Distance Learning & Course Management Systems


Scope Creeping Backward

Several years ago I was part of a team asked to create a two-year integrated science program for 9th grade and 10th grade students.  Although the specific goals of the project were much more detailed, the overall theme was to create a hands-on, inquiry-based curriculum that incorporated the three major science disciplines: life, physical and earth.  The district set up a realistic time frame of two years for program implementation and the expectation was for the 9th course to be finished the first year, the 10th completed the second year, with the project roll out the third year for the freshman only.  To be honest, it was a great experience for about the first six months.  The district paid for substitutes once a month, paid us for a Saturday once a month, and the team seemed to be on the same page most of the time.

Then the budget became an issue.  The budget problem had nothing to do with the labor because the project manager had this as part of the plan; the problem was the resources necessary for the classroom teachers to implement the lessons.  Although we all knew what equipment and supplies were available in our own departments, we did not represent every school in the district. Our first milestone was to send a rough draft of the lessons to the department chairperson at each high school at the beginning of the second semester of the first year; what a disaster.  Questions tended revolve around the same two areas: “Who is going to purchase the added materials, it certainly is not in our budget?” “Who is going to pay for the professional development, my biology teachers do not know how to teach chemistry, physics, and earth science?”

“Since scope creep is a major cause of cost and time overrun, the project manager must control changes to the project charter and project scope” (Lynch & Roecker, 2007, p. 96), it became apparent that the original budget did not include the implementation plan along with design and development.  Either the project charter would have to be changed to incorporate the additional funding or the goals needed to change.  Since we were in a publically funded school district, which of those two options do you think was chosen?  The end result was that the two-year program became one and the money allotted for designing the second year of the program was utilized for the resources and training at the school sites.  Our team was retained for the two-year period but the second year became an exercise in re-molding the lessons to fit into the resources already available at most of the sites. In the end the program was not as effective and neither were our attitudes.  The freshman course lasted for a few years but because the original sequence incorporated a second year, the course material was incomplete.

“Apparent scope creep often indicates that requirements were missed during elicitation” (Wiegers, 2000); this was exactly the case.  The specific budgetary requirements were not properly communicated to the development team and the project manager did not develop a sufficient communication plan in order to monitor the ongoing process.


Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007). Project managing e-learning: A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management. London: Routledge. Copyright by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Wiegers, K. (2000). Karl Wiegers describes 10 requirements traps to avoid. Press Impact Inc. Retrieved on 12/6/2012 from:




Project Schedule & Budget Plan

This week’s blog is highlighting a couple websites I found to help a project manager develop a budget plan.  I am currently in the middle of a project management class that requires us to create a complete presentation from conception to close based on a case study. Because the case study “Designing Learning Objects for Primary Learners” (Etmer & Quinn, 2007) utilizes three separate teams for the writing, instructional design, and production it has presented a challenge to coordinate the key events and activities along with the dependency amongst the individual teams.

The website developed by the University of Wisconsin serves as a template for project management. It breaks up the process into five major steps: conceive, initiate, plan, execute & control, and close.  Planning is divided into a four-stage progression: project kick-off meeting, develop work plan, develop project control plan, and finalize final project plan and gain approvals.  Each of the sections is subdivided smaller steps as demonstrated in the image below which are developed into the what and how to perform the tasks; they also include an example and template for each section.

For example the advisor’s “What to do” for developing a project budget has seven steps:

  1. Refer to your high-level budget from the Initiate Stage
  2. Refer to budget information for similar projects
  3. Identify the detailed labor costs associated with the project tasks
  4. Identify the detailed material costs
  5. Identify any ongoing operating costs
  6. Identify any other specific costs
  7. Build in a contingency by assessing the probability of exceeding those costs


