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Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

At a Glance

With multisensory instruction, kids use more than one sense at a time.

Many reading programs for struggling readers use multisensory teaching methods.

Multisensory instruction gives kids more than one way to make connections and learn concepts.

Multisensory instruction is a way of teaching that engages more than one sense at a time.

When kids learn, they often rely on sight to look at text and pictures and to read information. Many kids also rely on hearing to listen to what the teacher is saying.

Multisensory teaching isn’t limited to reading and listening. Instead, it tries to use all the senses. Not every lesson will use all five senses (taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing, and movement). But in most multisensory lessons, kids engage with the material in more than one way.

For example, say a class is studying apples. Kids might have the chance to visually examine, touch, smell, and taste apples — instead of just reading and listening to their teacher speak about how they grow. Then they might hold a halved apple and count the number of seeds inside, one by one.

That’s multisensory teaching. It conveys information through things like touch and movement — called tactile and kinesthetic elements — as well as sight and hearing.

Dive deeper

All kids can benefit from multisensory lessons. If kids learn something using more than one sense, the information is more likely to stick. The result is better memory of the skill.

But multisensory learning can be particularly helpful for kids who learn and think differently. For example, kids who struggle with visual or auditory processing may have a hard time learning through only reading or listening.

Using multiple senses gives all kids more ways to connect with what they’re learning. This type of hands-on learning makes it easier for kids to:

Make connections between new information and what they already know

Understand and work through problems

Use nonverbal problem-solving skills

Overall, multisensory instruction takes into account that different kids learn in different ways. Learn more about how to tap into kids’ strengths .

Many programs designed to help struggling readers include a multisensory approach (on top of other components). The creators of the Orton–Gillingham approach pioneered this way of teaching. Programs that use Orton–Gillingham ideas use sight, sound, movement, and touch to help kids connect language to words.

For example, one of the techniques the Wilson Reading System uses is a “sound-tapping” system. Kids tap out each sound of a word with their fingers and thumbs to help them break the words down.

The Barton Reading Program materials include color-coded letter tiles that help students connect sounds to letters.

Get ideas for multisensory reading techniques to try in school or at home. And learn more about multisensory reading programs:

Multisensory instruction isn’t just for teaching reading. Some grade school math programs use manipulatives (small objects like interlocking cubes or shape blocks) to help kids do math.

Science labs are multisensory learning experiences, too. Kids do experiments, write down the steps, and report their findings.

Even songs and chants that teach things like the days of the week or the names of the states are examples of multisensory learning.

Multisensory instruction aligns with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. Classrooms designed using UDL principles give kids many ways to engage in learning. UDL offers different options for kids to meet learning goals and to show what they’ve learned. Multisensory instruction does this, too. It makes it easier for kids to work in the way that they learn best in different subjects.

Learn more about UDL .

Explore multisensory math techniques to use in school or at home.

This eBook is a collection of best practices for the creation of an effective eLearning curriculum for your organization. We cover everything from outsourcing to a third party eLearning agency, getting corporate buy-in, building the training curriculum, improving the curriculum and finally, a look into the future of eLearning design that maximises impact on the learner.

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Key Chapters

  1. In-House Vs Outsourcing: 3 Reasons Why Tailored Training Makes Financial Sense

The Initial Strategic Decision: To outsource, or not to outsource? In this first chapter, we look at some of the main reasons why you should consider the expertise of a third party in your company’s learning developments – as well as things to look for in that perfect partner.

Learning That Lasts: How to Choose the Best Curriculum Development Approach to Maximize Longevity

Choosing the Correct Approach: With so many different approaches to building an effective learning curriculum, how do you know which is best? In this chapter, we look at some of the most popular options – so that you can decide what could work for your organization.

How To Create A Training Curriculum In 3 Stress-Free Steps (Even When Outsourcing)

Building the Framework: In this chapter, we look at three of the most important aspects to consider once you have decided to build your curriculum – and also how to convince those who will pay for it!

Changing Corporate Cultures Ain’t Easy: How to Overcome eLearning Challenges & Get Stakeholder Buy-In

Getting the Leadership Buy-In: Now comes the hard part – bringing in senior leadership to help drive your project. There are many factors and influences that need to be considered in your drive to convince your company’s decision-makers on the benefits of a good eLearning project. In this chapter we show you to do just that.

