Familiarisation is key #eLearning #edtech

So, we’ve moved! We have our lives in boxes all over the house, someone else’s wallpaper and really strange built-in furniture in every room – it’s worse than a holiday cottage! Thankfully we’ll be ripping all that out and decorating and furnishing it with our tastes and ‘stuff’ in due course.

This post is part 7 in my series of ‘What is a Learning Technologist’. Read the others in the series on my blogs ‘about’ page.

But this is why I’m writing … we did our first weekly big shop at the weekend, in a different and much larger supermarket than we’re used to (Asda, not Tesco). We all know that different stores of the same company use roughly the same layout, but changing store means a different ‘thinking’ to presenting the aisles and products – I’m used to walking up and down each aisle and knowing what I need based on where I am in the store. The trolley fills up in a certain order so when I get to the checkout I unload and then bag, in another order which makes the unloading and shelving at home easy.

I have become familiar (stale?) in my shopping habits based on my ‘usual’weekkly visit. Here are the ‘issues’ I encountered at the weekend, and I’ll relate them to what a student may feel when accessing learning materials online, becoming too familiar with a structure or approach, and how change can be positive or negative experience for them.

  • The way I shop dictates the way I bag the items at the till – different layout meant different (confusing?) bagging technique needed, less logical presentation considering habit and background,
  • Price tickets are harder to understand, based on only being in a different presentation style and position,
  • Smaller trolleys,
  • Smaller bags,
  • Wider aisles,
  • The till was smaller and therefore I had to bag quicker than I’m used to to keep up with the much faster processing of items,
  • The till didn’t show the tally of purchase … so a shop I was expecting of about £80-£90 stunned me when it came in at over £120!
  • I’m not going to mention the car park and other people’s parking habits … !

All of this is enough to throw you off balance and disorientate you, and can be very disconcerting in an unfamiliar environment (even worse with two ‘noisy’ children in tow).

So here’s the rub … how do you think a student feels when they access one Unit/Course and one style of presentation to then start another with a whole new set of design, structure, navigation, etc? It’s even worse if there are several of one style (therefore they’ve gotten used to it) and some more with completely different and individual approaches. This is not about the tools used, as these should be used appropriately and only if they meet the learning outcome and/or need of the subject. This is about how the learning materials are presented in the VLE, this is about having a ‘template’ (whether defined or as a ‘guide’) for the main headings so the student:

  • can easily find the Course and tutor/admin contact details – if they’re in the same place in each Course then the student will not have to hunt for them,
  • can easily find announcements and important course information (handbook, forms, time table, events diary, etc),
  • knows where to look for assignment details, past papers, submission boxes, etc,
  • knows which area to ook in for which topic or activity or week’s reading materials,
  • knows how to access gradesor online(audio?) feedback,

I know not everyone agrees with a formulated structure, and I am open to criticism about this – I am happy to agree that there should be flexibility in presentation and structure of learning materials (comments welcome). But the students, especially online and distance learners, need to have a sense of familiarity for the basic information in order to gain confidence in working in a digital world. Especially if they’re not all that comfortable, and thefore confident, in the first place.

Image source: Violentz on Flickr