Peer Assessment of Collaborative Activities


brains and puzzle

Collaboration and interaction are crucial activities in both classroom and online learning situations. “Study findings indicate that collaborating learners have higher levels of participation, achievement, productivity, self-esteem, peer interaction, group cohesion, and critical thinking skills than non-collaborators do [but] assessment of interaction and collaboration is challenging and cannot represent a true picture of individual knowledge and skills acquired unless the activities and teams have been planned and structured in an effective manner” (Oosterhof, Conrad & Ely, 2008, p. 202). Our authors recommend a three-pronged approach to assessment of collaboration to build that more comprehensive picture of student achievement: assessment of content (mainly through a discussion post–like this one?); a self-assessment; and peer assessment.

 The “primary focus of peer assessment is the evaluation of the collaborative process and of how much an individual has contributed to the end result” (Oosterhof, Conrad, & Ely, 2008, p. 217). You have most likely been part of a team and experienced the good and bad of team projects depending on the team dynamics. Peer assessment allows you to rate your peers on their contributions to the team and the end product the team submits for a grade. Some students are intimidated by peer assessments and some students appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback on their teammates.
According to Oosterhof, Conrad & Ely, “the conclusion inferred from peer assessment is that the higher the participation and contribution in the team process, the greater the probability that the team product reflects the individual learner’s level of knowledge acquisition” (2008, p. 217). Based on this, there are two possible conclusions:

  • If the peers rate an individual high on participation and contribution to the final product, then that person must have learned the material….Or on the flip side
  • If the peers rate an individual low on participation and contribution to the final product, then that person must not have learned the material.

Consider the following:

Do you think these conclusions or inferences are valid? Why or why not?

What other factors could influence the peer ratings?

What other factors (other than participation and contribution) could influence the final team product?

Do you think peer assessments are important considerations in evaluating collaborative activities?

By Wednesday:

Post your thoughts on the validity of these conclusions–do peer ratings indicate the individual learner’s level of acquisition of knowledge?

Support your post using the required texts, at least one outside resource, and your own experiences.

By Sunday:

Respond to at least two of your classmates posts.

Please keep in mind to always be respectful and professional in tone.

Additional Resources:

One good resource is the Laureate Week 7 video. Here are a couple of other resources that may be of interest:


Quality of Work Submitted A: Exemplary Work


3 points


All of the previous, plus the following:

B: Good Work


2 points



C: Minimal Work


1 point

F: Work Submitted but Unacceptable


0 points

Contribution to the Learning Community The student’s contribution meets all assigned criteria and frequently prompts further discussion of a topic.


The student takes a leadership role in discussions.

Regularly contributes to collaborative learning.


The student demonstrates exemplary awareness of the community’s needs.

The student’s contribution satisfactorily meets the assigned criteria for contributions to the discussions.



The student interacts frequently and encourages others in the community.




The student demonstrates an awareness of the community’s needs.

The student’s contribution is minimal to the posting and response deadlines.



Occasionally, the student makes an additional comment.





The student makes minimal effort to become involved within the community.

The student’s contribution does not meet the assigned criteria




The student does not respond or responds late to postings.




The student does not make an effort to participate in the community as it develops.

Initial Posting: Critical Analysis of Issues

**May include, but are not limited to, scholarly articles, collegial discussions; information from conferences, in service, faculty development, and/or meetings.


Demonstrates critical thinking to analyze and relate key points.



Supports content with required readings or course materials, and uses creditable sources** in addition to those materials.

Relates to the assigned discussion topic with satisfactory evidence of critical thinking.


Summarizes and supports content using information from required readings and course materials.

Summarizes or restates discussion topic components with minimal evidence of critical thinking skills.


Post is off topic.


Post has minimal or no connection to course materials.

Does not relate to the assigned discussion topic.





Responses: Quality of Learning for Colleagues and Self


Provide specific, constructive, and supportive feedback to extend colleagues’ thinking.


Encourage continued and deeper discussion.


Offer additional resources or experiences.


Demonstrate exemplary evidence of personal learning as a result of interaction with colleagues.

Provide constructive and supportive feedback to colleagues.



Refer to sources from required readings and course materials.