Custom Learning Designs: 4 Traits of A Successful Course Development Project

Building the Course: If you are looking to develop your own custom eLearning curriculum, we show you some of the fundamental phases that you need to consider – as well as a reminder of some of the key reasons for building that eLearning project in the first place!

The Fundamentals of Feedback: 5 Secrets to Streamline Your Training Evaluation Process and Measure ROI

Getting that Feedback: In this chapter we show you the five secrets of how to run an efficient training evaluation process, measure return-on-investment and ensure you are laying the strongest foundations for your company’s learning curriculum.

3 Tell-Tale Signs You Need A Learner Analysis To Find The Most Effective Learning Methods

Improving the Existing Curriculum: Do you have an existing curriculum in place, but know that it’s not realizing its true potential? In this chapter, we look at why your learners themselves may not be set for success – and what you can do to help them.

3 Instructional Design Trends That Will Stand the Test of Time

Looking to the Future: In this chapter, we look at the top three, cutting-edge instructional design trends, so that you can create an impactful training program for your employees.

Companies spend billions of dollars per year on internal corporate training. The cost of such training programs for employees can be the equivalent of hiring a dozen or more new employees for many businesses. Thus, corporate training can be a significant expense, and one that an organization might want to look at offshoring to a custom tailored training program that utilizes eLearning.

This guide covers all the essentials you need to kickstart your custom eLearning project and create memorable training curriculum, regardless of your budget or implementation timeline.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

Christopher Pappas
Founder of eLearning Industry, Inc.

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By Gaye Gronlund

As a parent, you want your children to learn all that they can—to grasp math concepts, to be curious about exploring the world, and to learn to read and write. Did you know that you can help your son or daughter academically by playing with them? Play and learning go together!

What kind of play helps children learn the best? Play that really engages children—play that they will focus on and stay with even when problems arise. This kind of play helps children develop their approaches to learning—in other words, the ways they respond to learning situations. Curiosity about the world, initiative and problem solving, and focused attention and persistence are just a few approaches to learning that children develop through play.

In the early years, parents can help children develop the skills to be better students by playing with them. Yes, as they enter kindergarten and the elementary years, children need to have some understanding of letters and numbers. However, if they have not developed solid approaches to learning, they will not be as successful in school settings.

Encouraging Toddlers at Play

Joey is 20 months old. He has a basket full of toys, including rattles, soft plastic blocks, a set of stacking rings, stuffed animals, and cloth and plastic books. Joey’s dad often sits down on the floor with Joey and invites him to play with items in the basket. Joey’s favorite activity is to dump out all of the toys and put the basket on his head! This is typical toddler play behavior. Joey is curious about the world and is looking at it another way—through the slats in the basket!

Joey loves to shake the rattles to hear the different sounds or to stack two or three blocks and knock them down. His attention to each might be up to five minutes or so, which is just right for his age. He may solve problems as he tries to place the rings on the stacking post or to add more blocks to a tower.

Joey’s dad encourages his curiosity. He comments about what he is doing: “I see you are trying to get that last ring on the post, but it just won’t fit.” Or he asks him questions: “Where did that ball go? Do you see it hiding behind the chair?” He connects his play to learning by responding positively to his interest: “I can tell you like to look through the basket, you silly boy. Does everything look different from under there?” He also encourages him by asking him to keep trying even when he gets frustrated. “Oh, those blocks keep falling down, don’t they? Can you try to put just one on top of another gently? Let’s see what happens. I’ll help you.” This encouragement fosters his perseverance, his attention, and his initiative at problem solving, all positive approaches to learning.

Encouraging Preschoolers at Play

Alicia is 4 years old. She loves to dress up in her mommy’s clothes, jewelry, and shoes and then pretend to go shopping, care for her baby dolls, and cook dinner. Through her pretend play Alicia learns to think abstractly. When she holds a block in her hand and uses it to pretend to talk on the phone, she is using the block as a symbol for something else. That’s abstract thinking in action! And, since letters and numbers are abstract because they are symbols of what they represent, pretend play is one way a child develops her understanding of letters and numbers.

