Meeting the CCAF Challenge

By Robert “Bob” Bilyk

Introduction

I recently watched Ethan Edwards present ‘Cracking the e-Learning Authoring Challenge’.  This post is my attempt at cracking the e-Learning authoring challenge.

But first a little background.

As many of you have the privilege of knowing, Ethan Edwards is the Chief Instructional Strategist for Allen Interactions.  Cracking the challenge is all about building interactivity in an authoring tool – specifically, CCAF interactivity.  CCAF is an acronym for Context-Challenge-Action-Feedback.  The four components of CCAF are part of Michael Allen’s CCAF Design Model for effective learning experiences.  Michael Allen is the founder of Allen Interactions, the author of numerous books on eLearning, and the chief architect of Authorware and ZebraZapps.  Both authoring systems were designed for people with little technical expertise to be able to build – you guessed it — CCAF learning experiences.

In Ethan’s presentation, he demonstrates building a CCAF activity with Articulate Storyline.  In a nutshell, the CCAF learning experience is the experience of “doing”.  Rather than reading or viewing content, the learner experiences first-hand the application of principles, concepts, strategies, and problem-solving in completing a task and succeeding at a challenge.

In Ethan’s demo, his task is to detect a refrigerant leak.  The learner is shown refrigeration equipment and given a leak detector.  The learner doesn’t at first read a pdf or watch a video but performs an action.  In CCAF activities, text and videos might come in the form of feedback to a learner’s action.

Some of the CCAF learning experiences that I designed include running a multiple hearth wastewater incinerator, troubleshooting a cable network, supporting the adoption of a special needs child, designing an online class, assessing risk of recidivism, and, most recently, searching for documents in a document management system.  In all cases, most of the learning came from being immersed in a ‘real world’ setting’, presented with a challenge, and getting feedback because of learner actions. 

Ethan’s presentation piqued my curiosity and a bit of self-reflection.  He lists things that are essential in an authoring tool to enable the design of a CCAF learning experience.  As a toolmaker, I explored each of the items on his list and I applied them to a small project built with our own LodeStar eLearning authoring tool. 

As we explore each item on Ethan’s list, I’ll illustrate with LodeStar.  If you follow along, you’ll see the development of a simple CCAF application.  You’ll learn about the components of CCAF.  And you’ll also learn a little about LodeStar and its capabilities.

But first an important caveat. CCAF comes in all forms, shapes and sizes. Ethan’s example and my example happen to be very simple simulations. The principles of CCAF are not limited to simulations. They can be applied to anything that requires action on the part of the learner — which includes making a decision, crafting a plan, analyzing and solving a problem — a host of things.

This is but one example of CCAF to illustrate its principles and test whether or not our authoring tool is up to the challenge.

Introduction to the Demo Application

The objective of the application is for learners to test an electrical outlet and determine which wires are hot or ‘energized’.  In completing this task, the learner must turn on an electrical multimeter and connect its probes to the various wires in an electrical outlet.  A multimeter is a measuring instrument that typically measures voltage, resistance, and current.  Once someone has learned the difference between these things, the practical skill is in choosing the right setting for the task and safely using the meter to complete the task. 

So that’s the challenge:  find the hot wire with a multimeter.  The context is a simple residential electrical outlet. 

Typical eLearning applications would use text, graphics and video to illustrate the use of the multimeter and explain underlying concepts.  CCAF applications challenge learners to complete the task in a manner that is an educational approximation of the ‘real thing’.  Text, graphics and video can offer explanations but not in lieu of the real-world task and often as a form of feedback. 

A LodeStar Application: Testing an Electrical Circuit

Basic Capabilities

But let’s start with an overview of the basic requirements.  To paraphrase Ethan, an authoring tool must have these capabilities:

  • Complete visual freedom
  • Variables
  • Alternative branching
  • Conditional logic
  • Action/response structures

I’ll elaborate on each of these requirements in my demonstration. 

Complete Visual Freedom

LodeStar combines HTML flow layout and SVG layout.  Images imported into the HTML editor are placed in the HTML flow and are laid out according to the rules of HTML.  Images can also be taken out of the flow and applied with a CSS rule so that text flows around the image.

In addition, LodeStar authors can use the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) canvas to layout out graphics freely in any position on the x and y axis. 

LodeStar’s SVG Canvas

In other words, the graphical elements on the SVG canvas are laid out freely.  The SVG canvas itself is just another HTML element.  Depicted below is a flow of HTML elements like text, images, divs, tables, etc.  The SVG canvas is in the ‘flow’ right along with them. Inside the canvas, graphical elements can be positioned anywhere, but the canvas itself follows the HTML document flow. shrinking and expanding as needed.

The visual freedom is that LodeStar combines the benefits of a responsive HTML flow with the precise positioning of an SVG canvas.

HTML elements are laid out on the page in a flow. If the page width narrows, the element isn’t by default clipped. It’s just bumped to the next line. The SVG canvas flows right along with the other elements. Its contents, however, are positioned with local XY coordinates.

I started with a multimeter image that I took from Pexels.com, a repository of free stock photos.  I used Photoshop to cut out the dial and imported it in the SVG canvas as a separate image.  I did this because I wanted the learner to be able to rotate the switch to place the multimeter in the right mode.  I also imported the image of an electrical box so that I could draw wires overtop.

Variables

 As I wrote in the Humble Variable (The Humble Variable | LodeStar Web Journal (wordpress.com)), variables are critical to some eLearning designs.  In this example, I need to store the position of the multimeter switch.  That’s what variables do.  They are storage places in the computer memory.  As the learner clicks on the switch, the dial rotates.  As an author, I must store the value of that rotation.  If the value of the rotation is 40 degrees, the code judges the switch to be in the right position.

To enter the code that uses the variable, I right-click on the switch and select, ‘Select Branch Options’.  Branch Options are basically things that happen as a result of displaying a page or clicking on a button or choosing a multiple-choice option or doing one of many things.

Branch Options can be as simple as turning a page or as complex as executing a whole list of instructions. The following is a basic example of the latter:

The Multimeter code

var rotation = getValue(“dialRotation”);

rotation+= 10;

setValue(“dialRotation”, rotation);

changeRotation(“dial”,rotation ,13,27);

if(rotation % 360 == 40){

changeOpacity(“display”, 1);

appendValue(“actions”, “Turned on multimeter. <br>”);

}

else{

changeOpacity(“display”, 0);

}

This code looks complicated to a non-programmer.  But it is not.  It just takes practice to write.  It’s on the same difficulty level as an Excel formula.

Here is the same code but with an explanation (in italics) underneath:

var rotation = getValue(“dialRotation”);

get the value of dialRotation from long-term memory and assign it to a local or temporary variable named ‘rotation’

rotation+= 10;

add 10 degrees to value of rotation.  In other words, rotation = the old value of rotation plus 10.

setValue(“dialRotation”, rotation);

store the new value in long-term memory in a location called ‘dialRotation’

changeRotation(“dial”,rotation ,13,27);

change the property of a graphic with the ID of ‘dial’.  All LodeStar graphics can be assigned an ‘ID’.

More specifically, change the rotation property by 10 degrees (the value of rotation).  Pivot the rotation at the precise point that equals 13% of the width of the SVG canvas and 27% of the height of the canvas.  That point is the center of the dial in its current position on the canvas.  If the dial were in the dead center of the canvas we would use 50, 50.

if(rotation % 360 == 40){

This line can be simplified to if(rotation == 40)   I used the modulo operator (that is, ‘%’) in case the learner kept rotating the dial around and around.  If rotation = 400, then 400 % 360 would equal 40.  360 divides into 400 once with a remainder of 40.  So, if rotation is equal to 40, then do the following:

changeOpacity(“display”, 1);


change the opacity of a graphic with the id of ‘display’  This is the text box used to show the voltage.

appendValue(“actions”, “Turned on multimeter. <br>”);

store the learner’s actions in long-term memory in a place called ‘actions’

}

else{

changeOpacity(“display”, 0);

if the rotation of the dial does not equal 40, then shut off the display by changing its opacity to 0.

}

The Probe Code

I won’t explain the probe code in as much detail.  Basically, when you drag the red or black probe, then the following code is executed.  It essentially checks whether or not the probes are in the right spot.  If they are, the multimeter display shows 110 volts.

var  condition1 = isOverlap(“RedProbeTip”, “BlackWireBTarget”);

var  condition2 = isOverlap(“BlackProbeTip”, “box”);

if(condition1 == true && condition2 == true){

  changeText(“display”, “110.0”);

appendValue(“actions”, “Moved red probe to correct position. Black probe in correct position.<br>”);

}

else if(condition1 == true){

changeText(“display”, “0”);

appendValue(“actions”, “Moved red probe to correct position.<br>”);

}

else{

changeText(“display”, “0”);

appendValue(“actions”, “Moved red  probe to incorrect position.<br>”);

}

These are the drag branch options that are tied to an object with a specific ID. 

