Saturday, October 5, 2013

Open Source Courses

This week we have been exploring aspects of instructional design that need to be considered during the planning phase of developing a distance learning experience. The success of the distance learning experience is dependent upon the instructional designer being conscientious of the unique needs of the distance learner so that the course materials and activities support the learner (Simonson, et al., 2012). As distance learning continues to progress and expand there is an even greater need for instructional designers and instructors to be conscientious of carefully planning their distance courses to support the learners participating in these courses.          
One area in which distance learning has become increasingly more available is open source courses. There are a multitude of websites with open source courses including websites from various colleges and universities. One in particular website that I selected to focus on is Open Yale Courses which offers free, non-credit introductory courses taught by Yale professors (Yale, n.d.). Open Yale Courses offers a variety of courses from different academic disciplines ranging from humanities to physical and biological sciences (Yale, n.d). To gain a more in depth perspective on open source courses I selected a course from Open Yale Courses, EVST 255: Environmental Politics and Law, to review and analyze applying the knowledge I have acquired on planning and designing effective distance learning experiences.

Review of EVST 255: Environmental Politics and Law
EVST 255: Environmental Politics and Law can be viewed by navigating to the following URL:

Simonson, et al. (2012) cautioned against simply depositing a face-to-face course online without considering how course activities and materials will translate to supporting the learner in an online environment. In the Open Yale Course, EVST 255 the course appears to have initially taken place in a face-to-face synchronous learning environment before being reconfigured for an online open source course. Evidence of pre-planning is consistently apparent throughout the course in the overall structure and design.

Upon first entering the course the learner is taken to an introductory page where a brief overview of the course is provided along with information on the course structure, course materials, and course professor. This introductory page also contains easy to navigate links to other components of the course including a course syllabus. A course syllabus in a distance learning experience is important for serving as a guide for the learner in clearly organizing and identifying the course structure, delivery, materials, and learning assessments (Simonson, et al., 2012). The course syllabus in EVST 255 provides information about the topics to be covered in the course, information on the course materials, and information about grading and assessments.

The overall structure of the course is broken up into a series of 24 sessions. Each session page provides an overview of topics to be covered and reading requirement for that particular session. The sessions are delivered in a lecture style presentation and viewable in different video and audio formats. Within each lecture session the learning is segmented into different chapters for the learner to view. By segmenting the course and allowing the learner to proceed at their own pace it is evident that the designer of the course considered the need for adapting the course to general characteristics and traits of a distance learner (Simonson, et al., 2012). Technology considerations are also evident in that the learner has the option of viewing the course lectures in different bandwidth videos depending upon their internet speed (Simonson, et al., 2012). Closed captioning and transcripts are also available for the learner to view which is critical for making the course accessible to individuals who possibly are hearing impaired.
When adapting a face-to-face course to an online distance learning course it is important to consider the materials and media of the course and present them in a way that is legible to the learner (Simonson, et al., 2012). The application of principles of effective graphic design is evident throughout the overall course design in EVST 255. The size, font, color contrast, alignment, and space all support the learner by clearly communicating the instructional message without added graphics or text that are unnecessary or distracting to the learner (Simonson, et al., 2012). Consideration of adapting the course to an online distance learning environment is also apparent in the ability for the learner to download the slideshow presentation that is used during the lecture sessions. It would be challenging for the learner to view the slides in the video presentation. Having the opportunity to view the information by downloading the slideshow presentation makes the graphics, tables, and other content more legible and supports the learning more effectively.

Careful planning and taking a systematic approach to designing a distance learning experience can help to ensure that all components of the learning experience effectively and efficiently work together to support the course objectives and the needs of the learner (Simonson, et al., 2012). The components of EVST 255 work together to support the learner in this online open source course, but there are a few aspects that were not considered in the design of the course. The course does not provide any opportunities for social interaction or even interaction with the course materials other than navigating through the course presentations. Social interaction is important for the learner for creating a community of learners (Simonson, et al., 2012). The design of the course I reviewed primarily focuses on independent study of information. There is no social interaction and there are no course assessments or course activities. In reviewing EVST 255 and viewing other open course source options this week the open source courses often lacked social interaction and course activities for the learners. It is presumed that this lack of interaction is a result of the course not being offered for the purpose of earning credit.

Open source courses such as EVST 255 present an excellent opportunity for advancing one’s knowledge on a particular topic. Advances in technology and availability of accessing courses such as this through the web present a unique opportunity for creating a global community of lifelong learners. In creating this global community of learners through open source courses however instructional designers will need to capitalize on available technology tools that integrate social interaction and interactive activities in addition to being cognizant of other design components that support a successful distance learning environment (Beldarrain, 2006).      

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2),139–153.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.
Yale University (n.d.) About. Retrieve from


  1. How interesting, Amber! I reviewed edX, the MOOCs created by MIT and Harvard, but they struck me as courses created for distance education since their learning objects and interactivity were so diverse. Seeing Yale's course development was intriguing and very different from what I had reviewed. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Amber,

    Your review of Yale's open source course was spot on. I completely agree that it is important to consider the materials and media when adapting face-to-face courses to on-line environment. Maybe this is why when reviewing various open source courses, there had not been any interactions, but rather a self-paced learning experience. I liked Yale's course selection and design. It was clearly evident that careful organization and planning was taken into account for the learners to be successful. Thank you for your review.