Alicia’s mom and dad have recognized that supporting her pretend activities keeps her engaged for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. They pretend right along with her, asking her to “bake some cookies” or to “go grocery shopping” for them. They give her paper and crayons so that she can pretend to write grocery lists. They encourage her to count how many items she has placed in her toy shopping cart. They accept her scribbles and letter-like shapes as her writing (just right for 4-year-olds) and help her when the numbers get a little mixed up.

Alicia will work with puzzles for long periods of time, too, especially if her dad joins her. Together, they figure out strategies for putting the pieces together. She may turn the pieces around, trying out different ways until she is successful. She is developing problem solving and persistence as she does so.

Your Role as Your Child Plays

Playing with your child helps keep your child engaged in the kind of play where learning occurs. Your interest, questions, and comments as you play alongside will help your child use toys productively. And the two of you will have lots of fun together! Most importantly, you will be working toward your child’s future success as a student by building important approaches to learning. Play and learning go together!

Sometimes it seems as if there are as many language learning methods as there are language learners, or conversely that there is only “One True Way” to learn a language. The reality lies somewhere in the middle.

Let’s examine the 5 ways people generally learn languages.

The Vocabulary-Based Approach

The major players:

Rosetta Stone and similar language-learning software.

This method of learning claims to emulate the way we learned language as children – by associating words in the target language (the language you want to learn) with pictures or the objects they represent. Think, for example, of a three-year-old with a “see-and-say.”

It stresses vocabulary acquisition by presenting the user with vocabulary words and associated pictures, and encouraging repetition of that vocabulary. Grammar rules are not generally taught as such, but are picked up by osmosis.

Vocabulary acquisition is generally rapid, at least at first. Pictures help visual learners memorize the vocabulary. Repetition is stressed.

Vocabulary taught is oftentimes not useful for travelers. Leaves students prone to Tarzan Disease (“Me Tarzan, you…”) because of the lack of emphasis on grammar.

Double Translation

The major players:

Just about anyone who learned a language before 1900.

Step 1: Acquire a book in the target language.

Step 2: Acquire an English-target language dictionary.

Step 3: Use the dictionary to decipher the book. Write down your translation.

Step 4: Use the dictionary to translate your translation back into the target language. (Hence the term “double translation.”)

Step 5: Check the re-translated translation against the original book, rinse, repeat.

Useful for languages (e.g. Latin) that the student is only ever going to read, not speak. Introduces student to real texts in the target language.

Very difficult and ponderous way to learn. Doesn’t teach listening, speaking, or writing. Reliant on the accuracy of the student’s dictionary.

The Grammar-Based Approach

The major players:

Most “teach yourself” books. Older textbooks.

These books combine a small amount of vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson with a heaping dose of grammar rules, which must be memorized. The vocabulary is re-combined in several different ways to highlight the grammar points.

Subsequent lessons build on the vocabulary learned in previous lessons and introduce new grammar. Emphasis is placed on reading and writing in the target language.

Once the rules of grammar are learned, it becomes quite easy to integrate and correctly use new vocabulary.

Requires lots of rote memorization of grammar rules. Can be frustrating, especially at first. Student is left with very little vocabulary that he or she can begin using straight away.

The Communicative Approach

The major players:

Almost every modern language school.

Small groups of students are taught in a classroom setting. Lessons are generally divided into units which stress one receptive skill (reading or listening) and one productive skill (writing or speaking), combined with grammar and theme-based vocabulary. The emphasis is on bringing the student up to speed quickly in the language.

Builds general student proficiency. When well-done, students “hit the ground running” and are able to utilize language in various everyday situations.

Above a certain level, continued progress in the target language can be very slow. Classes are often tailored to the abilities of the “middle” of the class, leaving those who are progressing faster and those who need a little more time to fend for themselves.

The Immersion Method

The major players:

Backpackers everywhere who land in a new country without a phrasebook. Some primary schools.

Step 1: Go to a foreign country.

Step 2: Try to communicate with the locals. Draw pictograms. Point. Get into awkward situations. Attend the cinema and theatre. Listen to the radio. Watch television.

Step 3: (alternate method) Get a boyfriend (or girlfriend) who only speaks the target language.

No study required! Oftentimes you can pick up enough basic vocabulary needed to get by rather quickly. Forces you to listen to the locals and be self-reliant.

