Monday, November 18, 2013


The last post was an introduction to online learning, who I thought it was best for and why I thought it was a great way to reach a lot of different students. Today I'm going to talk about one of those ways: Microlectures. Microlectures are one of the greatest strengths of online/distance learning; this post will tell you why.

Educause is a great little site with more information about educational technology than you can shake a stick at. One of its initiatives is the "7 Things" series, great little PDF files with concise information about different technological tools out there for educators to take advantage of. There are a variety of topics and each 7 Things PDF includes the answer to the questions:
  1. What is it?
  2. How does it work?
  3. Who's doing it?
  4. Why is it significant?
  5. What are the downsides?
  6. Where is it going?
  7. What are the implications for higher learning?
As a teacher looking to improve the quality of my online delivery there are a multitude of different 7 Things articles that I can glean information from. Useful information. The one I'm going to focus on for this post is something called a microlecture.

Microlectures  are just what they sound like. A lecture that is tiny. Short. To the point. No rambling allowed. Macie Hall, the Senior Instructional Designer for the Center for Educational Resources quotes research from Wankat, Hartley and Davies:
"Research has shown that a student's attention span during lectures decreases after fifteen minutes. Once you lecture past that time, students retain significantly less information. Hartley and Davies suggested that breaking up a lecture into smaller segments could help keep students engaged." (Dec. 2012)
This is something I have found to be true in my teaching experience. You get a few minutes to get information across to students in a face-to-face classroom. You have to engage and teach in a window of time then move on to an activity to keep the kids learning. Otherwise they are staring off into space, tapping their pencils, trying to throw erasers at each other. You know what I mean. You've been there.

Online makes it that much more difficult to keep students' attention. There are so many more distractions at home: the dog needs to be let out, there's a TV show on, a video game is begging to be played, your kids need to eat lunch, etc. Most people don't have the time or patience to sit and watch a thirty minute video (much less an hour or more) and pay 100% attention to it.

Insert microlecture here! By keeping a lecture five minutes or less you not only keep the students focused but you, as a teacher, have to figure out what is important. What are the big ideas the students need to know? How can I say this concisely but still have it understandable?

For me, I think making a list of big topics and then recording a microlecture for each would be the best way to go about doing this. This way the students have access to the information and they don't have to wade through a long recording to review the sections they need. You have multiplying fractions down but need to work on adding them? Here's the microlecture based just on adding fractions. You understand the branches of government but not the levels? Here's one on the levels of government. It helps individualize students concerns and needs, meeting them at their level. That's one of my keys in education. Meeting the student's needs, not just playing a numbers game.

This article has a good point, contrasting traditional learning to microlectures and flipped classrooms.
"Many instructors lecture for fifty minutes because the schedule in the timetable says fifty minutes. Is the decision on duration based on good pedagogy or on the logistics of moving students through our buildings in an efficient manner? What is considered a "lesson" may only require five minutes of explanation or demonstration. What often happens is that the instructor will throw multiple five to ten minute lessons into a fifty minute class – up until now there hasn’t really been any other option to deliver the lessons. With microlecturing those lessons can be discretely packaged and offered to the students via the network. For the instructor, the creation of a 5-10 minute lecture is a lot less effort than sitting down for a full hour" (Feb. 2013)
 The article also comments on how this saves time in the long run. At first it takes time to record and make the videos. But, in the end, you'll have those videos made for years to come. They will only need occasional updates. And anything that saves time in the long run is a win in my book.

In another article from Online Cl@ssroom, Rob Kelly talks about how microlectures do nothing but improve online courses. Kelly points out that microlectures provide "cognitive presence" which assists students in engaging with the content. Kelly also states that "because of the short duration of each microlecture, students tend to listen/view them repeatedly." Having that short time frame and easy access makes the learners more willing to review the material which helps cement things in their heads. The article ends with some interesting statistics: "Penrose cites two statistics as indications of success: the completion rates for courses built on microlectures rose to 80 percent, up from 50 percent before this design using this method; and the proportion of students who completed courses with a C or better rose by 30 percent."

Microlectures are a great initiative for online learning. They meet a lot of criteria that I look for when making and/or taking an online class. Concise, to the point, meeting the student's needs individually, and even creating social presence by just being in the video. The ability to rewatch what is needed is invaluable. The short time span keeps everyone involved. Microlectures are an important part of any online learning class.

Next time: Are you a digital native or immigrant? What does that mean for your future in online learning?


