I’m playing with this idea of multiple pathways to learning and earning associated credentials. So, I wanted to get the following rough ideas out to you as a way to spark discussion and invite help; especially help creating better ways to illustrate the possibilities. I’m particularly interested in how all this relates to the promise and possibility of micro-credentials. As I was driving to work a few months ago, I had this ideo of a map that could represent what I’ve been thinking about with regard multiple pathways to learning. I describe it below and then end with a 5-minute rough visual intended to visually communicate some of these ideas.

I pictured three main road: Continuing Education Court, Self-Directed Street, and Degree Drive.

Continuing Education Court 

This street represents the many accelerated, non-credit, intensive and/or compacted learning experiences available to people today. There are experiences like weekend workshops on writing, how to start a business, managing your finances or anything else. This road also includes learning from the thousands of webinars that are free or fee-based on the web today, covering topics ranging from personal development to compliance issues at work. It also includes stops at other learning events: conferences, retreats, “boot camps”, etc. These are usually just-in-time learning experiences, and I put them in the class of semi-formal learning, as they don’t include all the trappings of a full formal schooling experience. They are usually discrete and disconnected, self-selected based on learner need and interest. Sometimes there are credentials associated with the experiences, but often not. They are a collection of experiences, often provided by multiple organizations; and there is less of an overall formal curriculum across all learning experiences. Instead, the learner opts in and out as she deems useful for her goals and interests.

Self-Directed Street

Like Continuing Education Court, the learner determines the curriculum / path on this street. Activities and learning experiences are largely designed or coordinated by the learner. Sometimes they are independent learning experiences. Other times learners come together to share and learn with or from one another. Learners not only choose what to do, but how much they will do. For example. note that I put MOOC Mountain on Self-Directed Street when it could also go on Continuing Education Court. I did this because of what the research tells us about how learners use MOOCs. Most do not sign up and complete the course as formally planned. They do it their way, on their timeline, and the extent do which they believe it useful or a high priority. Nonetheless, a case could be made that there are MOOC mountains on both roads. Over time and with focus and effort, people can become incredibly knowledgeable and skilled by traveling on Self-Directed Street, but there are few to no credentials to use of evidence of this learning.

Degree Drive

This is the most familiar road when people think about learning. It represents the formal programming of a student in a school (k-12, higher education). It is often course-based and a pre-determined curriculum (decided largely by others). This curriculum determines where learners stop along the way, what they do and how they do it. There can be sights and features that resemble what you see on Continuing Education Court and Self-Directed Street, but the formal structure and directedness is a common hallmark of this road. Also, the stops along the way can be carefully connected, with one stop preparing a person to get the most out of the next. Even as one progresses, there is careful documentation of what travelers completed and how they performed. Traveling on this road culminates in a credential that is intended to give evidence of one’s accomplishments and growing competence in some area of study.

Combining the Three

What happens when we don’t think of these as three disconnected and unrelated learning pathways? What if we see this as representative of a city or region in which one travels on a lifelong learning journey? What possibilities does that create for us? Consider a model where credentials can be provided as people demonstrate competence through any of these stops along the way, whether it is the weekend workshop, the self-guided tour, the self-study stop, or a formal course. This is one of the interesting and exciting possibilities of micro-credentials and digital badges. Their affordances give us a greater ability to imagine such contexts, as evidenced by the cities of learning initiatives.

What we imagine can be exciting and terrifying. Some worry about what this would mean for formal learning organizations if such an idea were to spread. Others point out that, in this age of democratized information, it may be even more dangerous if the idea does not spread, as it could turn schools into credentialing factories instead of rich, human, and collaborative learning communities…what they are when they are at their best.

Regardless, what I just described is already partly in place. This is not simply some vision of a possible future. This, apart from the credentialing element, is already what happens for many people. It is how we learn in a connected and increasingly digital world. Now we have the opportunity to let this current reality inform our thoughts and planning about 21st and 22nd century credentialing.