Scary! A number of awkward situations can happen. Reading ability often takes longer to develop.

For practical tips on this method, check out Matador editor Tim Patterson’s 7 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language on the Road.

How do you decide which method is right for you?

It depends on your learning style and what your aims are.

For those who are interested in achieving fluency in the target language:

Try all of the above. The grammar-based and vocabulary-based approaches, used in tandem, can provide a good basis for self-study before you land in your destination country. Upon arrival, combine language classes based on the communicative approach and the immersion method in everyday situations.

For those only interested in reading a language:

Learn the basics of the language with the grammar-based approach, and then throw yourself into double translation, if you can stand it.

For those who just need enough to get by:

Try software using the vocabulary-based approach to learn the words for things you might need (“hotel,” “toilet,” etc) before landing in your destination country, and practice the immersion method during your stay. A phrasebook can be a life-saver.

Community Tip!

Don’t have the cash for phrasebooks or expensive language learning software? Check out the ridiculously useful article 8 Free Online Resources For Learning A Foreign Language.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

By Javarro Russell

Many higher education institutions are engaged in a process of conducting student learning outcomes (SLO) assessment, but struggle to implement effective assessment practices. These less-than-optimal practices often produce less-than-compelling results about what students have learned.

All too often, the accreditation process encourages compliance activities that result in the collection and organization of institutional data that, at best, describes current assessment practices on a campus. Using SLO assessments in this way — just to meet an accreditation requirement — is like purchasing a smartphone, downloading dozens of apps, and only using the device to create checklists. Instead, SLO assessments could be leveraged to foster collaboration with faculty members and administrators to research the impact of your curriculum on your student population.

Here are a few tips from our experiences with assessment experts, practitioners, and faculty members to help build a road map for turning data from these assessments into compelling stories about the teaching and learning process.

Using SLO assessments in this way — just to meet an accreditation requirement — is like purchasing a smartphone, downloading dozens of apps, and only using the device to create checklists.

1. Identify Goals Before Assessments are Conducted

Thinking of assessment as a research opportunity is key. The assessment process may not seem like it, but it is a quasi-experimental research project. Much like a scientist making a hypothesis before an experiment, assessment practitioners would benefit from considering the outcomes they expect to find given the students they serve and the curriculum they’ve implemented.

Consider the example of an academic program wanting to know the extent to which the general education curriculum is equipping students with the quantitative literacy skills needed for upper-level courses. A research study can be designed to determine the impact of the general education curriculum on quantitative literacy.

Developing hypotheses like these can be done well before assessments are administered to students. By establishing these goals at the outset, institutions may find their assessment process to be more useful in identifying areas where improvements can be made.

2. Bring Faculty In

Assessing student learning outcomes can be beneficial for not only administrators, but for faculty as well. While professors hold expertise in their chosen field, they may not have the background in assessment or pedagogical methods needed to leverage SLO assessments for improving the teaching and learning process.

The integration of faculty into all aspects of the assessment process allows them to make better connections between the pedagogy, the curriculum and the learning that results. When faculty members have an understanding of what’s being assessed, and how it is being assessed, they are better equipped to interpret the meaning of assessment results. Having a contextualized understanding of assessment results can empower faculty to make decisions on how the results could impact their courses and their students.

Faculty members have important insights into how students engage in individual courses and the curriculum. These insights are requisite for effective use of assessments.

3. Think of Your Curriculum as a Whole

Expectations are higher than ever for institutions to provide evidence and articulate the value of the education they provide. To be successful, whole departments must come together and think about the impact of their curriculum. Obtaining this holistic view of the curriculum is crucial to moving from a culture of accountability to a culture of evidence. This means taking an in-depth look at how each course within a curriculum is providing the educational activities students utilize for learning and practicing the outcomes you expect.

The curriculum you implement will likely be factored into the aspects of your assessment process. If your assessments are well aligned to the curriculum, you can better identify where to allocate resources or make changes when students don’t appear to achieve the expected outcomes. For example, if you find that students score below a given level on an assessment, there may be a need to add specific types of educational activities to specific types of courses across the entire curriculum to ensure students have more opportunities to meet the learning outcome.

