Tips for course providers: starting with, what's a lesson?
TinCan and the philosophy of the statement: Some tips for course providers
What’s a lesson?
Back in the day, the traditional lesson was 50 minutes of geography until the school bell rang, or - having entered the world of work - sitting down to read a chapter of a book about fluid dynamics and pipelines.
But without wishing to state the obvious, learning isn’t a matter of memorising a lecture or trying to learn the words in a book off by heart. Instead, it’s often a question of understanding key ideas (eg ‘supply varies to meet demand’), grasping procedures or processes (how to graph a linear equation), or absorbing essential facts (cut the blue wire, not the red one). In short, even with a complex topic, what you learn can be boiled down to relatively simple statements.
As you may have noticed, the Learning Line is based on the TinCan API, which is a method for recording statements in the form “I did this” to our LRS (Learning Record Store). Simple examples include “I learnt about safe handling of chemicals”, or “I watched a YouTube video about sustainability”.
This has implications for what traditional education calls lesson planning.
The statement ‘I did this’ gives both learners and course designers great flexibility and can apply to anything from a single sentence of content to an entire course. Because of this freedom, it’s not always obvious how to break content down. And so we come back to the question ‘what is a lesson’?
With that in mind, here are a few tips for designing courses that use TinCan statements and the Learning Line:
- Plan the learning outcomes you want students to reach as they make their way through the course. These don’t need to be descriptive down to the last detail. Having done that, it’s very often the case that content design and Learning Line statements will suggest themselves naturally when putting the course together.
- Don’t limit yourself to statements about facts such as “I learnt that world shipping is worth $100 billion annually”. Statements can apply to ideas, techniques and procedures too.
- A great advantage of online learning is the possibility of escaping the tyranny of the A4 page and turning content into chunks. If an important idea can be explained using a single paragraph, then there’s a case for giving it its own page and statement. If necessary, this can even be extended to chunking content down to single sentences, images or interactions.
- The aim of examining knowledge to give learners accreditation is valid. But it also helps them identify their weak points and focus on areas for improvement, and the TinCan API is ideal for recording the results of frequent quizzes and tests. Statements can also be in the form of “I scored X in the financial derivatives quiz” and take their place on the Learning Line alongside other statements of achievement.
All this comes with the proviso that the Learning Line is designed to do much more than helping tutors tick off the topics they want students to cover one by one. Although trainers and tutors like the idea of a logical course that follows a linear sequence, don’t forget that the Learning Line can give learners control of what they record and the order in which they tackle it. The ‘I Learnt This’ browser button also offers learners the chance to roam off the reservation, turning up content from other websites and online sources (even material from related courses provided by other trainers and organisations!)