Demonstrate satisfactory evidence of personal learning as a result of interaction with colleagues.

Provide general feedback with minimal or no connection to required readings or course materials.


Demonstrate minimal evidence of personal learning as a result of interaction with colleagues.

Provide agreement without substance or connection to required readings or course materials.


Demonstrate no evidence of personal learning as a result of interaction with colleagues.

Expression Provides clear, concise opinions and ideas effectively written in Standard Edited English.


Includes appropriate APA-formatted citations and reference list for outside sources and direct quotes.


Provides clear opinions and ideas written in Standard Edited English.


Includes satisfactory APA-formatted citations and reference list for outside sources and direct quotes.

Expression is unclear or interrupted by errors.


Includes minimal or no APA-formatted citations and reference list for outside sources and direct quotes.

Unacceptable written expression.


May include outside sources and direct quotes that lack appropriate citations.

Final Assignment Grade A: Exemplary Work B: Good Work C: Minimal Work F: Work Submitted but Unacceptable



Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Plagiarism and Detection



Plagiarism is one of those things that I personally have always been a little afraid of—afraid that I would inadvertently make a mistake and then it would all be over.  Plagiarism is defined by the Council of Writing Program Administrators as occurring “when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) materials without acknowledging its source (as cited in Quinn, 2006)” (Jocoy and DiBiase, 2006, p. 2).  As you can see here this definition includes “deliberately” which would seem to let me off the hook if I make a mistake but Jocoy and DiBiase go on to explain that a limitation of this definition is the inclusion of “intentionality…Writers’ uses of works of others are not always deliberate … [but] unintentional violations of the rules do not mean that plagiarism has not occurred” (2006, p. 2).  Back to my dilemma!

As I read through the resources for this week’s assignment, I was struck by the various ways to detect and deter plagiarism and the attitude that many students seem to have with respect to this topic.  I know I always wanted to avoid plagiarizing because I was not interested in cheating but apparently it is a widespread issue and much of it seems to be attitude based.  As Palloff and Pratt said in the Laureate video this week, many students don’t see copy and pasting from the internet as plagiarism or cheating (2010, Retrieved from  They also gave another example of plagiarism—reusing your own material from another course.  Palloff said this is “considered cheating and academic dishonesty!” (Laureate Education, 2010, Retrieved from

Personally I don’t agree that this is plagiarism—it was my original work in that class so for me to reuse it isn’t violating the intellectual capital rights of anyone!  But the graphic below also says “recycling an old paper” is accidental plagiarism so I may have to re-evaluate my thinking.

So back to my original dilemma—how to avoid plagiarizing if you are not intending to cheat (like me) or prevent students from cheating if they are so inclined or tempted.  I liked many of the suggestions provided in our reading materials but two of them particularly stood out—using the software to detect plagiarism as a deterrent and using it as a training tool as well as using assignment design. is one of the tools discussed in our resources and the tool that Walden uses to evaluate the originality of papers submitted to the university.  Brown, Jordan, Rubin, and Arome provide a good discussion of when this software is most effective and why faculty choose to use it or not use it.  These authors state the four rationales for “using plagiarism detection tools/software:  deterring and detecting cheating; fostering learning of proper acknowledgement practice, building institutional reputation; and treating students fairly (Martin, 2004)” (2010, p. 114).  According to their research results, “faculty members who used the software felt strongly that the software was helpful to them in detecting plagiarism” but some faculty did not use it becuause “it does not identify all cases of plagiarism…[and] some faculty felt the originality report in and of itself cannot support allegations of plagiarism due to the rate of high false positives” (2010, p. 124).  In the study by Jocoy and DiBiase, they found that “the use of improved our ability to detect cut-and-paste plagiarism measurably.  While the automated process of checking papers was not necessarily faster than manual checking, it was certainly more thorough, enabling us to adhere and enforce to a stricter definition of plagiarism” (2006, p. 10).