Looking Ahead

Over the past few decades the conversations and activities around SLO assessments in higher education have significantly changed. In response to the evolving needs of institutions, ETS has developed the HEIghten® Outcomes Assessment Suite. Alongside these assessments we’ve created best practice resources for using HEIghten and other assessments to conduct research on the extent to which students are meeting learning outcomes within your institution. By leveraging these and other resources, institutions can make the best of their assessment efforts.

It’s all about improving teaching and learning, and assessment provides the evidence needed to specify those improvements.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

It’s effectively a type of project management.

Many people mistakenly believe that people are born learners, or they’re not. However, a growing body of research shows that learning is a learned behavior. Through the deliberate use of dedicated strategies, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. There are three practical strategies for this, starting with organization. Effective learning often boils down to a type of project management. In order to develop an area of expertise, we first have to set achievable goals about what we want to learn and then develop strategies to reach those goals. Another practical method is thinking about thinking. Also known as metacognition, this is akin to asking yourself questions like “Do I really get this idea? Could I explain it to a friend?” Finally, reflection is a third practical way to improve your ability to learn. In short, we can all learn to become a better study.

It’s effectively a type of project management.

Many people mistakenly believe that the ability to learn is a matter of intelligence. For them, learning is an immutable trait like eye color, simply luck of the genetic draw. People are born learners, or they’re not, the thinking goes. So why bother getting better at it?

And that’s why many people tend to approach the topic of learning without much focus. They don’t think much about how they will develop an area of mastery. They use phrases like “practice makes perfect” without really considering the learning strategy at play. It’s a remarkably ill-defined expression, after all. Does practice mean repeating the same skill over and over again? Does practice require feedback? Should practice be hard? Or should it be fun?

A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born. Through the deliberate use of practice and dedicated strategies to improve our ability to learn, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. In short, we can all get better at getting better.

Here’s one example of a study that shows how learning strategies can be more important than raw smarts when it comes to gaining expertise. Marcel Veenman has found that people who closely track their thinking will outscore others who have sky-high IQ levels when it comes to learning something new. His research suggests that in terms of developing mastery, focusing on how we understand is some 15 percentage points more important than innate intelligence.

Here are three practical ways to build your learning skills, based on research.

Organize your goals
Effective learning often boils down to a type of project management. In order to develop an area of expertise, we first have to set achievable goals about what we want to learn. Then we have to develop strategies to help us reach those goals.

A targeted approach to learning helps us cope with all the nagging feelings associated with gaining expertise: Am I good enough? Will I fail? What if I’m wrong? Isn’t there something else that I’d rather be doing?

While some self-carping is normal, Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura says these sorts of negative emotions can quickly rob us of our ability to learn something new. Plus, we’re more committed if we develop a plan with clear objectives. The research is overwhelming on this point. Studies consistently show that people with clear goals outperform people with vague aspirations like “do a good job.” By setting targets, people can manage their feelings more easily and achieve progress with their learning.

Think about thinking
Metacognition is crucial to the talent of learning. Psychologists define metacognition as “thinking about thinking,” and broadly speaking, metacognition is about being more inspective about how you know what you know. It’s a matter of asking ourselves questions like: Do I really get this idea? Could I explain it to a friend? What are my goals? Do I need more background knowledge? Or do I need more practice?

Metacognition comes easily to many trained experts. When a specialist works through an issue, they’ll often think a lot about how the problem is framed. They’ll often have a good sense of whether or not their answer seems reasonable.

The key, it turns out, is not to leave this sort of “thinking about thinking” to the experts. When it comes to learning, one of the biggest issues is that people don’t engage in metacognition enough. They don’t stop to ask themselves if they really get a skill or concept.

The issue, then, is not that something goes in one ear and out the other. The issue is that individuals don’t dwell on the dwelling. They don’t push themselves to really think about their thinking.

Reflect on your learning
There is something of a contradiction in learning. It turns out that we need to let go of our learning in order to understand our learning. For example, when we step away from a problem, we often learn more about a problem. Get into a discussion with a colleague, for instance, and often your best arguments arrive while you’re washing the dishes later. Read a software manual and a good amount of your comprehension can come after you shut the pages.