To see the “How to do it” click here:       DEVELOP PROJECT BUDGET

Estimating Costs and Time in Instructional Design

This is an entry on blog site written by Don Clark that is dedicated solely to budgeting for instructional design projects. In line with the origins of instructional design coming from the American military, Clark gathers some of his data from a naval thesis paper.  He also utilized a case study about Verizon’s transition to e-learning because of their realization that a large portion of their work force was nearing retirement age. Verizon’s goal was to harness the knowledge acquired by the veteran employees and create an e-learning environment to pass that knowledge on to the incoming resource.  The site is particularly helpful because it specifies the activities that a project manager will include in his project schedule.  The sections are:

  • Budgeting
  • Training Cost Guidelines
  • Estimating Development Hours
  • e-Learning Development Time
  • Instructor Preparation Time
  • Seat Time
  • Interactive Multimedia Instruction

Clark also provides a template for an Excel Spreadsheet Cost Estimator



Clark, D. R. (2004). Estimating Costs and Time in Instructional Design. Retrieved 11/29/12 from:

DoIT Project Manager Adviser v2.2 (2007). University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.Retrieved on 11/2912 from:

Ertmer, P., & Quinn, J. (Eds.). (2007). The ID casebook: Case studies in instructional design (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


Communicating Effectively

Dr. Harold Stolovitch states that effective written communication starts with a clear purpose by stating the situation, including possible solutions, and specifies the form of response and the time frame associated with that response.  The email example below from Laureate Education Media below is an example of  engaging stakeholders within the process of a project:

When I look at this written message I see a very obvious attempt to start off positive.  The writer begins by acknowledging the audience as someone with many responsibilities, even recognizing that he or she is currently busy.  This is followed by getting straight to the point about what is needed, the implications of why it is needed, and then another request for the information with a partial solution to make the process easier.  The tone of the message is very polite from start to end; with an obvious show of respect in the closing.

When this same communication is repeated on a voice mail I perceive the same overall message.  Both of these correspondences are occurring when the receiver is not available and they both convey a sense of urgency without the aura of an emergency.  Although the voice remains calm and the tone is cordial, in this case I believe the written message is as effective, if not more.

The face-to-face delivery of this message has a different implication because the receiver is no longer engaged in another activity that limits communication.  The words are almost identical to the email message and the tone of voice is very similar. The differences here are the body language, the eyes, and the smile.  Because the person delivering the message has made the effort to approach the receiver, the level of urgency has been raised and creates a greater atmosphere for action.

One message, three different modalities, and three different affects; the sense of necessity escalates as the message becomes more personal.  In this situation I agree with Mohr and Nevin (1991) when they state that “Face-to-face is always the most effective, but other methods: email, phone, etc., may be more appropriate in given situations.”  It is impossible to know the history between these two employees or the time frame between communications but I sense that an email is sufficient in this case. Communication with stakeholders is an imperative and an art.  I believe the following statement contextually frames the above activity.   “An experienced sender of a message, whether oral or written, would think of the audience as his customer” (IILM, 2012, p.6).


IILM: Institute of Higher Learning (NA). (2012). Business Communication. Retrieved on 11/14/2012 from:

Mohr, J. & Nevin, J. (1990).  Communication strategies in marketing channels: A theoretical perspective.

The Journal of Marketing 54(4) p.36-51.


Laureate Education (N.D.) “The Art of Effective Communication” (Multimedia). Retrieved on 11/14/12 from:

Laureate Education (Producer). (2009). “Communicating with Stakeholders” Dr. Harold Stolovitch (Narrator).


Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

Google Docs Survey


The school where I work is going through an accreditation process for CIS/WASC.  One aspect of the accreditation is that each department has to rate ten teaching and learning standards on a scale of 1 – 4.  This rating is based on determining whether 5 – 9 indicators for the standard have been aligned (Widely, Partially, or Not) over the last five years; not an easy or intuitive process.


To ease the pain in my department I decided to digitize the project utilizing Google Docs.  After presenting the idea to the other department heads, it turned out to be a school-wide project.   Utilizing our technology coordinator, we created a survey so that the teachers could read the standards and indicators and then use drop down menus and a point and click for the overall standard rating (1-4).   The data was immediately uploaded to a spreadsheet and when everyone in the department finished the survey a complete report could be printed out by the department chairman.