Red probe in place; black probe is not. Therefore the meter shows ‘0’.
Red probe in place. Black probe in place. Meter shows 110 volts.

Alternative branching

Once the learner has tested the wires with the probes, with one probe connected to the wire and the other grounded, then the learner must select A, B, C, or D.  Here’s where alternative branching comes in.  Learners who select the right answer might go on to a more difficult scenario.  The above scenario is as easy as it gets.  Perhaps they must do a continuity test to detect where there is a break in the circuit.  Learners who select the wrong answer can be branched to a simple circuit or given an explanation that one black wire is coming directly from the power source, and the second black wire is passing on that power to the next outlet or switch.

CCAF applications accommodate the differences in learners.  The application can alter the sequence of experiences based on learner performance.  This is a profoundly different thing than typical eLearning applications where every learner reads the same text, watches the same videos, and completes the same quiz.

Conditional Logic

Ethan also lists conditional logic as a basic requirement of CCAF applications.  Conditional logic comes in the form of if-else statements as evidenced by the code.  Conditional logic also comes in the form of alternative branching.  Select the wrong answer and then get help.  In LodeStar, conditional logic is supported by not only its language and branch options but also by logic gates. 

In the display below, we see what happens when the learner reaches a gate.  (Incidentally, learners don’t actually see a gate.  When they page forward, the application checks the gate’s logic and then branches them according to some condition.  In this example, the author might configure the Gate with a pass threshold.  Let’s say 80%.  If the learner meets or exceeds a score of 80%, they are branched to the ‘Results’ page’.  If not, they may be routed to Circuit Basics. Follow the dotted lines.

Branches at the ‘page’ level are visualized in the Branch View.

Action/response structures

In our example, the learner moves the probes around.  If the multimeter is turned on, the learner sees a voltage display.  The action is moving the probe. The response is a voltage display. 

First, this a ‘real world’ action and ‘real world’ response.  I write ‘real-world’ in contrast to what happens in a typical multiple-choice question.  In a multiple-choice question, the learner clicks on a radio button and possibly sees a checkmark.  That’s only ‘real-world’ to an educational institution.  The world doesn’t present itself as set of multiple-choice questions. 

Second, when the learner sees a voltage display, that is feedback in the CCAF sense of the word.  The learner does something and then gets feedback.   Now, in our example, we did choose to combine ‘real-world’ feedback with a multiple-choice question.  Ultimately, the learner is asked to choose the letter next to the ‘hot’ wire.  In our example, we logged the learner’s actions and can unravel how they arrived at their final decision.  Did they connect the red probe to the right wire and did they ground the black probe?  If they selected the right answer but didn’t perform the correct actions that would lead to the right answer, we know they haven’t learned anything at all.

Conclusion

Authoring tools that enable one to create CCAF must have these capabilities: complete visual freedom, variable support, alternative branching, conditional logic, and action/response structures.

The hot wire example is an example of a very simple simulation.  But, as I wrote, the concept of CCAF isn’t restricted to this type of simulation.  CCAF can be found in decision making scenarios, for example. The learner might be placed in a situation and challenged to make the right decision or say the right thing.  That too is CCAF.  CCAF lies at the heart of effective learning experiences.

eLearning Strategies to Support Memory Recall

Introduction

At the university where I worked for eight years, occasionally I observed non-traditional students in class well into the evening, struggling to stay alert, struggling to soak it in, trying to make something better for themselves. Several years earlier, I watched a new employee at a software company resign in utter defeat. Nothing he had studied before in terms of software language, database, and mathematics prepared him for a new domain of knowledge.  It was all foreign, and it was disheartening, and it was delivered in a manner that was all too much.

Late evening classes or eight-hour training days push more and more information at the learners, until they literally break down, quit, or somehow miraculously hang on to fight another day.

The tremendous tax on learners is not unusual in either the corporate or the academic environment.  Both schools and companies place a heavy demand on the learner’s ability to remember things. 

The constraints of human memory!  Our lack of understanding of memory would be almost humorous if it weren’t for the wasted effort of students and employees alike.  In this vacuum of understanding, myths and falsehoods and deceptive practices have filled in.   Fortunately we have people like Will Thalheimer (The Debunker Club : Debunking Resources – The Debunker Club) and the authors of The Urban Myths of Learning and Education to help set us straight.

The Forgetting Curve

What we do know, and what research supports, is that we are wired to forget.  Many of us cite Herman Ebbinghaus’ ‘Forgetting Curve’.  The forgetting curve is real and, in some cases, very steep depending on a number of factors, but as Dr. Thalheimer points out, you just can’t put a number on it.  You can’t say with any certainty, for example, that learners will forget 70% of what they have learned within a day. 

Let’s consider the forgetting curve just for a moment, and then we’ll turn to eLearning.

The forgetting curve was the outcome of research done in the late 1800s by Herman Ebbinghaus.  He scientifically observed his own recall of nonsense syllables.  He made up lists of three-letter nonsense words and committed them to memory.  Once he successfully memorized 100% of a list, he attempted to recall the list.  The forgetting curve shows that he forgot 42% of the words within 20 minutes.  After a day he retained only 33% of this list of nonsense.

Hermann Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve

We know that people forget, perhaps at disheartening rates, but the rate of forgetfulness is based on dozens of factors.  Are these new employees who are being introduced to something new to them, or are they seasoned employees?  Do they have any prior knowledge that will help them organize new information?  Are they paying attention or are they distracted?  Are they motivated to learn – intrinsically or with an external reward?  Is there a threat if they don’t learn?  Is there too much of a threat that inhibits their learning?  Are they just trying to earn CPE credit?  Are they taught how to recall the information in the right place at the right time for the right reason?  Is the material difficult?  Are they asked to recall the information? How many times?

Try placing those variables in a formula.  It’s impossible. 

We know that the forgetting curve is real.  It has been replicated recently (Replication and Analysis of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve (nih.gov)) and it will accurately mirror our students’ or employees’ rate of forgetfulness if we do not:

  • Help learners recall prior knowledge
  • Help learners organize new knowledge
  • Provide storage and retrieval cues that will help them use the information in the right context
  • Practice retrieval of the new knowledge
  • Space the retrieval over time.
  • Integrate the new knowledge with other knowledge
  • Apply the new knowledge before forgetting

This is where eLearning plays a role. Oftentimes, trainers are busy workers or busy teachers who can’t address deficits in prior knowledge, for example, or even assess prior knowledge, or fit spaced practice or simulated application into their training.

That is where I think eLearning can shine. 

I know, I know.  I’m an eLearning developer and an eLearning authoring toolmaker.  But there are reasons why I chose this field.  This is one of them.

The design of eLearning experiences can help improve the training experience, even if the latter is traditional face-to-face teaching.  As I’ve observed, many people dread eLearning because of the page-turner drudgery they’ve been subjected to.  Medical workers, lawyers, and accountants, and anyone with continuing education demands, have had too many bad self-study experiences.   In my current company, group-live (face-to-face) instruction is preferred over eLearning. That doesn’t, however, eliminate the option of eLearning. As a pre-training preparation or a post-training reinforcement and application, eLearning can still play a role.

Against this backdrop, here are some strategies or designs that can help:

Plan the training or academic curriculum to include pre-training activities and post-training reinforcements.  Make room for recalling prior knowledge in the training or lesson plans of future courses.

Flip the training.  That means, use eLearning (or self-studies) to present the content and use face-to-face training time to observe student performance and provide feedback. Data from 317 studies shows that flipped classroom interventions produced positive gains across all three learning domains (To Flip or Not to Flip? A Meta-Analysis of the Efficacy of Flipped Learning in Higher Education – Carrie A. Bredow, Patricia V. Roehling, Alexandra J. Knorp, Andrea M. Sweet, 2021 (sagepub.com))

Pre-training

Let the post-training assessments for the last course or training session be the pre-training assignments for the new thing — not as assessments, but as highly scaffolded activities with prompts and hints and feedback and textbook references and video helps and whatever.  The point is to help recall and to prepare learners for what lies ahead. 

Design activities that help learners recall vocabulary, basic concepts, laws, principles and procedures.  Activities can help prompt that recall and reduce the cognitive load of the new stuff.  If an accounting teacher makes references to cash or accrual accounting, do you want students struggling to recall the terms or do you want them paying attention to the new information?  It’s hard for them to do both.