In short, learning benefits from reflection. This type of reflection requires a moment of calm. Maybe we’re quietly writing an essay in a corner — or talking to ourselves as we’re in the shower. But it usually takes a bit of cognitive quiet, a moment of silent introspection, for us to engage in any sort of focused deliberation.

Sleep is a fascinating example of this idea. It’s possible that we tidy up our knowledge while we’re napping or sleeping deeply. One recent study shows a good evening of shut-eye can reduce practice time by 50%.

The idea of cognitive quiet also helps explain why it’s so difficult to gain skills when we’re stressed or angry or lonely. When feelings surge through our brain, we can’t deliberate and reflect. Sure, in some sort of dramatic, high-stakes situations, we might be able to learn something basic like remember a phone number. But for us to gain any sort of understanding, there needs to be some state of mental ease.

The good news from all of this — for individuals and for companies looking to help their employees be their best — is that learning is a learned behavior. Being a quick study doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s that you’ve learned how to learn. By deliberately organizing your learning goals, thinking about your thinking, and reflecting on your learning at opportune times, you can become a better study, too.


Senior Lecturer, University of Southern Queensland

Disclosure statement

Stewart Riddle does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


University of Southern Queensland provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

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We all want young children to be given the very best opportunities to become successful, engaged and passionate readers. The teaching of reading is constantly mired, however, in a tired old debate between proponents of “phonics” (sounding out words) and “whole language” (which focuses on meaning and using the context to decipher unknown words).

This argument is an unhelpful and misleading dichotomy given the evidence actually supports a balanced approach to literacy, which goes well beyond being able to recognise words on a page.

What is a balanced approach to literacy?

The biggest review of scientific research on reading was conducted by the US National Reading Panel in 2000. The panel was clear in finding:

Systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program.

The panel argued that a balanced approach incorporates phonemic awareness and phonics (understanding the relationships between sounds and their written representations), fluency, guided oral reading, vocabulary development and comprehension.

The report also stated:

Phonics should not become the dominant component in a reading program, neither in the amount of time devoted to it nor in the significance attached. It is important to evaluate children’s reading competence in many ways.

A 2005 Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy supported this balanced approach, with the use of synthetic phonics recommended in the first couple of years of schooling for beginning readers.

Similarly, the UK 2006 reading review recognised:

Word recognition is a time-limited activity that is eventually overtaken by work that develops comprehension.

Of course there are differences in what the balance might look like in different classrooms and across different year levels. However, claims that teachers are using a little bit of phonics and a lot of whole language in Australian schools are wrong. Referring to balanced literacy as a mess of methods simply shows a lack of understanding about how classrooms operate.

A balanced approach provides us with a best-practice model for teaching all students how to read and write across all stages of their education.

Literacy isn’t just about learning how to read

It is important to remember that literacy learning is broad and takes place at all levels of schooling. It’s not just about learning to read in the early years. The current focus on phonics as a fix-all for struggling readers is problematic as it misses the complexities of literacy learning.

Being literate requires a much broader repertoire of skills than simply reading and writing as the decoding and encoding of printed words. The ability to make meaning from texts, ask questions and read between the lines is, in many ways, much more important.

Paulo Freire, the much-respected Brazilian educator, called this Reading the World and Reading the Word. To teach our students to do any less would be the real failure.

What needs to be done

The recent report into teacher training recommends that all student teachers be taught literacy, not just primary teachers.

This is already happening in many universities. For example, I teach a literacy course with students who are studying to be high school teachers in areas such as mathematics, physics, health and physical education. We investigate the literacy requirements of each subject and the teaching of reading and writing within those contexts.

However, just as important is the ongoing professional development and mentoring offered to teachers working in schools. We need to provide all teachers with the opportunities and tools to engage in literacy teaching that goes beyond just recognising words on a page.

The problem is that education research is so seldom used to inform education policy and practice. The seemingly endless cycle of reviews and reforms create a sense of frustration and fatigue, particularly for classroom teachers who are constantly placed under pressures to implement this new curriculum or that new school-wide strategy, improve NAPLAN results, and so on.

It is made worse by ideological divisions in research, where large-scale randomised control trials are assumed to be the only valid form of research, to the exclusion of smaller case studies, ethnographic projects, classroom interventions and other more qualitative approaches. We should be seeking out new ways to explore how children learn to read, rather than discounting different methods for one tried-and-tested approach.