I liked the idea proposed by all the authors to use the plagiarism detection software as a training aid in helping students better understand what plagiarism is and the nuances of paraphrasing and citing others’ works.  Chao, Wilhelm, and Neureuther used the Turnitin originality report to show examples of plagiarism identified by the tool as a negative example (2008, p. 35); Jocoy and DiBiase “view expectation management as generally good practice, especially considering evidence that associates a lack of knowledge about plagiarism with higher rates of incidence” (2006, p. 11) and Turnitin could be used to set expectations; and Brown, Jordan, Rubin, and Arome tell us that “one purpose for using Turnitin is to teach students how to be responsible digital citizens by using proper citations and quotations within the paper” (2010, p. 120).  I really like this idea and think this would have benefited me greatly to see examples and discuss why this was plagiarism and how to properly cite works.  There may actually be something like this in the Walden Writing center but frankly, I haven’t gone to look because of time constraints.  If anyone is aware of this being there, please let me know!

The other thing that I thought was really cool that was brought out in our readings is the fact that as instructional designers we can design the assignment to make plagiarism a moot point—“increasing incidents of plagiarism should be met with a pedagogical change in how assessment is conducted.  One method is to use authentic assessment which involves the students in the learning process and reflection (Bassendowski & Salgado, 2005).  Another method is to create a unique assignment that is not available by the paper mills.” (Brown, Jordan, Rubin, & Arome, 2010, p. 114).  This idea was supported by Dr. Pratt in the Laureate video when he said he designed all work where he doesn’t care if they go get a book or reference and his assignments mirror real life where he expects them to collaborate and find whatever resources they need to complete the assignment (2010, Retrieved from

I personally find it disturbing that students don’t care if they cheat but I am also aware that many, like me, don’t want to do it wrong but may not feel totally comfortable that they’ve “got it.”  For this reason, I think using the plagiarism detection software as a deterrent and training aid is a really good idea.  For those who are not inclined to cheat but may be tempted, having a tool that they know will be used to evaluate their work may be enough.  Having that deterrent in addition to using the originality reports and other sources/examples to teach the right and wrong of citing and paraphrasing should support those students who want to demonstrate academic integrity and do it correctly.  And for some students no matter what you do, they are going to try and take the easy road so having the detection software in place to catch them is also a wise idea.



Brown, V., Jordan, R., Rubin, N., & Arome, G. (2010). Strengths and weaknesses of plagiarism detection software. Journal of Literacy and Technology, 11(1), 110-131.
Chao, C., Wilhelm, W., & Neureuther, B. (2009). A study of electronic detection and pedagogical approaches for reducing plagiarism. Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 51(1), 31-42.

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 7(1), 1-15.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from

Technology in Online Learning


What impact does technology and multimedia have on online learning environments?

Technology has a crucial impact on online learning as does multimedia.  The advancements in technology have supported the growth of online or distance learning by allowing students to “attend” class from anywhere at any time.  Technology also supports the use of multimedia which adds dimension and interest to the courses through the addition of visual and auditory stimuli—this supports the learning preferences of many different learners and provides varying perspectives on the learning content.

However we should always remember that technology and the use of multimedia are tools to facilitate the accomplishment of learning objectives and not the focus of learning.  If the technology or use of multimedia (audio, video, graphics) help the student learn the material then they should be used; if they distract from learning, even if they are fun and increase student engagement, then they should not be used.

We see this with the use of games in learning—the game is fun and the students are engaged but if it doesn’t help the students learn the material in the course, then it is a distraction and hinders learning.   We shouldn’t include technology (games, simulations) or multimedia just because they are engaging unless learning is also occurring and the activity supports the course’s learning objectives because “an activity that does not contribute to a learning outcome only adds confusion to the course and risks learner dissatisfaction” (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 18).  “Smith and Ragan (1999) caution against the limited perspective that learner enthusiasm and engagement always equates with learning taking place.  Activities that lack an instructional goal and purpose will fail to create a deeper level of community and knowledge acquisition even if they are fun and interactive” (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 19).


What are the most important considerations an online instructor should make before implementing technology?