Below I’ve included an embarrassingly rough draft visual to help illustrate the idea that I just described. I would love to have partners in this effort, people who can take what I started and create a more robust and aesthetically appealing version of the visual. Please let me know if you are interested, or just create it, share it, and let the conversation spread. Even if there are no takers on that front, I look forward to continuing the conversation about how we might imagine and re-imagine learning and credentialing in a connected world.

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We are starting to see an uptick in talk about the possibilities of badges. Browse education conferences and the word badge is showing up in more presentation titles (except, of course, for slow-moving groups like AERA). Scan the headlines and we read about education companies, K-12 districts, and higher education organizations exploring or implementing badges. We are also seeing some of the joys and pitfalls from badge efforts of the recent past. Amid the buzz, I’d like to offer seven uses (current or potential) that capture my interest as a way to share power and influence with learners and build badge systems that democratize credentials in fun, interesting, and maybe even impactful ways.

Non-Standardized

Gather a group of 5-10 people in a room to talk about badges, and someone almost always brings up the need to have more universal or centralized standards and oversight for badges to grow. Of course, that seems to ignore the fact that higher education grew long before standards were a large part of the discussion. K-12 schools did fine as well. As such, I’d like to celebrate the possibility of badges as a was to further non-standardize even in the most standardized sectors. Consider the UC Davis Sustainable Agriculture badge system. As I understand it, this was less about standardizing the curriculum, and more about giving choice and power for learners to differentiate themselves through real world experiences and novel accomplishments. Let’s use badges to keep from getting too drawn into the “standardize everything” movement.

Hyper-Localized

Others (including me) are talking about the need for a broad trust network and badge ecosystems. That is fine, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a hyper-local badge system that has meaning and value among a small group (maybe a neighborhood). In fact, it is a way to empower local and grass-roots efforts in fun and interesting ways. So, even as we dream of inter-galactic trust networks, how about some healthy conversation about how we can lift up, support, and encourage local badge networks (which could become the largest sector of badges at some point).

Student-Generated

I love hearing the stories about how learners are invited to design their own badges. How does this work? Simple. Students create the challenge-based learning badge. Students accept the challenge. And when students complete it, they earn the badge for the challenge. It is a wonderful way to help people learn how to self-credential (a new aspect of the self-directed learning movement?), and it is easy enough to add some level of outside verification if people are worried about credibility of the badge. I’ve not seen many of these efforts to date, but I am hopeful that we will get a few exemplars in 2015 (or maybe they’re out there, and I’ve not seen them).

After-the-Fact Badge Design

First you create the badge. Then you tell people about it. Then people strive to earn the badge. At least that is how many think of it, but there is no reason why it has to be done that way. It is just as possible to accomplish something planned or serendipitously and then create a badge to recognize it after the fact. These post-accomplishment badge efforts give is an interesting way to think about credentialing self-directed and passion-based learning.

Clan-Based Badges

The web is full of communities of practice, clubs, organizations, and networks. I look forward to seeing more of those groups embracing the use of badges to recognize accomplishments, milestones and unique contributions in the communities. I can see this as a powerful form of credentialing on a résumé, especially that end of the résumé section that is so telling about who a person is and what they really have to offer.

Disposable Badges

We’ve only begun to think about the possibilities of expiration dates for badges. As such, I see some interesting ways to use this feature to create highly disposable badges for novel purposes. What are the possibilities of badges that expire in a day, week, month, or year? How might they amplify certain activities in a group or serve as a means of sustaining engagement?

Credentialing Credentials

I suppose Badges for Vets already does this. I see even more possibilities. What would it look like to use badges as a way for a given group to serve as a credential that adds value to existing credentials that are lesser known or understood? Or, what if we used badges as form of consumer rating of other credential-issuing organizations (like schools, perhaps)?