Use flashcards, crosswords, matching, categorization, and other activities.  They’re not as sophisticated as things I’ve discussed in past posts, but they can play a useful role in helping recall.

Embed a video or a short Powtoon presentation.

Use quizzes with circular queues (missed questions get repeated) or variable interval queues (missed questions get repeated at spaced intervals).

Make it fun.  Gamify it.

Post-training

All of the pre-training suggestions apply to post-training as well.  But you can do even more.


Interactive Storyboards

This strategy walks the learner through the presented content in a storyboard fashion.  In the interactive storyboard, however, the learner must fill in the missing pieces. Recently our HR department presented on employee feedback and the different roles that in-charges, supervisors and talent advisors play in giving feedback to accountants and auditors.  She talked about a process that included feedback in review notes, one-on-one meetings with supervisors, and regular meetings with talent advisors.  The post-training activity can follow along in the life of an accountant but leave blanks for the learner to fill or questions for the learner to answer. It causes the learner to retrieve important elements of the presentation and become an active participant in reconstructing the information. When the learner gets it wrong, that’s an opportunity for feedback!

An interactive Storyboard, created with the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool

An added benefit to the activity is that we can see how learners experienced the post-training activity through the xAPI statements that the (CMI5-conformant) activity generated.  In the following screenshot from the Learner Record Store, we can see that this employee missed the point that there is a connection between one-on-one meetings and talent development meetings.  We also see that this employee did hit the results page with a decent score the first time around.  The employee satisfied the requirements of the assignable unit (AU) and completed the course. That tells us a lot.  If we were to analyze all of the items that employees missed, we could either improve the presentation or improve the questions.

xAPI statements, generated by an activity authored in LodeStar

Embedded Discussions

Higher education instructors often invite students to discuss topics online after a presentation.  There is a reason for this. At the most elemental level, it forces recall of the presentation. At a higher level, it generates new knowledge as students hear differing perspectives.

In my time in higher ed, I’ve seen this done well and I’ve seen it done poorly.  My poster child for doing it right was a marketing instructor who simulated product advertising pitches in a discussion forum.  My hunch is that online discussion in corporate training environments is rarer.  To my point, our corporate Learning Management System (LMS) doesn’t even offer a discussion board. 

The following screenshot depicts an activity prototype with an embedded discussion board.  For this prototype, we used Tribe from Tribe | A Customizable Community Platform.   Tribe allows you to create and embed your discussion board.   (I’m not necessarily endorsing Tribe.) The strategy is to refresh employees on the fundamental principles of giving and receiving feedback and then ask them to discuss what works for them.

The key idea is to immerse learners in the content with enough information to prompt their recall of the training.  Then we invite them to share their insights or strategies with others.  They don’t need to leave the activity and log in to another service.  They can share their thoughts right there and then. 

This is an important idea in a general strategy that we’ve been working out called 3Di.  That means delivery of interactive content, discussion, and then decision.  Students apply what they have both learned and discussed to make a decision. 

A discussion forum embedded in an eLearning activity

Staged Journals

We first developed this strategy for a literature teacher.  She taught students how to be analytical of fairy tales.  She instructed them on the Propp analysis based on the work of Vladimir Propp.  In the staged journal technique, students would be presented with one step or stage of the analysis.  They would complete the step and go on to the next.  In the end, they had a journal that was compiled of all the steps.

The screenshot below depicts an employee who types in his greatest difficulty when asked to give a subordinate corrective feedback.  The learner brainstorms difficulties, and then brainstorms remedies. 

Here is an excerpt from a journal that compiles it all together in a feedback summary.

A compiled journal

Conclusion

Face-to-face instruction may have its supporters, but even this delivery type should include pre-training and post-training eLearning activities.  We know from research and from our own surveys that students and employees forget too much of what we teach.  The amount and rate of forgetfulness may not precisely follow Ebbinghaus’ curve but unless we address forgetfulness, students won’t achieve the desired outcomes of the training. 

More in-depth activities might include decision-making scenarios and simulations.  I’ve written about those in past articles but, in this post, I have featured activities that can be quickly and easily generated.  All three activities represent strategies that can help in the reflection and recall of training.   

CMI5: A Call to Action

Introduction

Since 2000 a lot has changed. Think airport security, smart phones, digital television, and social media. In 2000, the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative gathered a set of eLearning specifications and organized them under the name of SCORM. In 2021, in a time of tremendous technological change, SCORM still remains the standard for how we describe, package, and report on eLearning.

However, finally, we are on the eve of adopting something new and something better: CMI5.

We no longer have landlines, but we still have SCORM

CMI5 Examples

To many, CMI5 is another meaningless acronym. To understand the power and benefit of CMI5, consider these very simple examples:


A Learning and Development specialist creates a learning activity that offers managers several samples of readings and videos from leadership experts. The activity allows the managers the freedom to pick and choose what they read or view; however, the specialist wants to know what they choose to read or watch as well as how they fare on a culminating assessment.

CMI5 enables the activity to capture both the learner experience (for example, the learner read an excerpt from Brené Brown’s Daring to Lead ) and the test score. CMI5 can generate a statement on virtually any kind of learner experience as well as the traditional data elements such as score, time on task, quiz questions and student answers. In this sense, CMI5 supports both openness and structure.

Let’s consider another example:

An instructor authors a learning activity that virtually guides students to places in Canada to observe the effects of climate change. She wants students to answer questions, post reflections and observe the effects of climate change on glaciers, Arctic ice, sea levels and permafrost. She sets a passing threshold for each activity. Once students have completed all of the units, then the learning management system registers that the course was mastered.

Let’s go further:

The instructor wants the learning activity to reside in a learning object repository or website outside of the learning management system – but still report to the learning management system. In fact, she wishes that no content reside on the learning management system. Regardless of where the content resides, she wants to know what sites students visited, how they scored on short quizzes, and how students reacted to the severe impact of climate change on Canada.

For students with disabilities, the instructor makes an accommodation and requests that the LMS administrator adjust the mastery score without editing the activity.

As the course becomes more and more popular, she anticipates placing the website and its activity onto CloudFlare or some content distribution network so that students all around the world can gain faster access to the learning activities.

The instructor works as adjunct for multiple universities and wants each of their learning management systems to get the content from a single location. In some cases, she wants the content locked for anyone who circumvents the Learning Management System and in other cases she openly lists the unlocked content with OER libraries like Merlot and OER Commons.


Before CMI5 much of this was difficult to achieve, if not impossible. So, let’s review what CMI5 offers us.


CMI5 captures scores in the traditional sense. But it also records data on learning experiences such as students virtually observing the change in the permafrost. CMI5 allows instructors and trainers to set the move-on criteria for each unit in a course (i.e. passing score before student moving on to the next unit).

CMI5 activities can reside anywhere – on one’s own website, for example, and still report to the learning management system. CMI5 enables an LMS administrator to change the mastery score from the LMS for the benefit of students who need accommodations and essentially trump what is set in the unit.

LodeStar’s CMI5 Implementation allows
authors to indicate where the content resides


CMI5 is a game changer. And yet for many – learning and development leaders, instructional designers, technologists and students – it doesn’t seem that way in 2021. CMI5 seems like a non-event. It feels like something we all talked about – a welcome change of weather on the horizon –and then nothing. Not a drop of rain.


We have been talking about and anticipating CMI5 for a long time – and yet, major learning management systems both in the corporate and academic worlds still don’t support it. CMI5 was envisioned in 2010, released to developers in 2015, and then released to the public in its first edition in 2016. We are now in the waning days of 2021—with limited adoption.


But that is likely to change.


For one, Rustici Software and ADL delivered on their promise of Catapult. Catapult is likely to accelerate adoption of CMI5. It provides many benefits to developers, including the ability to test if a CMI5 package conforms to the standard.

In my view, the learning technology architects have done their part. They brought us a meaningful set of specifications. They brought us the tools to test learning packages and to test the learning management system’s implementation of CMI5. Now’s it’s up to learning and development specialists and the instructional design community to cheer CMI5 on. It is my belief that once the community understands CMI5, spreads the word, and imposes its collective will on the LMS providers, CMI5 will become an important part of our tool bag. I urge you to share this article and others like it.


In the meantime, let’s take a deeper dive into CMI5’s potential.


Benefit One: Freedom to capture and report on any learner experience.


With CMI you can report on scores, completion status, and just about anything else. You can report on standard assessment results, and the not-so-standard learning experiences.


To understand this, we need to re-look at SCORM.