Educause. (2012). 7 Things You Should Know About Microlectures. Retrieved from:

Hall, Macie. (Dec 2012). Microlectures. The Innovative Instructor. Retrieved from:

Kelly, Rob. (Mar 2010). Using 'Microlectures' to Improve Your Online Courses. Online Cl@ssroom. Retrieved from:

Tubbs, John. (Feb 2013). Microlectures=Big Learning Opportunities. CITES Academic Technology Service. Retrieved from:

Friday, November 15, 2013


On a regular basis I have a variation of the following conversation. Mr. Smith will ask me about school; what I’m doing, what I’m taking, how is it going. I let Mr. Smith know that I’m working on my master’s for teaching at CMU and it is going well. This leads to raised eyebrows and a confused look from Mr. Smith. “How can you go to CMU? It’s two hours away!” To which I reply, “All my courses are online.”

Of course Mr. Smith has heard of online courses. The concept is in its infancy but well enough advertised that people ‘get it.’ But do they really? Without variation Mr. Smith will reply with a nod because now taking CMU classes makes sense. Wait a beat. The confused look comes back. “What’s that like? How does that work?” Then I spend the next five minutes trying to explain just how my online classes, in general, work.

It’s out there. Online classes are becoming more and more of a ‘thing.’ They are flexible and can fit into a variety of schedules. Yet still we are at a point where society as a whole doesn’t fully understand what an online class is. Are there truly benefits? How exactly does it work? Are online classes true equivalents for their face-to-face counterpoints?

Here is where I’m going to explain why I’m an advocate for it, my mission statement to convince you, the reader, that online classes are important. Distance learning, online schooling, whatever you want to call it, is a great concept not just for me but for many types of students. Using the online systems to deliver classes can reach out to people who may have been unable to achieve degrees because of lifestyle situations. Online lectures can assist students with different learning styles. There’s a lot to put in the plus column of online learning.

My one caveat for online learning, it’s limitation so to speak, is in who the online classes target audience should be. I do not think that across the board you can say online learning is for everyone. When talking about fully online or hybrid classes, the student needs to have the maturity to be able to navigate the Internet themselves. They need to be able to be self-regulating and self-motivated. For a true online class, a class where material must be accessed outside of the classroom walls independently, age has to be a consideration. Older students, preferably seniors on up, benefit much more from online classes than younger ones. Let me tell you why.

I think that distance learning works well for older students.

I believe it is better for older students because there has to be some sense of responsibility. There has to be some driving need for the student to want to do the work, to want to succeed. I think this is true of any learning, but more so of online learning: You only get out of it what you put into it.

Why not younger students? The younger they are, the more supervision they need, especially navigating the potential pitfalls of the Internet. If you have online classes for fourth graders you now have to factor in parent time because parents will most likely have to supervise and/or help with assignments. Younger students will have a more difficult time navigating through LMS delivery systems; while not impossible it could rarely be done alone. And a fourth grader on the Internet will typically be distracted by more ‘interesting’ things; it isn’t often you find one that is overly self-motivated.

This is not to say that you can’t have online assignments or supplemental material for younger students. I think that a truly online or hybrid class is something that takes a level of maturity to understand and take on. Something they need to be able to do mostly on their own.

I think online learning engages more students to participate.

I think it works well for students to have time to think about their answers and therefore become more confident in their thought process by having them answer questions and participate on discussion boards. I think that having videos to watch on their own time makes it more meaningful; they are not forced to go to a lecture at a certain time, they have a choice in when they want to learn the content.

As much as I am a fan on online learning, it is not perfected yet.

As I have taken classes over the last year I have had teachers with varying styles. Some I liked; some I didn’t. This is a process that we, as teachers, are still learning about- teaching classes online. I think if we take a little bit of each of the best practices of previous teachers we can make online learning a huge success. We can't expect to just jump in and know how to teach these courses. Teachers need to do some research into what has failed in the past as well as what has been successful. To teach an effective online class it just takes a little work and a lot of dedication.

I choose to think of this blog more as a mission statement than a manifesto. A mission statement seems more goal oriented to me, something that people can get behind beyond my own personal opinion. I choose to see this project as not only sharing what I think about distance learning but providing sufficient, valid reasoning so that other people feel comfortable taking up the cause. Something that educates you and makes you think. Maybe gives you a different perspective. Something worthwhile.

The next few posts I make will talk about some of the best practices to use when teaching an online course. How important is social presence? What are microlectures and should I use them for teaching my course? Am I a digital native or immigrant? All these posts will go toward supplementing my position above. Online learning, for a majority of students high school and above, is the best way to reach the most students, capture their attention, and have them learn the most they possibly can.