Who knows if any of these will gain real traction, but the possibilities intrigue me. I see no reason why we should shape badges into something that simply reinforces our past practices. Why not add even more playfulness, creativity and experimentation to our efforts? Let’s lead with our core values and shape the badges into something that will help amplify those values. For me, one of those values is empowering human agency. What about you?

 

 

In, “Are ‘Learning Styles’ A Symptom of Education’s Ills?”, Anna North joins a long list of journalists, academics and researchers who are trying to dispel the myth that teaching according to student “learning styles” is a worthwhile effort. I’m referring to the concepts that originated in the 1970s, suggesting that each student has preferred “styles” of learning. One of the more popularized descriptions of learning styles is the VARK model: visual, auditory, reading-writing, and kinesthetic. This theory suggests that learners have a preference for one of these and that, designing lessons that accommodate such preferences, is more likely to improve each student’s learning.

This and similar approaches have been taught in teacher education programs and in-service teacher professional development for decades. In some schools, it is hard to find a P-12 teacher who doesn’t refer to the importance of learning styles. That is surprising given the limited research to support such claims, and the growing body of literature to suggest that designing lessons according to student learning styles or preferences does anything significant to improve student learning. Yet, the beliefs and practices persist. In fact, when I challenge the idea of using learning styles as a way of designing instruction, it is common to get passionate opposition, quickly turning to a flurry of anecdotal proofs from one’s classroom experience. I offer three responses to such opposition.

1. A Plea to Healthy Skepticism 

“Yes, please don’t believes this because I am saying it. I have not provided a single robust and empirical study to support my claim. Why not test my claims by reviewing the peer-reviewed literature on the subject? There is ample research to explore. Check it out directly and see what you think.”

The challenge is that using peer-reviewed research is uncommon among many in education, and methods of teaching classes in University education programs are often taken from textbooks and “how-to” resources. Look at a typical undergraduate education program, you will often find students reading secondary works about education far more than they are reviewing the scholarly research.

2. A Plea to Common Sense

Suppose I want to teach you how to play basketball. Is one student going to learn basketball better by watching slide shows for hours, while a different student will learn it better by playing basketball and getting coaching? Or, should I divide up my physical education class into four groups: having the reading-writing people just read books about basketball and writing essays, the visual learners just look through instructive photos about playing basketball, and the auditory learners send to another areas to listen to recorded audio lectures on playing basketball?

I realize that this argument has weaknesses. After all, ample research challenges our common sense or experiences. That is part of the fun of delving into the research. Regardless, I’ve found that this example often helps people become a bit more open to considering different claims about the effectiveness or lack thereof for using learning styles as a guide for designing instruction.

3. How Should we Prioritize?

A third response is that I step away from too strong of an attack against learning styles. Instead, I suggest that we simply prioritize the degree of importance we assign to many considerations for designing learning experiences. For example, I mention cognitive load theory, a body of research showing how we can minimize the chance of students experiencing overload when trying to grasp a new concept. I reference the value of taking into account prior student experiences and learning when designing learning experiences. I reference the importance of students having adequate attention to or focus upon that which is being learned. I talk about the research in support of deliberate practice. Or, I might also discuss the research on feedback loops and their impact on student learning. In other words, given all the research we have on what helps students learn, where should we prioritize the learning style claims?

There may well be research in the future to support more of the claims around learning styles as a guide for designing effective learning experiences, but I’ve yet to see a solid body of such literature. As such, it only makes sense to me that we focus our attention on those areas that are far more consistently supported.

What do you think? Have you been a learning styles champion in the past? To what extent are you open to challenging some of those assumptions and practices, or possibly lowering them on our list of strategies for designing high-impact learning experiences? Or, are you already one of the minority who never embraced learning styles or who has set them aside for more fertile teaching and learning ground?