  • Creation of the survey
  • Department chairman meeting demonstrating how to access and utilize the survey.
  • Computer lab reservation for individual departments for short tutorial and survey time.
  • Meetings for discussion of department survey report
  • Final draft as a department-wide document submitted to curriculum coordinator


Success or Failure?

I would say that the project was adequate.  The design aspect of the project fulfilled all expectations, but the planning and implementation process lacked organization.

  1. The technology skills of the learners, both HOD’s and the teaching staff, were not adequately analyzed and not enough time was allotted for tutorials and facilitation demonstrations.
  2. The scope of the individual teacher’s responsibility was not properly emphasized and resulted in re-work for many of the departments.
  3. The school technology infrastructure lacked the sophistication to handle the large number of staff on the server simultaneously.
  4. Scheduling was inadequate and the emphasis for the teachers to finish the survey diminished the quality and accuracy of the reports and caused the completion date to be pushed back for many of the departments.


“Delivering a successful instructional technology (IT) product depends on more than just having an extremely creative instructional solution” (Allen & Hardin, 2008, p.72).  I would say that this statement sums up my experience with this project.  The Google Docs survey was a great solution and performed to the exact specifications of the objectives, but it became evident during the implementation process that the PM (me) did not do an adequate job of planning, scheduling, controlling, or terminating the project.  This was a case of skipping steps to save time, but “omitting these stages in the instructional design process can result in poorly designed instructional materials or training”(Lin, 2006, p.10).

Given the amount of time we had to work with and the product that was generated I do feel like the project was a success, but it was certainly a learning experience.


Allen, S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology products using effective project management practices. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 19(2), 72–97.
Copyright by Springer-Verlag, New York. Used by permission via the Copyright Clearance Center

Lin, H. (2006). Instructional project management: An emerging professional practice for design and training programs. Workforce Education Forum, 33(2). Reprinted by permission of the author.


Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects!(Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Distance Learning Course Reflection

As the population of learners becomes more comfortable with the ever-increasing access to technology and the content experts begin to make a larger migration to the distance learning environment, the potential of the online learning format is limitless. Dr. Siemens indicated that online education was in its infancy and that its relevancy will increase as the exposure to the online platform continues to improve. Although there will always be the argument that the pedagogy of face-to-face cannot be matched in the distance learning setting the instructional design community can demonstrate the relevancy of the online setting by providing  sound and relevant instructional strategies.

The infusion of multimedia into the lives of learners has created learning styles that fit more into the realm of social constructivism and has created the necessity to transform educational activities that incorporate a more diverse approach to instruction.  Whether it is K-12 environment, higher education, or a corporate training, instructional design and the ability to utilize technology in learning is becoming an educational necessity.  The policies and standards that govern the distance learning environment ensure that the learners will receive equivalent learning outcomes to those provided in the traditional face-to-face instructional arena and the role of the instructional design professional is to provide “online instructional strategies that ‘create an environment that supports and encourages inquiry,’ ‘broaden the learner’s experience of the subject matter,’ and ‘elicit active and critical reflection by learners on their growing experience base’” (Bonk & Kim, 2006, p. 23).

Although I have spent most of over two decades in the classroom my next position will be in the role of curriculum and professional development coordination.  I see a tremendous opportunity to lead instructional transformation because the need for teachers to adapt to the ever-changing climate created by the millennial learners is increasing. According to the U.S. Department of Education the average age of a public school teacher was between 43 and 45 in the 10 states polled during the 2005 – 2006 school year.  Considering I am just a little older than this demographic, I know from my experience that this statistic means that teachers this age or older received their undergraduate degree without the internet or technology-based instruction as any substantial aspect of their education; assuming they attended college immediately or within a few years of high school graduation.  Although I know that most of my peer group would like to utilize technology in their instruction I believe that they see the role of technology as a substitute for other learning resources without changing their pedagogy. It is my opinion that the majority of teachers do not understand the design, development, and implementation process required to create relevant learning strategies that incorporate technology as a means for student collaboration and higher level thinking skills.