One should consider CMI5 as a replacement for SCORM – an improved specification. Conforming to SCORM was useful because a learning object or learning activity could be imported into just about any modern learning management system. As an instructor, if you created a game, quiz, presentation, simulation, whatever and exported it as a SCORM package, your activity could be imported into Moodle, BrightSpace, Canvas, Cornerstone, Blackboard, and any learning management system that supported SCORM. So, the benefit of SCORM was that it was a set of standards that most LMS systems understood. The standards that fell under the SCORM umbrella included metadata, a reporting data model, and standard methods for initializing an activity, reporting scores, reporting on interactions, and reporting passing or failing and completion status.

The data model included dozens of elements. One example of a data element is cmi.core.score.min. Related to score, SCORM conformant activities reported on the minimum score, the maximum score, the raw score (absolute number) and the scaled score ( a percentage between 0 and 1).


SCORM supported a lot of different data elements. A SCORM conformant activity could report on a variety of things. The limitation of SCORM, however, was that, despite the large number of elements, it was still a finite list. Take a Geolocation Storytelling activity as an example or an eBook reading. If I wanted to capture and report that the student virtually or physically visited location A, then B, and then C, I would have to work around the limitations of SCORM. I could not generate a statement such as, for example, ‘Student visited the Amphitheater in Arles’. If I wanted to capture a student’s progress through an eBook, SCORM would be problematic.


At this point, you might be protesting, but xAPI does that! xAPI? Another acronym! Yes. xAPI, or The Experience API is a new specification that makes it possible to report on a limitless range of things that a learner has experienced: such as, completed a chapter of an eBook; watched a video; toured a museum, and on and on. So, if we have this thing called xAPI, why CMI5?


The benefit of xAPI is that it supports the reporting of anything. The downside to xAPI is that, by itself, it doesn’t have a vocabulary that the LMS understands such as launched, initialized, scored, passed, completed. That is what CMI5 offers. CMI5 is, in fact, an xAPI profile that includes a vocabulary that the LMS understands. In addition, CMI5 can report on any type of learner experience. Here is the definition of CMI5 from the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative:


cmi5 is a profile for using the xAPI specification with traditional learning management (LMS) systems

(Advanced Distributed Learning).


With CMI5, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can report on learner activity in a way that LMS understands and you can report on just about anything else that the Learning Management System stores in a Learner Record Store. The Learner Record Store or LRS is a database populated by statements about what the learner experienced.

xAPI Statements can capture an
any learner experience, including reading the instructions


Benefit Two: Freedom to put the learning activity anywhere


With CMI5, you can place a learning activity in a repository, in GitHub, on a web server, in a Site44 drop box site, in SharePoint, in a distributed network, wherever….without restricting its ability to connect with a learning management system. CMI5 content does not need to be imported. A CMI5 package can contain as little as one XML file, which among other things, tells the LMS where to find the content.


To appreciate this, we need to look back at SCORM once more (as if it were ancient history).


I’ll start with a pseudo technical explanation and then follow with why it matters.
The way SCORM works is that the learning activity sits in a window. The learning activity uses a simple looping algorithm to find the Learning Management System’s SCORM Adapter. It checks its parent window for a special object. If the window’s parent doesn’t contain the object, the activity looks to the parent’s parent, and so on. In other words, somewhere in that chain of parents, there must be that special object. Typically, the SCORM activity can only communicate to the learning management system if it is a child window of that system or if some server-side technology is used.

CMI5 works quite differently. CMI5 gives us freedom to leave our parents’ home. Whereas SCORM uses a Javascript Application Programmer Interface to communicate, CMI5 uses xAPI to reach across the internet and call a web service’s methods. Loosely, it’s like the difference between a landline and a cellular phone service. To use the landline you must be in the house; to use a cell phone, you must be in the network.

Benefit Three: A simplified sequencing model.

SCORM supported simple sequencing, which many say is not so simple. CMI5’s ‘move on’ property, in contrast, is very easy. A CMI course can contain one or more Assignable Units (AUs). The instructor spells out what the learner must achieve in an assignable unit before being able to move on. The move on property has one of the following values:


• Passed
• Completed
• Completed Or Passed
• Completed And Passed
• Not Applicable


Once the student has ‘moved on’ through all of the assignable units, the LMS notes that the course has been satisfied by that student.


Benefit Four: An assignable unit passing score can be overridden


In SCORM, the mastery score is hard-coded in the activity. In a SCORM activity, the instructor can base completion status on a passing score. But what if that hard-coded score were inappropriate for a group of students, for whatever reason? The specification enables an LMS to pass the mastery score to the Assignable Unit upon launch. So the LMS launches the AU, and sends it student name and mastery score (among other things). By specification, the AU cannot ignore the mastery score but must use it to trump what is hard-coded in the unit or refuse to run.


Benefit Five: Theoretically, CMI5 isn’t hamstrung by pop-up blockers.

When an LMS launches a SCORM activity, it either embeds the activity in an Iframe or launches a window. Both scenarios are problematic. The content may not be well suited for an iFrame and a pop-up blocker can obstruct the launched window.


Theoretically, CMI5 AU can replace the LMS with its own content. It’s not in an embedded iFrame and it’s not a pop-up window. When the LMS launches the AU, along with student name and mastery score, the LMS sends the AU a return URL. When ended, the AU returns the student to that return URL, which is the address of the LMS.


I write “theoretical” because the LMS should not but may ignore this requirement.

Benefit Six: CMI5 activities securely communicate to the Learner Record Store


As I wrote, the activity can send information about learner experiences clear across the internet to the learner record store. But how does the AU have the authorization to do this from, let’s say, a web site? And how does it happen securely?


This is the marvel of 2021 technology versus 2000 technology. Before 2000, we had difficult-to-use protocols for passing information securely across the internet. Oftentimes, special rules needed to be added to internet routers. Then along came a simpler protocol that the first version of CMI5 used (SOAP). Then came an even better way (OAUTH and REST). After launch, the LMS hands the AU a security token (kind of like a key that dissolves in time). The AU uses that key to gain access and to post information to the Learner Record Store.

Conclusion

CMI5 returns power to the instructor and to the L&D specialist. CMI5 allows one to choose where the content resides and to choose what the content reports. CMI5 captures learner experiences more completely and yet it communicates with Learning Management Systems with a vocabulary that LMSs understand. CMI5 supports accommodations for a special group of students without needing to change the code of the Assignable Unit. Finally, CMI5 uses current technology to send data over the internet.

The implications of this emerging specification are tremendous. It is better suited to mobile learning and it is better suited to the learner experience platforms that are emerging (e.g. LinkedIn Learning’s Learning Hub). Soon instructors may be able to organize content from a variety of providers (like LinkedIn Learning, Khan Academy, or OER Commons) but retain the learning management system as an organizer of content, data collector, and credentialing agent. Now instructors, average instructors, may be able participate in that content market from their own GitHub repositories and web sites.

But many LMSs have yet to adopt CMI5. The architects have done their part. Now it’s on us to understand this technology and advocate for it. Start by sharing this article. Thank you.

Appendix A — How it Works (A simplified flow)

For those interested in a deeper dive, let’s walk through the CMI5 process flow step-by-step. (See diagram)

To begin, the author (instructor, L&D specialist) exports content as a CMI5 package. The package can be a simple file that instructs the LMS where to find the content or it can include the content itself.

(1) When a student needs the content, the Learning Management System (LMS) launches the content and sends the Assignable Unit (a course can contain one or more Assignable Units) (2) information that includes student name, a fetch URL and the activity ID.

(3) The Assignable Unit (AU) uses the fetch URL to retrieve a security token. The security token enables the AU to communicate securely to the Learner Record Store (LRS).

(4) As the student interacts with the content, the AU can optionally send Experience API (xAPI) statements to the LRS . (5) At some point, the AU reports that the student passed and/or completed the unit.

(6) The LMS uses the ‘move-on’ information to determine whether or not the student can move on to the next assignable unit. The move-on options are passed, completed, passed and completed, passed or completed, or not applicable.

Finally, when all of the assignable units within a course are completed, the course is marked as satisfied for the specific learner.

A simplified process flow that starts with the
launch of the CMI5 Assignable Unit by the LMS

Short Sims

Introduction

Some of us aren’t content with simply presenting information in a linear fashion in an online course.  We have dozens of words to express what we wish to achieve: interactive, game-like, thought-provoking, challenging, problem-based….   We are also hard-pressed to find the time or the budget or the design that will fulfill our highest aspirations for eLearning. 

It’s easy to get discouraged – but occasionally we’re offered a strategy that works within our budget and time constraints.  One such strategy is the basis of  Clark Aldrich’s recent book, “Short Sims” (Aldrich, C. (2020). Short sims: A game changer. Boca Raton: CRC Press.)  