CBE or DII’m a critic of the Carnegie Unit as a soon-to-be outdated educational technology. I’m also outspoken about the dangers of engaging in educational changes that do not take into account the current systems. It is not wise or helpful for a home renovator to start tearing down walls without first determining whether they are load-bearing, if there is plumbing to consider, not to mention electricity. It also helps to have viable plans for a better design. The same is true in education systems. Despite my critique, the credit hour is an integrated part of higher education. Changing it impacts everything from financial aid to athletic eligibility, teaching load (and pay) to how tuition is often calculated. As such, I appreciate the thought-provoking questions provided in the recently published, The Currency of Higher Education: Credits and Competencies, a 2015 report from the American Council on Education and Blackboard. This report outlines several critiques of the credit hour while also offering substantive considerations for those who might opt to enact alternatives.

I am hopeful that we can continue this valuable conversation about alternatives to the credit hour system while keeping in mind a few cautions.

1. This need not be an either/or debate.

There are many applications of competency-based education that use credit hours. There are also examples of education that do not use credit hours, but they are also not interested in competency-based education. In the broader conversation, there is a risk of confusing direct assessment with competency-based education. I’ve not seem a direct assessment program without a focus upon CBE, but I’ve seen plenty of forward-thinking CBE approaches that are not direct assessment. Concordia University Wisconsin’s M.S. built around competency-based badges with credit equivalency is one such example. By stepping back from the either/or approach, we may find promising practices that minimize limitations of the credit hour system while not breaking it. With that said, I do expect a time in the future when the credit hour as we know it will be abandoned, or where most of the educational innovations take place beyond the reach of the Carnegie Unit police.

2. Beware of misrepresenting what takes place in the dominant credit-hour system.

While I’m not convinced that the authors of the previously mentioned report intended it this way, there is a danger in the credit hour versus competency-based education contrast. In that report, the authors wrote:

One of the issues that often comes up in the debates over credit hour-based learning and competency-based learning concerns validation of learning achievements. Assuming both models employ assessments of student learning and achievement, the controversy is really about what is being assessed in each instance. To put it most boldly, what is important to validate in a student’s learning experience – the amount of time put into a chunk of instruction and the student’s ability to reiterate what was contained in that instruction, or mastery of a competency that is demonstrated by the student’s ability to apply it in a given situation? p. 10

Notice the contrast in this paragraph. The credit-hour environment it alluded to as one where student learning is “validated” by measuring the time of the instruction and having students restate what was included in that instruction. Competency-based education is represented as validating student learning by requiring students to demonstrate mastery. It seems to characterize the credit-hour system as inherently against deep learning. The subsequent paragraphs in the report soften the above quote, acknowledging that few would accept such a characterization of assessment in a credit-hour framework. However, such statements about the Carnegie Unit framework remain common, and there is a danger of creating a straw man. While the credit hour system has plenty of flaws and limitations, describing it in this way risks unintentionally insulting a massive number of committed and effective faculty who take great interest in student mastery and helping students achieve high levels of learning (even if these faculty may not be formal proponents of mastery learning or competency-based education). As such, there is an important distinction between the universal usage of the Carnegie Unit and the true priorities and values of educators in that system. Most faculty today do not use the credit hour as the primary measure of learning, even as they work within that system. In fact, my guess is that most faculty don’t even know about many of the existing regulations from regional accreditors or the federal government that are tied to the credit hour.

In my writing about the limitation of the letter grade system, I challenge people to try the syllabus experiment. Find a syllabus, review the list of graded assignments and assessments (as well as where they are placed during a given course), look at how assignments are weighted, and then consider whether an “A” in that course represents mastery of the stated course objectives or something else. Also consider whether it is possible to get a “D” or “F” while learning a great deal in the course.

It is an eye-opening exercise for many, but there is an unfairness about it. I am asking people to evaluate a course syllabus using an outcome-based, mastery learning, or competency-based approach. Yet, that is not how many (perhaps even the majority of) faculty think about their courses. Instead, they design what they consider to be robust, rigorous, challenging assignments and exercises. A twenty-page essay on a student-selected topic about the French Revolution may or may not provide evidence that students mastered explicit competencies or course objectives, but there is a good chance that it does provide evidence of substantive student learning and deep thinking…at least if the student writes a good paper. The same could be said for a robust collection of essay questions on a mid-term exam. This leads to a third caution.

