discourse to push the boundaries of my thinking and to open me up to new possibilities.  The summer time frame for this course was also challenging for myself in this regard as my family was in the process of some very large life changes such as selling our home and moving to a new town.  That, on top of government timelines for curriculum writing and trying to spend time with my family, left me with less opportunity than I had hoped to devote to interacting with my classmates.  From my experience in this course, I learned that online learning that is somewhat self-directed is very powerful in terms of personal practice but also requires a great deal of commitment in order to achieve deep learning.  In future courses, I hope to build on what I have learned in EDER 677 to increase my capacity to read, write, reflect and offer feedback to my classmates.  I also had hoped to extend my personal learning network to include my classmate by connecting with them on Twitter and other social software that was not required of this course.  I wonder if all of our networks could have been enlarged and strengthened if we encouraged each other to connect in other platforms beyond the ones required by the course.  It would be beneficial to continue the conversations we began in the course as we each travel down our individual academic paths.  The knowledge and expertise that was evident from the reflections and conversations in this course would be well worth-while to build upon throughout our professional careers.


My favourite aspect of the course by far were the assigned reading.  I feel that Digiio was the perfect tool for keeping the articles easily accessible and easy to find.  I loved the ease with which I could access everything I needed.  More importantly, the reading both affirmed and supported many of the hypothesis I have about distributed learning but also provided new insight and avenues to explore.  I have already used many of the readings in conversations with my colleagues regarding Curriculum Prototyping as well as with my work on teacher professional learning at the Alberta Distance Learning Centre.  I will admit that in my work as a teacher researcher I was continuously looking to friends and colleagues for access to academic articles to support our work and professional learning and I am grateful for the University of Calgary’ wealth of research that is now at my finger tips.  I will certainly continue to access this database for both academic and professional work.


This course offered exactly what I had hoped for in my first foray into academic studies at the graduate level.  Firstly, the ability to bring my reflections on teaching practice and hold it up to current research, learning theory.   Secondly, it allowed me to bring fresh insights back to the work I do and gave me a theoretical frame for research informed practice in distributed learning.  Lastly, it allowed me to dip my toe back into the world of academic  writing, research and APA which was both challenging and rewarding.  I am greatly looking forward to my upcoming courses and thank both my professor and my classmates for this rewarding experience in online learning.

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