In his book, Clark Aldrich discusses the methodology of the short simulation.  He begins by lauding the virtues of interactivity.  Interactivity allows learners to experiment, customize their experience, role-play, make decisions and apply skills. He writes that game-like interactivity is expensive to build.  We all recognize that.  Short Sims, on the other hand, can be built in the “same time frame as linear content”.  Short Sims engage students in making decisions, doing things, meeting challenges, solving problems, learning from mistakes and so forth.  Essentially Short Sims offer us a strategy – a methodology – to do things differently and more effectively.

The hook comes from this excerpt: 

“From a pedagogical perspective, the more interactivity the better.  Connecting user action with feedback has long been proven to be critical for most neuron connections”. 

Aldrich, 2020

Aldrich credits the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology for that insight.  But again, in Aldrich’s words, “game-like interactivity is expensive to build.  It is time-consuming.”  Aldrich offers a new Short Sim methodology as an antidote to linear-style presentation the death-by-PowerPoint approach.

Short Sims

                Show, not tell

                Engage learners quickly and are re-playable

                Are quick to build and easy to update

Short Sims square with the Context-Challenge-Activity-Feedback model that we’ve heard so much about from Dr. Michael Allen, Ethan Edwards and the designers at Allen Interactions.  They are a solution to M. David Merrill’s lament that so much learning material is shovelware.  ShortSims are not shovelware.  They are a cost-effective means of engaging students.

Quite frankly, the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool was made for the Short Sim.  Instructors have used LodeStar for years to produce Short Sims but never used that term.  We called them Simple Sims, which sometimes included decision-making scenarios, interactive case studies, problem-based learning and levelled challenges.  We solved the same problem.  We made it easy for instructors to create Short Sims quickly. 

Our design methodology has a lot in common with Aldrich’s methodology as described in his book.   The following ten points outline our approach to creating a simple decision-making scenario, which, in our view, is one form of Simple Sim.  To avoid mischaracterizing Aldrich’s methodology, I’ll use our own terms in this outline.

  1. Select Challenge
  2. Pick Context
  3. Determine the Happy Path
  4. Determine Distractors
  5. Pick a setting – background graphic
  6. Choose a character set
  7. Produce the Happy Path
  8. Add the Distractors
  9. Add Branches
  10. Add Randomness                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Select Challenge

Selecting the right problem and the right scope is, in itself, a challenge for the instructor or trainer.  Straightforward processes that present clear consequences for each decision are easy to simulate.   Processes like strategic planning that are influenced by dozens of variables are much more difficult.   The Short Sim methodology itself would be good candidate for a Short Sim.  Another example would be the backwards design method of instructional design.  In my early days at Metro State, a decade ago, we discussed the backwards design approach with instructors.   We then used a Short Sim to rehearse instructors on the key questions to ask during each phase of the backwards design process.  We based a lot of our thinking on Dee Fink’s “Creating Significant Learning Experiences” and  Grant Wiggins’ “Understanding By Design”.  Our objective was to help instructors design with the end in mind.  In Backwards Design, outcomes and assessments come before the development of activities.   The Short Sim did the trick.  Planning instruction is complicated business.  A simple and short simulation is not, in itself, transformative.  But we just wanted assurance that instructors understood the basic principles of backward design by the decisions they made.

Pick Context

In the Backwards Design example, a dean asks an instructor to design an online class to help K12 teachers use educational technology in their classrooms.  So, in this context, the learner is playing the role of online course designer.  The learner is challenged to make the right decisions at the right time.  If the learner holds off on designing activities until completing an analysis, defining outcomes and creating assessments, then the learner succeeds in the challenge.

Determine the Happy Path

The happy path is all the right decisions in the right order.  Situational Analysis -> Learner Outcomes -> Assessments -> Activities -> Transfer.  It is all of the right answers with no distractors.  It’s like creating a multiple choice test with only one option: the correct answer.

Determine Distractors

Now come the distractors.  What are the common pitfalls to Backward Design?  What might tempt the learner to go astray.  If we were designing a Short Sim on the Short Sim methodology, the pits and snares might be what Aldrich calls the Time Sucks:  choosing the wrong authoring tool, too many decision-makers on the project, custom art, and so on.  The learner might be tempted with “the medium is the message.  Invest in the medium.  Commission a graphic artist to create a compelling interface.”  The point of Short Sims is to not invest heavily in artwork or graphic design.  The focus is more on describing the context, presenting choices to the learner, and showing the consequence of learner choices.

Pick a Setting

A background photo helps to set the context.  Images that display settings without people can be found on sites like Pexels, Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain section of stock image services and, of course, on stock image sites. Because one image often suffices in a short sim, authors can snap their own photos and not waste too much time.

Alternatively, vector artwork can serve as an effective background.  Vector art can be found and  downloaded from such sites as https://publicdomainvectors.org/.    (LodeStar Learning doesn’t endorse any of these sites – but we have used them all.)

In either case, if the scene is relevant to the learning context and not just a vain attempt to gamify, it might actually contribute to content retention and recall. 

Choose a character set

A popular approach to Short Sims is the use of cutout characters with different poses and expressions.  Cutout characters can be photo-realistic images with transparent backgrounds or illustrations.  To see examples, please google ‘elearning interactive case studies’, select ‘images’ and you’ll see thousands of examples.  Despite their popularity, finding cutout characters cheaply can be frustrating.  Several authoring tools offer a built-in catalog of characters.  These tools tend to be expensive.  Many stock photo sites offer character packs but usually one must subscribe to these sites for a monthly charge.  Some sites offer pay-as-you-go services, meaning that you pay for the character pack once, without signing on to a monthly subscription.  The character pack can be as cheap as $4.  One such site is eLearning Templates for Course Developers – eLearningchips.  A complete character pack purchased from eLearningChips with more than 137 poses costs as little as $54. No subscription.  No additional fee.  (Again, we’re not endorsing eLearningChips, but we have used their service.)

Produce the Happy Path

With the LodeStar authoring tool, we had several options for producing the Happy Path.  We used the ActivityMaker template and, after the title page, added a sequence of Interview Pages.  The ActivityMaker template offers a range of page types. The Interview Page is one of them.  In an Interview Page, we dropped in a character and filled in the best choice.  We didn’t concern ourselves with the distractors (the wrong options) quite yet.  Again, we were focused on the Happy Path.

Here is the author view:

Authoring a short sim happy path

Here is what the student sees:

A short sim happy path

Add the distractors

Once we sorted out the happy path – a sequence of perfect, well-informed choices, we thought about the pits and snares—the problems and challenges.

In our course design example, a common problem is that we think too early about the content–that is, what topics should the course cover.  We anticipated those problems when designing our Short Sim.  If a learner unwittingly falls into our trap, we have the opportunity of providing feedback. It’s a teachable moment.

A short sim

An alternative to the Interview Page type is the Text Page.  In a text page, we can add images and widgets.  These give us a bit more flexibility than the Interview Page Type.  On a Text page, we can add an image (left or right aligned), then a Text Layout Widget.  Here you can see the page with image and the Text Layout widget.  The image was composed in our SVG editor. 

Authoring View

Here is what the student sees.

Student View of a LodeStar Activity

Add Branches

In one sense, a branch is a place where we get sent based on our decisions.  If this were a customer service sim and we made poor choices, the customer would appear more and more irritated and ultimately we lose his or her business.  Programmatically, the place where we get sent is a page that shows an irate customer and choices that represent a difficult situation.  The branches could lead us down a path of destruction but we may also have the opportunity of winning back the customer’s trust with a string of good decisions. 

Branching adds variety to the sim.  It gives us a customized experience or allows us safely to ‘test’ bad choices.

Branching can also be viewed as the consequence of a decision or choice.  In LodeStar, branch options include going to the next page, last page or jumping to a page.  They also include bringing up a web resource, adding an instructive overlay, setting a variable value, etc.  It could also mean the execution of a script or series of commands to make a lot of things happen simultaneously, such as setting a variable (that tracks our failings), sending us down a path, changing the image of a happy customer to an unhappy one, showing feedback, marking the choice with red, and more.

It’s probably most effective to show the learners the natural consequence of their decisions–an unhappy customer for example.  As designers, we might also need to be explicit and display feedback, or introduce a coach who provides feedback.  As Clark Aldrich writes, the sign of a good Short Sim is one that is played over and over again.  Branching helps us make the sim a different experience each time.

LodeStar Branching options

Add Randomness (optional)

Randomness might be difficult to achieve and should, therefore, be considered optional.