3. Beware of making efficiency, evidence, scalability and transferability the core values of worthy education.

These are words that come up often in conversations among advocates of competency-based education (including myself). I’ve used some of these words in my own critique of the letter grade system. For example, I argue that an “A” at one school is not equal to an “A” from the same course in another school. That is a limitation of the current system. Any solution to that problem, however, requires that instructors, programs, and Universities give up some of their autonomy; as has already been done in programs leading toward licensure or culminating in a test for entrance into the profession. It demands that equal standards and comparable measures of student learning be used across contexts. That is one of the proposed benefits of a CBE approach – that it is one step closer to such a system.

This is a massive philosophical shift. Are we ready for it? Do we collectively agree that higher education institutions should have such a top-down, industrial model for academic standards and evidence of student learning? The instructional designer in me is compelled to conduct an instructional analysis, task analysis, and set up performance objectives. At the same time, my humanities proclivities respond with a warning against radical reductionist approaches to education that ignore the possibility that the whole is greater than the sum of its discernible or easily measurable parts.   We are far from having a shared vision about such things.

Our dream of personalizedYet, it might be that competency-based education is gaining traction because society as whole is becoming more comfortable with such a future, a future where universal standards are set for all or most institutions…which is only a step away from then developing a more universal means of measuring student achievement of those standards. Evidence of this shift is found in the growing list of of state, national and other standards for various professions, disciplines and content areas. It is also a possibility because an emerging and next generation of personalized and adaptive technologies depend, in part, upon having such a system in place. Oddly, our dream of personalized and individualized services could be what drives us to more universal standards, measures, and direct assessment approaches.

A Few Final Thoughts

What are the core values that we want to drive, shape and inform education of the future? Are we juxtaposing direct assessment CBE models and the Carnegie Unit because we believe that direct assessment is a superior model for widespread use across higher education. Or, are we championing it as a valid alternative, useful in some contexts, less so in others?

I am a consistent advocate for choice in education. Part of the strength in the US education system exists in its diversity of aims, methods, strategies and philosophies. We see this on the K-12 and higher education levels. There are over 4500 degree-granting institutions in the United States, and they represent a myriad of visions for eduction, sometimes dozens of visions within the same institution. Common disciplines and professions represented in these 4500 institutions have shared standards, goals, values, and philosophies; but even within a discipline we find many schools of thought. There are formal and informal education standards than transcend institutions, but there remain many distinctions. There are also professional organizations and associations that bind professionals and scholars across institutions. As such, the commonalities and distinctions in modern American higher education create a wonderfully complex mass of Venn diagrams. My vision for CBE is not to clean up this mass of Venn diagrams. I want to add to it. It lobby for CBE competing with traditional and other future models, some that don’t even make use of conventional higher education institutions. The true test will be the extent to which a given institution meets the needs of a population well enough to keep it viable.

Great graduate programs challenge and stretch people. They are more than the accumulation of new knowledge. They are not meant to simply be quick, convenient, and an easy way to a pay increase at work. I’ll confess that I’ve met graduate students in my field (education) who treat their graduate study this way. As such, they want to know what they have to do to pass the class, complete the program, and get the degree. Great graduate programs, whether they’re online or face-to-face do not allow that. This doesn’t mean that they are rigid, inflexible or unwilling to honor the distinct situations and abilities of each learner. I’m referring to programs that honor the learners, but that also challenge all of us in the learning community honor the discipline enough to give it our best.

There are a small number of online diploma mills that market themselves as the least expensive, easiest, most convenient programs around. Sometimes they boast about how quickly you can finish. However, what really matters in a graduate program is a high level of intellectual challenge. People should be stretched to think in new ways, grapple with concepts and ideas that sometimes feel beyond their reach, and that help them reach levels of insight and performance that they never thought possible.