A 2007 review of literacy research in Australia argued:

More effective and forward-looking understanding of literacy teaching is important for researchers, teachers, learners and the societies they inhabit.

The best way forward would be for researchers from diverse fields, including education, psychology and speech pathology, to get together and work in ways that cross over the arbitrary boundaries. Perhaps this would finally get us off the merry-go-round of the reading wars, which really help no-one.

Editor’s note: Stewart will be answering questions between 1 and 2pm AEDT on Wednesday February 18. You can ask your questions about the article in the comments below.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

Okay, if an elearning template’s going to rock your world you need to get out of your cubicle and go take a walk outside. Enjoy the life around you. Then come back and finish reading this blog post. I’ll be waiting.

Now that things are in perspective let’s drop the hyperbole and look at what it takes to build the world’s best elearning template.

Create a Starter Template

Earlier we looked at how to create an elearning template that works. In that post we discussed how to build a starter template for your online training courses by identifying the major parts or elements of an elearning course that are common to most courses. Then we create a placeholder slide for each part.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

This serves two purposes. The first is that it becomes the framework for a course template. The other is that this starter template serves as a simple project guide. It helps those just getting started consider all of the major elements. Often some of these elements are an afterthought in the development process. By starting with a starter template, you ensure that all of the major parts of the course are considered.

A key point here is that there is no graphic design or visual treatment to the screens. They’re just blank placeholders to remind you that these common elements need to be considered during the production process.

What Goes onto the E-Learning Course Screen?

Unless you take a constructivist approach where the learner is expected to construct the course content from blank screens, odds are the screens in your course will have content on them. And when it comes down to it, there are really only so many things you can put on the screen. I like to keep it simple and group all of those things into two buckets—text and media.

  • Text is all of the written text that is meant to be read. That can include things like titles, headings, captions, and body text.
  • Media is basically everything else like videos, pictures, charts, tables, illustrations and graphics.

Where Can You Place Onscreen Elements?

Considering those two onscreen elements, the next question is where can they be placed? There really are only so many ways you can layout your onscreen content. For example, body text, where can it go? Up, down, left, or right. The same goes for media. Where can you put the pictures on your screen?

In some of our workshops we have people brainstorm different layouts. I keep it simple. Squiggly lines are text and boxes represent media. Then I create a bunch of boxes and play around with potential layouts as you can see in the example below.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

Dubberly Design Office has an interesting post where they show 892 unique ways to design a 4×3 screen. That’s a lot of screens and should give you some ideas. I usually just look for about 15-20 or so to get started. Too many choices make it hard to move forward.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

Create Common Screen Layouts

Now that you know what goes on the screen, the goal is to develop some layouts that you can use. In the exercise above you brainstormed a bunch of different layout ideas. Now you want to select a few for your starter template.

Create a number of layouts that you can quickly use in your screen design. Of course you can create as many layouts as you’d like, but the goal isn’t to create 5 million layouts. Instead it’s to create a number of common starter layouts to go with your starter template. You want enough variety to keep it interesting and flexible, but not so many that it’s a pain trying to work with them.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

Once you’ve decided on the layouts, add them to your starter template. In PowerPoint and Storyline, you can add the layouts via the master slide template. That makes it really easy to select a starter slide and then apply a layout from one of the many prebuilt choices.

When you’re all done you should have a starter template with a number of content placeholder screens. And then within the template you have 20 or so good layouts that can be applied to any of the screens. That gives you a great place to start when building your rapid elearning courses.

Which learning approach is the best for you here’s how to know

And again as a reminder, there is still no look applied to the screens. So the visual design of your course is still open-ended. But what you’ve done is make sure that you have considered most of the common screens required in a course and have set up a number of usable layouts. This will speed up a lot of your production.

Which screen layouts do you like best?

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

Whether schools are using regular grades or not, teachers need to accurately assess learning while their students are at home. These are some helpful ideas to consider.

All of us are challenged with trying to implement effective teaching in this distance learning environment, and assessment is certainly part of that. Many schools are wrestling with grading practices, with some choosing pass/fail structures and others are sticking with traditional grading practices. And of course, there are others who are somewhere in between. But all of us will need summative assessments of student learning, whether we report them as a grade or pass/fail.