Randomness is more than randomizing distractors.  (Randomizing distractors happens automatically on an Interview Page.  It’s done through a simple checkbox in a Text Layout widget.)  More sophisticated randomness might include a randomly generated sum of money, or a randomly selected path or scene, or randomly generated assets that are assigned to the learner.  It might be a randomly generated length of fuse that represents the customer’s patience.   In our course design example, it might be randomly generated student characteristics that include age, gender, and subject interest.  That level of randomness is best achieved with the help of LodeStar’s scripting language and is best left to its own article.

Conclusion

Short Sims represent a level of interactivity that goes beyond the linear presentation of information.  They have the potential of promoting learner retention and application.  With the right tool (and there are plenty),  everyone can build short simulations.  One tool, LodeStar, was designed from the very start with the short simulation and the intrepid instructor in mind.  Short Sims may vary in sophistication and design but, in any form, they cause learners to think and to see the consequence of their actions.  The short sim is a strategy that is doable and repeatable within our budgets and time constraints.  Make it happen in your world!

The Explore – Validate Design Pattern

Introduction

As online instructors, we recognize that students benefit from interacting with content in a manner that truly makes them think.  And yet we find the task of creating interactive, meaningful content to be extremely challenging and time-consuming.

For some subject matter, interactive content that lets students manipulate the data and see different outcomes can be highly effective.  Marketing students can test the principles of the marketing mix by adjusting the amount invested in the quality of the product versus its advertising.  Civil engineering students might control the amount of ammonia in a wastewater treatment pond or the food to microorganism ratio.  Sociology students might explore the consequences of unequal distribution of wealth.  Health care students might explore the implementation variables of chronic care management.

To tease out the benefit of interactive content, let’s find a good example.  Suppose we pick the principles of composting.  That seems like an odd place to start, but we all understand composting at some level. How would an online instructor design an interactive lesson on composting that is effective and teaches the underlying principles?

Composting is bug farming.  Effective composting results from the right combination of carbon and nitrogen-rich material, water, and heat.  Students can learn composting by doing, but that might take weeks and without careful measurements and some guidance, they may not come to understand the underlying relationships and their effect.  They can learn from a handbook that teaches procedures,  or from a science text that teaches principles.  In either case their readings  may or may not lead to real understanding.

In contrast, in an online environment, the principles of composting can be taught through interactive models.  Students could be presented with an interactive model and challenged to generate the most compost in the shortest period of time.  In response, student might add more carbon-rich materials such as dry leaves to the compost.  Or change the moisture content.  Or change the ambient temperature.  Once students tweaked and played with the parameters, their instructor could assess their understanding – do they truly understand the relationships, the principles, the cause and effect — and then invite students to apply their knowledge to building a compost of their own.

As mentioned, students could follow the procedures of composting without understanding the underlying principles.  Students could recite textbook statements without really thinking about them. Online instructors must constantly ask the question:  how much thinking are my students actually doing in my course.  Not reading.  Not quizzing.  Not reciting.   But thinking.

When we write about time-worn concepts such as interactivity and engagement, that is what we are driving at.  Interactive engagement affords us the opportunity to get students to think.   Discussions, projects, group projects, online examinations can certainly challenge students to think, but how can we, without computer programming knowledge, facilitate interactive engagement between students and the content in a manner alluded to above and in a manner that fosters curiosity, promotes genuine interest in the content and puzzles students?

The Explore – Validate Design Pattern

The Explore – Validate Design Pattern gets students to think.  It is a form of interactive engagement that has, as one element, intense student-to-content interaction.

Interaction is a key word in online learning. Successful, effective online learning happens through students interacting with each other, their instructor and the course content.  Each type of interaction demands of the instructor special skills and intention.  With respect to student to student and student to instructor interaction, instructors can draw from their ability to foster interpersonal communications.  Good teachers know how to facilitate group discussions and engage students in Socratic dialog.  Although instructors must learn how to adapt their strategies to an online environment,  many of them have a good starting place. The third type of interaction, however, student-to-content, may arguably be the most challenging for instructors new to online learning.

Not all student-to-content interactions are equal. At the lowest level, passive eLearning involves very little interaction. Clicking buttons to page through content does not constitute interaction.  Clicking through a presentation on composting, for example, constitutes a very low level of interaction.  A higher level of student-to-content interaction might involve multimedia in the form of animations and video, drag and drop exercises and other basic forms of interaction.  A moderate level of interaction might involve scenarios, branched instruction,  personalized learning, case studies, decision making and the instructional design patterns that have been the basis of our past web journal articles.   The highest and most technical level of interaction might involve virtual reality, immersive games, simulations, augmented reality and more.

That said, the highest level of interactivity is not necessarily the best level for students. Interaction is essential insofar as it helps students achieve a cognitive goal, whether that relates to remembering, understanding, or applying. Interactions are useful only if they help students remember better, or understand a concept or a principle or apply their learning. One can’t categorically say that fully immerse interactive games are better than animated videos or drag and drop interactions. If the objective is that students will remember essential medical terms, then a fully immersive environment may hinder that accomplishment. Richard Mayer refers to extraneous processing. Extraneous processing is the attention that the learner must give to features of the learning environment that do not contribute to learning goal achievement.  If extraneous processing is too high then it impedes the student’s ability to focus on relevant information.

How it works

Considering the type of learning that students must activate is critical in determining whether or not instructors should plan on higher levels of interaction. In my second example, students are introduced to Isle Royale. Students examine data related to the wolf and moose population. They must draw inferences on how the rise and decline of one population affects the other. If this were a declarative knowledge lesson, students would simply need to recite the critical facts. How many moose were introduced to Isle Royale? How many wolves? What are the population numbers today? What were they at any given point? Students can simply recite those numbers without understanding the true nature of the interaction between the wolf and moose population on the island. The real objective of the lesson is to understand feedback loops in ecological systems. Students arrive at this understanding not by reading facts and figures, but by asking what-if questions and manipulating the inputs on a simple simulation.

Asking what-if questions is an inductive approach.  Rather than being given a description of a law, for example, or a principle or concept, students infer the needed information from a simulation or a set of examples.

The deductive approach is the opposite.  Perhaps an overly negative view is that instructors who use a deductive approach simply state a principle or concept.  All of the students’ cognitive work is in listening and, perhaps, taking good notes.

Faculty may be skeptical or wary of inductive learning. It takes considerable time to set up; it seems less efficient. Conversely, in my experience, faculty commonly engage students in deductive learning. The instructor presents on and explains a concept. Students take notes. Lectures are often characterized by the deductive learning approach.

The inductive method makes use of student inferences. Instead of explaining concepts, the instructor presents students with a model or examples that embody the concept. The student manipulates inputs and ‘infers’ what the underlying rules are.

Instructors who are critical of inductive approaches fear that students will make incorrect inferences. In my experience, inductive learning is more challenging to facilitate.  It is easier to state facts than to set up examples for students to infer facts.  Especially, given the hazard that students could infer the wrong facts.

In recognition of this, the instructional design pattern called Explore and Validate features a check-for-understanding activity. Explore and Validate is one form of interactive engagement.

An example

Explore and Validate offers an environment in which students manipulate models or examine examples, draw inferences and check their understanding in some manner in order to validate their conclusions.

For example, students may read cases in which victims express feelings toward their oppressors.   In a deductive approach, the instructor can simply define the Stockholm syndrome.   The instructor may explain that hostages afflicted with this syndrome express feelings of empathy toward their captors.  An assessment might ask students to define Stockholm syndrome.  An inductive approach might involve students with reading brief summaries of cases in which they “notice” that the victims become empathetic or sympathetic toward their oppressors.  Students can describe the syndrome, offer explanations and even label the syndrome.  The instructor would then contrast the students’ descriptions with a more formalized, clinical description.  The first part of the activity is the explore phase.  The second part is the validate phase.

In our example below, students are told about Isle Royale.  In the early 1900s moose swam to Isle Royale from Minnesota.  50 years later a pair of wolves crossed an ice bridge to the island from Canada.  In a lesson designed with the Explore-Validate instructional design pattern, an optional strategy is to ask students to think about and predict the outcome of a given scenario.  In this example, what happens when a pair of wolves are introduced to an island with a finite number of moose.  Students might conclude that the moose population would eventually be annihilated – but that is not what happened historically.  As the students contrast their original predictions with the simulation results, they may be struck by the difference between their prediction and the simulation results. As I’ve written many times before, this is cognitive dissonance – and when applied correctly may stimulate learning. When applied correctly, students will say ‘I didn’t know that“ and want to probe more.  When applied incorrectly, students will simply be overwhelmed and shut down.