Graduate study is not about general knowledge. It is more specialized. It is about deep learning, exploring a smaller number of topics at a level of depth rarely matched on the undergraduate level. Sometimes it isn’t just about deeper content, but it is also about a higher level of performance or the ability to apply the concepts.

To build this depth, all good graduate programs help students get at the foundations of a subject. That is why they often study the historical, philosophical, and theoretical foundations of the disciplines. It is also why they usually get into the contemporary issues and problems in the discipline, the gray areas and the messier side of the content.

What is distinct about the online graduate program when it comes to challenge? Nothing. This is a universal part of all great graduate programs. However, online learning brings with it other challenges. The design of the course or learning moduels and the technologies used can either help or hinder the desire to helps student dive deep into a discipline. When there is a poor or unnecessarily complex design, that gets in the way of this challenge. When the technology is unreliable or “buggy”, that takes precious mental and emotional energy away from getting lost in the wonderful complexities of the discipline. As a result, great online graduate programs have simple but elegant designs. Technology is reliable and supports deep learning. And students are challenged, invited, and supported as they are stretch, challenged, and guided through fascinating, unchartered, and sometimes tumultuous learning journeys.

As noted in part four, feedback is an essential part of all learning, and intentional plans for providing frequent feedback are essential in quality online learning programs. When it comes to online learning, it becomes important that there are intentional and explicit sources of feedback throughout the entire program, as well as within each course. Failure to provide adequate feedback decreases retention, student satisfaction, and student learning. It also makes it unlikely that students will learn to engage in disciplinary thinking (a topic for a part six).

In traditional graduate education, some faculty have become convinced that the lectures they dispense to the students are their greatest contribution. They are mistaken. It is a rare faculty member who dispenses truly unique content that is unavailable in a variety of free or inexpensive sources. As noted by Neil Postman, information is rarely the answer to any problem today.

This is not an attempt to minimize the importance of content or the expertise of a professor. Both of these remain an integral part of graduate study. However, the more I look at what does and does not result in student learning, the more I am convinced that the most important trait of an effective graduate online learning instructor is that he or she provide the learners with frequent and meaningful feedback. This is granted that the instructor is well-equipped to teach a given course and that he or she has reached at least a moderate level of expertise in the discipline associated with the course.

Expertise involves a deep understanding of vocabulary, understanding of nuanced application across contexts, skills, big ideas, theories, historical foundations, philosophies, problems, and essential issues in a given domain. It involves the ability to identify, frame, or solve difficult problems within that domain. It entails a sensitivity to nuances that would go unnoticed by the novice or untrained eye. It is more than head knowledge about a topic. It moves beyond simply having a great deal of information. Experts have true knowledge and a growing measure of wisdom in their field.

If one simply wants more information about a subject, then a graduate course or program is not a good investment of money. Information, even knowledge, is freely available on the web, in libraries, or through a modest investment of a few good books or other sources of media. However, if one desires to pursue expertise and the ability to think and act within a discipline, then mentoring and feedback become treasured. Mentoring, when done well, is rich with meaningful feedback. That is what takes plans in a quality graduate online learning program.

With that said, feedback can and should come from a variety of sources. It can come from:

  • A qualified instructor who has developed a level of expertise within a given discipline,
  • From peers (often in the form of well-designed group interactions and learning activities),
  • Through computer-generated feedback (in the form of computer-based quizzes, simulations, games and practice exercises that provide helpful instant automated feedback),
  • Through outside experts,
  • Through co-workers, colleagues, or family members,
  • And through self-feedback.

In the early stages, self-feedback is guided. It is modeled for the students. Students are given rubrics, checklists, and lists of questions to use in self-evaluation. However, as the student progresses in the online learning courses and program, they also develop the capacity to do more of this self-feedback (within a given discipline) simply by tapping internalized vocabulary, skills, knowledge, priorities, and values. This interpersonal capacity becomes a key to lifelong growth and development.