It’s important that we not rely solely on tried-and-true summative assessment practices and strategies during this time—we should reflect on those practices and strategies and approach assessment differently. Some of our practices may shift. Here are some points to consider as you reflect on the shifts needed to arrive at effective summative assessments of your students’ learning.

Implementing Summative Assessment in Distance Learning

Stop assessing everything: By everything, I mean every single content standard. In order to make a “guaranteed and viable curriculum,” we need to make strategic decisions about what is “need to know” and what is “nice to know.”

This is an idea we should apply in both in-person and distance learning. However, with distance learning, this is a further call to distill our curriculum to essential learning and target specific standards and outcomes. All of us in the distance learning world know it will take much longer to move through our curriculum, so there is not enough time to cover what we intended when we had being in the classroom in mind.

Take this time to work with teams to further clarify which standards are priorities to ensure that you’re assessing the essentials. Consider using the R.E.A.L. criteria—Readiness, Endurance, Assessed, and Leverage—to help you make those decisions. These criteria were developed by Larry Ainsworth, an expert in curriculum design and power standards.

Assigning performance tasks and performance items: This isn’t a new practice for assessment, but in these times of distance learning, it’s important that the assessments we design for students demand that they apply their knowledge to new and novel situations. Performance tasks do that, and they create engaging multistep opportunities for students to show what they know. Performance items are similar, appearing in many traditional exams. Both require students to perform by applying their thinking; performance items are more limited in scope and often assess a single standard or skill.

When teachers express concerns around cheating or academic honesty, I recommend that they change their assessments to be more performance-based. Teachers can also consider long-term PBL projects that also leverage performance tasks.

Moving from one big event to a series of smaller events: Performance tasks are a research-based practice to assess student learning. However, the tasks we give students may be too much for them during this time of uncertainty and anxiety. If students are required to complete multiple performance tasks, across multiple disciplines or classes, that can create stress that is detrimental to student wellness.

Depending on what is being assessed, teachers may be able to take these tasks and split them into shorter tasks or performance items to be completed over a longer term rather than in one sitting. As a performance task often assesses multiple standards, it can be broken apart into discrete mini-tasks that each assess an individual standard or learning target.

Using conversations and oral defense: Anthony Poullard, an associate principal at Korea International School, said that “students must always be prepared to explain their thinking or learning with their teacher, and they know that a teacher may ask for an explanation of assessment answers one on one.” In an article on formative assessment in distance learning, I discussed conversations as one of the best ways to check for understanding, and this holds true for summative tasks as well. Students can do presentations or engage in an oral explanation or defense of their final product. This provides further evidence of student learning.

Leveraging technology tools: I want to first acknowledge the inequities here. We know that many students do not have access to technology, so these strategies may not apply. However, there are ways to use technology to support summative assessment practices. You can have students take the assessment at the same time, during a synchronous virtual session. This is similar to timed in-class writing. Schoology, for example, allows you to time quizzes and tests. Tools like Draft Back, a Google Chrome extension, can show patterns in work submitted and play back the process. And student-created videos are great tools for students to share what they know.

Teaching academic honesty and trust students: We need to acknowledge there is no foolproof way to ensure academic honesty, and that is OK. Education consultant Ken O’Connor explained in a recent webinar that we need to educate students about academic honesty, adding that if there is a problem in this area, we may not have intentionally educated students on it.

Instead of a deficit-based approach to assessment—expecting that students will cheat—we need to have an asset-based approach where we trust them to do the right thing and engage them in teachable moments around academic honesty. Teacher expectations matter.

Using professional judgement: Ultimately, teachers need to use their professional judgement when summatively assessing students and determining scores. Teachers can decide that a summative assessment should instead be formative and then reteach and support students in learning before attempting another summative assessment. And if a teacher wonders about a student’s academic honesty on a summative, they can meet with that student to make an informed judgement. We need to trust not only students but also our teachers.

I want to emphasize that these are strategies, not necessarily solutions. As O’Connor says, the “order of operations” in teaching should be: first, student relationships and wellness; second, learning; and third, assessment. When we approach assessment practices, we should not lose sight of our priorities.