The key exploration in the moose-wolf example is with a model.  The model was generated by Scott Fortmann-Roe with a tool called InsightMaker.  InsightMaker is a free simulation and modeling tool.  It is easy to use and yet powerful.  It is cloud-based and works with the LodeStar authoring tool as either embedded content or linked content.   Models created with InsightMaker can be used to promote critical thinking in students.  The model can expose input parameters as sliders.  Students can change the value of an input and see the change in the output after they click on the ‘Simulate’ button.  InsightMaker is made up stocks, variables, flows, converters and more.  Stocks are simply containers for values such as population.  Variables can hold values such as birth rate, death rate and interest rate.  Flows are rules that can perform arithmetic operations on variables and affect the value in stocks. Students can click on the flow affecting the value of a stock and see the rules.  They can explore all of the relationships.  In the case of a feedback loop where the output is combined with the input to affect a new output, students can study the relationships and gain insight into dynamic systems.   Instructors can also simulate the spread of diseases through populations.  They can control the probability of infection and the degree to which the population can migrate away from the infected.  They can control the length of infection and the transition to a recovered state.  The instructor can model one person and then generate a population of such persons.

Models are an excellent way to engage students – to get them to explore, to ask what-if questions and notice patterns.   In public health, students can change the parameters of specific disease like the Zika virus.  In economics, students can increase supply or demand.  In engineering, students can work on wind resistance models.

With the LodeStar authoring tool, instructors can link to or embed an InsightMaker model.  They can then insert a series of questions to check students’ understanding and provide feedback.  The link below shows a simple example of the Isle Royale model and the Explore-Validate pattern.

 

LodeStar_Screenshot

Screenshot of an activity built with the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool and the ActivityMaker (Mobile) template

www.lodestarlearning.com/samples/Isle_Royale_Mobile/index.htm

 

Conclusion

We have been listening to students. The way they describe their online learning experience seems pretty humdrum.  Instructors don’t need to rely on publishers to create stimulating interactive lessons.  They can take matter into their own hands with tools like InsightMaker.  InsightMaker fulfills the Explore part of the activity.  LodeStar fulfills the Validate phase.

 

 

10 Techniques to Engage Students

The instructor as designer recognizes that the online platform can do more than simply compel students to read, watch, and listen. With carefully designed learning activities, instructors can engage students in explaining, categorizing, inferring, applying, solving problems and more. In short, rather than simply reading content, students can be working and interacting with content in meaningful ways.

Our audience is the instructor as designer. We hold on to the hope that online learning won’t be commercialized to the point of reducing instructors to proctors. We value the instructor as designer because no one understands his or her students’ needs better than the instructor. And, although developing online learning may be time consuming, it’s a lot of fun. Who wants to delegate that entirely to publishers?

Screenshot of the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool

Screenshot of the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool

In recent posts, we’ve been thinking and writing about larger design concepts that help instructors to engage students. This article, in contrast, surveys a range of techniques supported by the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool — sometimes in minute detail — that sharpen the edge of a well-designed activity and make it more effective.

Unless, you follow the development of the LodeStar authoring tool very closely, some of the items below will come as a surprise to you. Again, some of these items are simply techniques that will enhance your online learning projects; other items are larger in scope.

Let’s start with some simple techniques and then work our way up.

Introduction

The LodeStar eLearning authoring tool offers a range of templates that help instructors build online activities. The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of templates is the ActivityMaker template. If you wish to get a good sense of what ActivityMaker can do, visit our post at https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/12-ways-to-engage-students-with-elearning-authoring-tools/

This article (not the link) dips into some of the settings of the authoring system that can affect student engagement in a significant and meaningful way. Each of the techniques is numbered and listed below.

#1: Link to other pages in a project

Knowledge is an interconnected web of informational, procedural and conceptual relationships. Sometimes, we want our designs to pick a ‘happy path’ through a topic’s complexity. We want students to start with a limited number of simple propositions or declarations and build up to a more complex understanding of the subject matter. Sometimes we want students to infer generalizations from the information that is presented to them in a relational manner.

A LodeStar activity can be a linear progression through content and application or it can be an interconnected website or both. A LodeStar activity can have navigational buttons that step a student through the content or it can turn off navigational buttons. Students can navigate through links, table of contents, or branching (discussed later).

For example, instructors may want to create a menu to give students choice of content. The menu page in the ActivityMaker template is restricted to four menu options and may, therefore, not be satisfactory. What if an instructor wanted five or … ten menu items?

What if an instructor simply wanted to link together pages in a LodeStar activity? Fortunately, the technique is simple in LodeStar 7.2 build 12 or later.

To make this work, be sure to give each of your pages a unique page ID. Once you have given your pages a page id, then select text that you wish to convert to a link. Click on the link button in the editor. The pull- down menu will reveal page id’s to you both in name and numerical format. Select the page that you want linked.

Of course, you are not restricted to pages within LodeStar. You can link to anywhere on the internet.

#2: Link to an overlay

So now that we know how create links to pages within LodeStar, let’s see what more we can do. Typically, links cause the program to jump to the linked page. If designers check ‘Show as Overlay’, the linked page displays as an overlay. In other words, students won’t jump to the page. The linked content gets overlaid on the current page. Students don’t lose their place or the context of the learning.

Note that text pages, with or without graphics, make the best overlays. Other page types are restricted from acting as overlays for technical reasons.

#3: Make Use of the Page Options

Each page type in ActivityMaker comes with various options that will help instructors to enhance the students’ experience.

The speaker icon enables instructors to import an MP3 file. In the audio dialog they can choose to display a player control to pause and play audio.They can also cause the audio to play automatically when the page starts.

Pages with audio look like this:

A small audio icon appears at the top left when audio is available

A small audio icon appears at the top left when audio is available

I’ll review some of the other controls that instructors may see either on a text page or question page or both.

Controls found on the right side of LodeStar pages

Controls found on the right side of LodeStar pages

The Correct Answer and Incorrect Answer branch icons allow instructors to branch or provide feedback based on overall (page level) correct or incorrect responses instead of answer level option branches.

The Table of Contents check box adds the current page to the table of contents. Different options for table of contents are found under Tools > Project Settings.

The Resources check box turns the current page into a resource that can be accessed at any time. Checking the check box causes a button to display at the bottom of the screen (depending on the layout), which will bring up the page as resource at any time.

Again, text pages, with or without graphics, make the best resources.

The ‘Do Not Display Correct Answer’ suspends feedback that informs the student of the correct answer.

The ‘Use Multiple Choice Radio Buttons’ converts the multiple select question type to a multiple choice question type. In playback mode, students will see radio buttons rather than checkboxes next to each answer option.

‘Point Value’, of course, assigns points to the current Question page.

‘Remove from Flow’ prevents the page from being displayed, unless branched to.

#4: Use Page Branching to Differentiate Instruction

The following is self-evident and almost foolish to write, if not for common practice: Student’s don’t all learn in the same manner. They don’t share the same level of prior knowledge, aptitude, experience, motivation, etc. A benefit of online learning, which is largely unrealized today, is that we can differentiate instruction based on student choice and performance.

Here is a recital of the various ways that projects created from the ActivityMaker template can differentiate instruction.

  • Links to different pages (content areas) offer students choice and a sense of control over their own learning. This is particularly important for adult learners.
  • Displaying pages as resources allows a student to summon up page content at any time. The student may be working on a case study and may wish to have quick access to critical information.
  • Branches based on performance either at the answer option level, page level or section level. The branch icon appears in LodeStar in various places. We see it next to answer options on the multiple choice question page. That means that a branch option and/or feedback will display if that answer is picked. There are many branch actions. ‘Jump to Page’ is one example.
  • Page Level branches follow a branch and/or provide feedback based on overall correct or incorrect responses. For example, in multiple select questions it might be difficult to branch based on any one selection. A page level branch can be based on whether or not the student answered correctly overall.
  • Section level branches are accomplished with gates. A ‘Gate’ is an ActivityMaker page type. Gates support all of the branch actions supported by answer level options and more. In other words, gates control program flow. For example, the program can jump to remedial activities or a higher level of challenge.

#5: Use Video to Bring a Project to Life

Even though the well-known educational psychologist Richard E. Mayer observes that we don’t fully understand the role of video in online learning, he acknowledges that it plays an important role.

In our view, short videos can bring an online learning project to life. It can bring experts to the course site; provide students with an audio-visual look at phenomena in, perhaps, a more efficient way than text and graphics; and it may be the preferred mode of learning for many students.

LodeStar supports three important forms of video.

One, the ActivityMaker template video page supports YouTube Video. Rather than fussing with embed codes, instructors can simply paste a YouTube URL into the main field. Although the LodeStar previewer doesn’t display YouTube videos, instructors can preview videos by launching the project in Firefox. The Firefox browser supports the preview of local resources. Other browsers do not.