The online orientation project in this course gave me a new appreciation for the amount of work necessary for distance learning facilitation.  Preparing learning strategies that integrate multimedia and other resources are extremely labor intensive as is learning to create activities within the confines of a course management system.  Although I have always been a large proponent of creating learning activities that encourage student output, I feel that this course has really entrenched the necessity of making learning an active, constructive process and how the principles of instructional design transition the role of instructor to facilitator.



Bonk, C., & Kim, K.J. (2006). The future of online teaching and learning in higher education: The survey says…

Educause Quarterly (4). Retrieved on 10/27/12 from:



Johnson, F. & Cornman S. (2008).  An exploratory evaluation of the data from the pilot teacher compensation survey: School year 2005 – 06.  Institute for Educational Sciences: National Center for Education Statistics. U.S. Department of Education.  Retrieved on 10/27/12 from:  Retrieved on 10/28/12 from:

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Converting to a Distance Learning Format

Blended Learning Checklist

Click above for a Quick list for the following scenario

A training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.

  • What are some of the pre-planning strategies the trainer needs to consider before converting his program?

The starting point for converting between any two instructional environments needs to be equivalence. The instructional goals of the training program will not change therefore the responsibility of the training manager shifts to designing learning experiences the will provide equal value for the learners in the blended environment.  “Just as a triangle and a square may have the same area and be considered equivalent even though they are different geometrical shapes, the experiences of the local learner and the distance learner should have equivalent value even though these experiences might be very different” (Simonson, Schlosser, & Hanson, 1999, p.71).

Strategies should include:

  1. Choosing the correct course management system: “a first step would be to study thoroughly the tools provided by the chosen LMS and to see how those tools could be used to support educational methodology and the learning objectives that are used currently” (Georgouli, Skalkidis, & Guerreiro, 2008, p. 228). Here’s a list provided by the Center for Learning & Performance Technologies (Hart, 2012) of over 150 that are currently available.
  2. Make sure the trainers are trained. This includes: the new learning platform (CMS/LMS) and all the tools inherent to the system, as well as asynchronous discussion facilitation. This includes but is not exclusive to: Blogs, Discussion Boards, Email, Synchronous Chat, Multimedia, Wikis, and the other tools necessary to connect the content to learner collaboration.
  3. Technical Support: This includes both the facilitators and the learners.  Are the platforms for support easily accessible and transparent?
  4. F2F or Online?Because the learning objectives and goals should not change, the training manager must decide which of the learning activities and trainer responsibilities will take place in the traditional face-to-face meetings or online; these include:
  • develop collaboration amongst students
  • encourage active learning
  • give prompt feedback
  • emphasize time on task
  • communicate high expectations, and respect diversetalents and ways of learning

(London Metropolitan University, 2011)

  1. Proactivity:  Set-up on-line portion early and test the functionality of all links and media utilized in the CMS. There will be problems!
  2. Course Organization: Remember that the online portion of the course will require the learners to be more self-directed so the clarity of the learner responsibilities is at a premium; syllabus, conversation responsibilities and online etiquette need to be clearly defined.
  • How will his role, as trainer, change in a distance learning environment?

Pedagogically the role changes from instructor to coach, facilitator, or guide on the side.  Less class time means more self-directed learning so the learning activities need to reflect the autonomy.  Collaboration must be emphasized in the online environment rather than being inherent in face-to-face meetings. This means the facilitator needs to consistently model and encourage in the online aspect of the training. Specifically in regards to online discussion facilitation:

    • Develop social presence in the virtual classroom.
    • Avoid becoming the center of all discussions; emphasize student-to-student interactions.
    • Attend to issues of social equity based on different cultural communication patterns.
    • Attend to issues of social equity based on different gender-related communication patterns.
    • Increase the status of low status students in order to promote equitable collaborations.