Quality graduate online learning programs are learning communities that provide this sort of disciplinary feedback. And, over the course of study, these programs move students toward mastery within a discipline (or field of study), and toward the capacity to engage in disciplinary self-reflection.

The design of effective learning is not a secret. There are five simple questions that should be asked and answered. When this is done, the learning experiences tends to be effective. These same questions apply in virtually all forms of formal education, but they are especially important in online learning programs. With that in mind, good online graduate programs constitute courses and/or learning experiences that are designed in view of the following five questions:

1) Who are the learners?

Answering this question is key to all good teaching and learning. What is the background of the learners? What prior knowledge or experience do they bring to the table? What are the pre-requisite skills needed to be successful in the program and how do these match with the intended learners? What is a typical day in the life of the intended learners? What technical skills and attitudes characterize the intended learners? What cultural factors of the learners need to be considered? What expectations, beliefs, values, and convictions do the learners bring to the experience? There are certainly many similar questions that must inform the design of courses and the entire program. In instructional design, we call this the audience analysis.

Skipping this step can result in a wonderful but highly ineffective experience.

2) What do we want them to learn?

This question applies to the development of overall program outcomes, course-level outcomes and/or objectives, as well as objectives for individual lessons/modules/units. It can be answered without the entire program looking like a rigid form of training or mastery learning, and I am not suggesting that a specific format is necessary. Traditional behavioral objectives, essential questions, or substantive targeted goals can all be effective ways to answer this question.

Skip this step and the program or course lacks direction.

3) What is the very best evidence that students have learned what we want them to learn?

I usually suggest that one start with the ideal, and then slowly back down to what is realistic in a given environment. Whatever the case, answering this question requires us to clearly articulate what it will look like when a student has reached the stated goals.

Skip this step and question 2 tends to disappear also. When this happens, we see courses with stated objectives, but then the assignments, quizzes, and other assessments have little or no connection to these objectives. Any of us who have experienced this as learners can attest to how such an experience is frustrating and unhelpful. It leaves learners struggling to figure out how they are supposed to devote their precious time and energy.

By the way, if we take this question seriously, then the main course assessments rarely end up being multiple choice, matching, or other traditional forms of tests. These tests or quizzes may be present, but they simply serve as a source of feedback, a way to help students discover how they are or are not progressing (more about that when I get to question five). Serious answers to question number three usually lead us to the wonderful world of authentic assessments.

4) What resources and/or learning experiences can help students provide this evidence?

This may be in the form of recorded lectures, case studies, role plays, examples, illustrations, group discussions, scavenger hunts, webquests, digital stories, multimedia projects, labs, interviews, observations, reflective writing, tutorials, research projects, readings, virtual tours, or a wealth of other powerful and potentially effective learning experiences. However, all of them should help the learners work toward providing the evidence that we noted in question three. If it doesn’t help students progress to a point where they can eventually provide the evidence mentioned in question two, then get rid of it or move it to the margins of the course or program. Otherwise, it is likely to be a distraction or even a hindrance to student learning.

Skip this question and you have a course or program rich with busy work that may have limited value for the learner.

5) How can I ensure that students get frequent and meaningful feedback throughout the learning experience?

Without feedback, how are students going to know if they are progressing toward the goal? Too many poorly designed learning experiences don’t give students feedback until it is too late. Students work for weeks on a paper or project, submit it, get a poor grade, and then are instructed to “move on” with no chance to redo or refine their first attempt. How does that help students meet the stated goals? How does that help them progress? Why not give them feedback throughout the learning experience so that learners get a sense of how they are doing, what requires further attention and practice, as well as where they are excelling?

Skip this question and we get five common results: student frustration increases, student anxiety increases, student satisfaction decreases, student learning decreases, and student retention plummets.