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Developing an e-Learning environment is a complex, time-consuming task. This book and accompanying Handbook have been designed to guide you through the process.

E-ffective Writing for e-Learning Environments is written to support instructors of both young and older adults. Because I work in a higher education context, many of my guidelines and examples will reflect my experiences there. However, most of my recommendations can be equally applied to training, continuing professional education, or non-formal learning environments.

I have written this book with three audiences in mind:

  1. The instructor who is exploring e-Learning options in order to make a decision about the design and delivery of a resource, activity, course, or program. I often refer to these e-Learning components interchangeably. Sometimes we refer to these as educational or learning objects.

  2. The instructor who is ready to begin converting one of these components from a face-to-face delivery (F2F) to a hybrid or entirely online delivery format.

  3. The instructor who has already re-purposed an e-Learning component, but wants to ensure that the result is effectively designed. The recommendations in this book will help you evaluate and perhaps revise your course.

The Handbook contains additional information, examples, practice activities, and tools and resources. Tools include checklists, charts, design guidelines, and other resources that you can use as references while you develop your e-Learning components. Please feel free to remove pages from the Handbook to support your work. For example, I have enlarged various checklists and taped them to the wall behind my desk so that when I need a reference I can simply glance up from my keyboard.

This book integrates research and practice in user-centered design and learning design and is intended as a development guide for experts in areas other than instructional or educational technology (in other words, experts in cognate areas such as Biology or English or Nursing), rather than as a learning design textbook.

You do not have to have technical skills to use this book. While based on current research, it is organized and written in direct language that does not assume that you want to learn about the field of instructional technology, become an instructional designer, or a Web developer. However, incorporating just a few ideas will make your course more accessible and effective.

The organization of this book reflects the development process – from planning and development through formative evaluation and identifies trends and issues that faculty or developers might encounter along the way. The story of faculty members’ course development journeys illustrate design guidelines.

The book is based on user-centered design guidelines and learning design theory and practice. With a growing emphasis on supporting international learning audiences and with increasingly diverse local populations, accessibility is a concern. Accessibility guidelines reflect diverse learning needs related to sex, age, language, culture, geography, access to technology, mobility, perceptual and cognitive challenges, socioeconomic status, and others.

Instructors need to know whether their courses provide effective learning experiences. Usability, broadly defined, is an important component of this framework. Formative evaluation, or usability testing, is an essential step in course development. This book contains an entire chapter on usability methods and tools, illustrated with real-life cases.

Global repositories of learning objects are promoting the availability of adaptable and re-usable digital resources. With this emerging development, the faculty is relieved from the expensive and time-consuming task of creating their own technologically sophisticated resources – a task that requires the development of new skills over a steep learning curve. This book provides background information on learning objects – what they are, where to find them, and how to use them.

E-ffective Writing for e-Learning Environments is designed to model the user-centered design guidelines on which the content is based. So, the page design reflects principles such as chunking, use of sidebars, and multiple headings. The readability level ranges from 8-10. Course examples are provided, as well as the reflections of faculty members who have been involved in e-Learning. The book is also based on active learning principles and each chapter contains embedded questions to challenge your assumptions and understanding about your audience, content and design. This is a cognitive strategy that encourages reflection – a strategy you can use in your own course.

The chapters of this book are outlined as follows:

Chapter 1: Five Factors for Planning contains five reasons to develop an e-Learning environment and five planning factors to consider in the development process. Learning outcomes in three domains are presented through Bloom’s Taxonomy. Learning styles, learner profiles, learning activities, and authentic assessment are important concepts for designing a good environment. The resource implications, including staff costs and timelines, are discussed using two actual course development experiences.

Chapter 2: User-Centered Design Part 1 extends the idea of learning profiles to a field that informs instructional design, message design, and usability testing. The challenge presented in this chapter is to write for as many diverse needs and expectations as possible. User-centered design guidelines, which are explored further in Chapter 3, involve writing for inclusiveness and are legally (accessibility laws), morally (equitable learning opportunities), and practically (globalization) necessary.

Chapter 3: User-Centered Design Part 2 continues the discussion in Chapter 2, but focuses more exclusively on accessibility issues, especially as related to age, gender, and health.

Chapter 4: Selecting and Evaluating Learning Objects introduces the relatively new field of educational, or learning objects, the role of standards and specifications, and rubrics for evaluating these resources. The knowledge management concept helps provide a context for the learning object economy. The premise of Chapter 4 is that most of us do not have the time to develop e-Texts and that reusing e-Texts that have already been developed and evaluated makes good sense.

Ellen Whybrow, the senior instructional designer with Academic Technologies for Learning, authored Chapter 4. Ellen has worked extensively with faculty to support its understanding and effective implementation of learning object repositories.

Chapters 5: From Text to e-Text – Message Design and 6: Resisting Print emphasizes implementing user-centered design to support your efforts to re-purpose your existing content into e-Texts and/or to develop original e-Texts. Together, these chapters have been written as a practical guide and reference as you re-design your textual materials to enhance accessibility and readability and, potentially, active learning. Both chapters refer throughout to the research and evidence-based practice that underlies user-centered design.

Chapter 7: Structuring the e-Learning Environment ventures into the vast field of user interface design. The content of Chapter 7 should get you started thinking about how users will work with your site – how they will navigate, find needed resources, and so on. You are asked to think about your domain as a genre that has a defined structure and set of design guidelines for organizing and presenting content.

Chapter 8: The Active e-Reader focuses on learning interactions with e-Texts within the structure of your domain. Tools for presentation and communication are also discussed.

Chapter 9: Usability Testing provides you with conceptual and practical advice to plan and implement a usability, or formative evaluation strategy. You will learn about usability goals, methods, and tools. You will also be able to develop your own usability process.

Chapter 10: e-Learning Trends – The Mobile Environment surveys developments in m-Learning and suggests implications for strategic planning in post secondary.

The Handbook contains case studies, exemplars, tools, and additional resources to support your work. It also includes a Story of Practice from one colleague who redeveloped his course and re-purposed his content for e-Learning. The story illustrates many of the concepts in this book and provides examples of practical applications of the ideas.

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