Two, ActivityMaker enables an instructor to link an MP4 video file that is available by URL over the internet. LodeStar supports merging an MP4 video from an internet source with a WebVtt (.vtt) caption file imported into the project.

Three, ActivityMaker enables an instructor to import an MP4 file into the project.

#6: Use Flashcards to Help Students Remember

When students struggle to remember a term or definition it increases their cognitive load and makes the assimilation of new information more taxing than need be.  Many strategies help students remember information.  The use of Flashcards is but one example.

ActivityMaker supports Flashcards. In other words, Flashcards are part of the Swiss Army knife that ActivityMaker represents. The positive side is that a Flashcard activity can be blended with other pages that engage students in such things as video, text and graphics and checks for understanding. The negative side is that instructors have found it challenging to set up the gates that are needed for incorrectly answered flashcards to be returned to the queue.

LodeStar now offers the Flashcards template. Instructors will find the gates preset correctly. Instructors need only add the instructions, fill in the first card and add more. This template is still based on the ActivityMaker template. That means that instructors can add other page types and benefit from the full functionality of ActivityMaker.

#7: Use Instructional Design Patterns (compound strategies) like WebQuests

In previous articles, we introduced the concept of instructional design patterns. If you missed the articles, start with https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/instructional-design-patterns/

WebQuests are one example of an instructional design pattern. WebQuests are an inquiry-based format, first introduced by Dr, Bernie Dodge at San Diego State.

LodeStar now offers the Webquest template to make it easier for faculty to build them and export them to learning management systems. Webquests are extremely popular in K12, but they show great promise in higher education. In brief, a Webquest sends students out into the internet with a purpose. A Webquest defines a task for students to complete, often in groups, and then spells out a process for completing the task. A Webquest offers a finite set of links as resources that have been vetted by the instructor or ‘an expert’.

For a closer look at Webquests in area of nursing education, view the following quantitative and qualitative study submitted to the International Journal of Nursing:

http://aripd.org/journals/ijn/Vol_1_No_1_June_2014/4.pdf

The LodeStar Webquest template is also based on ActivityMaker. That means that Webquest authors have the full range of ActivityMaker capabilities open to them. At the same time, instructors do not need to complete all of the set up required for a Webquest.  That is all done for them in the Webquest template.

#8: Use eBooks (epub 3)

If you missed our article on Open Textbooks and ePub, you’ll want to visit the following link:

https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2015/07/29/open-textbooks-and-epub/

In short, LodeStar enables instructors to author their own eBooks. Actually, authoring an eBook may seem daunting. The epub3Maker template supports not only eBooks but something much much smaller in scale such as white papers,  pamphlets, lab manuals, course introductions….whatever.

#9: Jazz up your Activities with Themes and Layouts

LodeStar now supports both themes and layouts. Themes enable instructors to choose from a number of color coordinated presets. Theme is mostly about color. Theme controls the colors of the header, footer, content area and HTML background. Instructors can even click on the advanced button in the ThemesManager dialog and create their own header and footer gradients.

Themes have been around in LodeStar for a long long time. Layouts are relatively new.

Layouts enable instructors to choose from a range of presets that affect the position of the header, footer, content body, table of contents and any gadgets that are used in the project.

With the combination of Themes and Layouts, instructors can create a unique look for their projects.

#10: Infographics

Infographics can play a number of roles in eLearning. They can provide data in a pleasing pictorial format through the use of headlines, graphs, symbols and images. They can outline a topic of interest to help students organize material and understand up front what some of the key points will be. They can be used to assess students when instructors invite students to generate their own infographics to communicate their understanding of a key issue or concept.

Here is the typical infographic:

http://elearninginfographics.com/elearning-statistics-2014-infographic/b

Here is one more to look at.

The following infographic was created in LodeStar and combines a Prezi style presentation with an infographic style of presentation. It introduces seven phenomena that we are paying close attention to:

www.lodestarlearning.com/samples/Ten_Trends_Infographic/index.htm

Conclusion

Instructors and students benefit from LodeStar’s rich array of options. Instructors can choose from a variety of templates. The ActivityMaker template offers an array of page types. Page types can offer an array of options. All of this helps the instructor create a rich and engaging experience for students.

Top Five Changes to LodeStar 7

In April 2013, we launched a complete redesign of the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool, culminating in LodeStar 7. Since then we have announced each new change as we added to the tool. We blogged, tweeted and announced each new feature in Facebook and our Web Journal.

Today, we are on the eve of LodeStar 7 achieving general acceptance. We’ve overcome our last largest hurdles and will publish the last of the beta versions before going gold.

This article summarizes the five most significant changes to our authoring tool in the redesign. There are literally dozens of changes – but we will focus on the most significant to instructors.

template_viewer

One: Fusion of web design and interactive learning activities

In LodeStar 7 and its ActivityMaker template, instructors can build attractive web sites with integrated learning activities.

The instructor no longer needs to decide between certain types of activities, HTML pages and branching. LodeStar 7 combines them all in the ActivityMaker template. LodeStar’s web pages combine text, imagery, embedded Web 2.0 resources and the following interactions:

  • Multiple choice questions
  • Multiple select
  • True/ False
  • Matching
  • Categorization
  • YouTube Video
  • Short Answer, with Regular Expression support
  • Long Answers (readable in the SCORM report)
  • Interactive Interview
  • Flashcards
  • Crosswords
  • Tiles

See our web journal entry https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/12-ways-to-engage-students-with-elearning-authoring-tools/ for details.

Two: HTML 5 editing with accurate rendering

LodeStar 7 offers faithful HTML 5 markup and rendering. Early adopters of LodeStar 7 may have noticed an issue when they dragged their mouse over headings and styled paragraphs. That issue is now resolved. What remains is all of the power of HTML 5 to create rich, interactive experiences.

LodeStar activities now display beautifully in all of the current versions of the major browsers as well as the iPad, Android and other devices that are HTML 5 capable.

Three: Layout Manager and Theme Manager allow diverse layouts and colors

Screenshot of LodeStar 7 activity with chosen layout

Screenshot of LodeStar 7 activity with chosen layout

In the screenshot shown above, the effect was achieved with the following:

Tools > Layouts > Album.starlayout

Tools > Themes > Black

In the screenshot below, the site was created by dropping LodeStar into an iFrame and setting the theme to ‘Blank’ so that the LodeStar activity does not clash with the host website.

Web site with embedded LodeStar activities

Web site with embedded LodeStar activities

Four: Expanded Branching Options

LodeStar 7 provides more options for branching and more options for executing a branch than ever before. The combination of HTML 5 editing, a variety of activity types, and the power of branching is what distinguishes LodeStar from other tools. Branching applications fulfill the promise of eLearning to individualize instruction for students. Rather than providing students with a simple page turner, the instructor who uses LodeStar can change the path of instruction (branch) based on how the student answers a single question or series of questions. Branches can occur on HTML hyperlinks, question items, pages, menu items, and gates.

The following is a brief summary of branching options:

  • Go to Next Page
  • Go to Previous Page
  • Jump to Page
    (jump to a specific page, by page ID)
  • Open URL
    (cause a web page to be displayed in its own window)
  • Add Overlay
    (cause another page to display over the current in its own dialog window)
  • Set Value
    (create and set the value of a custom variable)
  • Append Value
    (append a value to an existing custom variable)
  • Reset Page
    (Unlock the interaction so that a student can try again.)
  • Remove from Flow
    (remove a question from the navigation flow so that students repeat only questions that they missed.)
  • Execute Commands
    (Execute any of the above commands conditionally or batch a number of commands. For example, remove a page from flow and advance to the next page.)

Branch Options in LodeStar 7

Branch Options in LodeStar 7

Five: Ease of Integration with D2L BrightSpace, Blackboard, Moodle and other SCORM conformant learning management systems

Publishing to a learning management system was once a process that involved many steps. LodeStar supports the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) a standard that defines how an activity can export and report to a learning management system.

Today, an instructor can publish to any SCORM conformant learning management system by clicking on the Export button, and filling in three fields.

The instructor can export to a SCORM 1.3 (SCORM 2004 edition 3) for Blackboard and D2L Brightspace or SCORM 1.2 for Moodle.

Conclusion

The benefits of activities, HTML editing, layout managers, branching and SCORM export are nothing if they come at the expense of simplicity. LodeStar 7 was redesigned from the ground up to be powerful and yet simple. The LodeStar 7 redesign had one audience in mind: the busy instructor who is dedicated to making his or her online courses better. Instructors are recognizing the power and simplicity in LodeStar 7 and choosing it as their primary eLearning authoring tool.