(Rovai, 2007, p. 79)

  • What steps should the trainer take to encourage the trainees to communicate online?
  1.  Vary the Assignment Structure:

According to Dennen (2005) the facilitator’s ability to vary the types of online discussion creates motivation amongst the learners; strategies include:

    • Course Reading Discussion
    • Learner-chosen topics
    • Hot Topics or controversial issues
    • Peer feedback
    • Collaborative discussions
  1.  Clarity of instructions, learner expectations, deadlines, and discussion prompts.
  2. Timely Feedback
  3. Modeling the proper quality and quantity


Georgouli, K., Skalkidis, I., & Guerreiro, P. (2008). A Framework for Adopting LMS to Introduce e-Learning in a Traditional Course. Educational Technology & Society, 11 (2), 227-240.

Hart, J. (2012). Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Retrieved on 10/20/12 from:

London Metropolitan University. (2011) Quick guide to blended learning.  Retrieved from:

Rovai, A. (2007). Facilitating online discussions effectively.  Internet and Higher Education (10)p. 77 – 88.

Simonson, M., & Schlosser, C., & Hanson, D. (1999). Theory and distance education: A newdiscussion. The American Journal of Distance Education, 13 (1), 60-75.

Treacy, B., Kleiman, G., & Peterson, K. (2002). Successful online professional development. Learning & Leading with Technology 30(1).

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I immediately noticed the easy access when I entered the site.  The color scheme is simple and not distracting, the subjects of the courses are immediately identifiable, and it does not require a large number of navigation clicks to enter the course you would like.  The most notable feature for each of the physics courses, could not help myself, was the clearly labeled resources available in each section.  Lecture notes, multimedia, assignments and solutions, study groups, and even online textbooks.  There are also exams and solutions along with project assessments that include examples of former student work.  I did notice that most of the courses were written more than five years ago, but there is a mechanics course that was updated as recently as two years ago; this is the course that I investigated in detail.

The course has eleven learning modules that are appropriate to a freshman entering a college mechanics course.  The instruction model is liner as mentioned by Simonson etal.(2012) although you can tell that the instructors make an attempt to create a “hypercontent-designed” model due to the obvious connections within the learning modules (p. 168) .  Before opening the individual teaching units, the course syllabus is clearly available as well as the format for the entire course.  All the individual modules have five basic features: Objectives, preparation, lecture video, learning activities, and additional resources.  In each of the four modules that I visited, the lectures were broken up into 8 to 12 minute vignettes and each includes a transcript in pdf format.  The lecture included a working example for demonstration and the lecturer used appropriate language for the audience as well as kept a reasonable tone and voice level.  The asynchronous study group shows an ongoing conversation that could be used for group collaboration on problems or projects but I did notice that most of the comments were of the personal nature rather than about a specific topic.

In terms of the course design it appears that it provides the one thing that has been deemed the most important aspect of distance learning by Dr. Michael Simonson’s statements about equivalence theory. The learning objectives are equivalent to those in a face-to-face environment, but the strategies are not identical.  Of the “12  ‘golden rules’ for the use of technology in education” (Simonson etal. 2012, p. 172) it appears that this website meets or exceeds every criteria; including the one I was most concerned about, “no super-technology”.

This OpenCourse website appears to have been well thought out by a team of experts, not just the SME’s that facilitate the course.  The target audience is broad because the lessons are learner-centered and prior knowledge determines the level of understanding of the material.  One particular aspect that provides a learner-centered design model is that every module incorporated computer simulation activities as part of the additional resources and required their use during the learning activity aspect of the course.  It provided a platform that requires the learner to utilize all of the resources and not just utilize the lecture and assignments.


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.) “Distance Education: The Next Generation” [Video].

Dr. Michael Simonson [Narrator].

MITOpenCourseWare. (2012). Physics I: Classical Mechanics. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.