There are several considerations the instructor should consider beginning with the background and experience with the technology that both the students and instructor have.  If the instructor doesn’t have much experience with online learning and the associated tools, then they will need to build up their experience and may want to slowly introduce new or additional technologies.  Boettcher and Conrad say “the tips in each phase of the course suggest a number of tools for you to consider.  But it is vital that you add tools only as you are ready…some faculty identify one or two tools to learn and use with each course offering as a way of expanding their expertise” (2010, p. 58).  It is particularly important for the instructor to know their limits because if they aren’t proficient, or at least familiar, with the tools then they will be unable to assist their students which can lead to frustration by everyone.

The other consideration when using online tools is matching the right tool to the right task—some tools are best for communication while others are better for collaboration.  Wikis can be used to create and collaborate on projects as each student can add to the material; blogs are good for posting content and creating learning communities as other students provide their input; Skype can be great for synchronous communication on projects; and discussion boards are good for asking questions or posting responses to assignments.


What implications do usability and accessibility of technology tools have for online teaching?

Usability and accessibility of technology tools is a critical part of preparing for a successful online course.  “Usability is the extent to which a system can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use…in an e-learning context, can be defined as the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which users can achieve specified learning (or learning related) goals in a particular environment or with a particular tool or learning resource” (Cooper, Colwell, & Jelfs, 2007, p. 232).  If the student can’t use the tool (wiki, blog, LMS, or multimedia) or learn to use it, then they will not learn the material or objective of the course.  In fact, they may spend so much time learning the tool that they can’t focus on the course content and will become frustrated.  This can lead to retention problems with courses as students drop out.  This should be considered when there are students new to the online environment—Walden does this with their WRO course by introducing students to the tools used in their online courses and the battle rhythm of the course.

Accessibility is the “ability of the learning environment to adjust to the needs of all learners…determined by the flexibility of the e-learning system or learning resource to meet the needs and preferences of all users” (Cooper, Colwell, & Jelfs, 2007, p. 232).  This is most often thought of in the context of users with disabilities and compliance with Section 508 requirements but it should also be considered more broadly.  For example, we need to consider bandwidth when we set up our courses and accessibility to the internet because not all students have high speed internet so accessing videos and some multimedia can be problematic.  My parents live in a “holler” in Kentucky and we don’t get internet—we could get dial-up but most of the tools or multimedia used would be supremely frustrating if accessed via dial-up.  In this case, it would be nice to be able to download the transcript of the Laureate videos so you still get the material even if you can’t watch the video.  In the first courses I took at Walden, you could download the transcript but now those aren’t available which I find frustrating.  This would also be important for students with disabilities who have to use text readers and can’t access the videos.

For these reasons, “accessibility and usability issues need to be addressed throughout a project’s lifecycle to ensure its developments are subsequently adopted in educational delivery” (Cooper, Colwell, & Jelfs, 2007, p. 243).


What technology tools are most appealing to you for online teaching as you move forward in your career in instructional design?

I am what many call an early adopter of technology—I like new gadgets and tools and find them compelling.  I have been fascinated with gaming and simulations for quite some time—ever since I saw a demonstration of Second Life at one of our e-learning conferences at work.  The fact that people can interact in a simulated environment using avatars doing “real world” tasks and experience “real” consequences in a safe, low risk way was really appealing.  This type of technology could be used for many different types of learning so it supports many different kinds of learners.  I think this kind of environment allows students to participate from their worksite but if designed properly, the experience could be just as realistic and challenging as if they were in the classroom or encountering a real-world job problem and solving it in real time.  “One role of instructors is to provide students with meaningful experiences that will have relevance in their lives beyond the instructional situation…an instructor can provide a situation that mimics reality but provides a safe environment in which both success and failure are possible…some of the best lessons are learned from failure and subsequent reflection” (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011 pp. 92-93).  I think these tools could be very useful in learning situations as long as we keep in mind the caution against using games for games sake and ensure they are designed to help students achieve learning objectives.


I also really like the use of online communities of practice to support lifelong learning.  Practitioners can post information on any topic and share best practices to enhance the skill of all members.  This also supports social learning and connectivism.


So what are your favorite technology tools?



Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 15(3), 231-245.

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Setting Up An Online Learning Experience


Beginning a new course or study program, particularly an online course if you have never participated in learning in this environment, can be intimidating. In a F2F environment, the instructor can set up the room and opening activities to put students at ease and “break the ice.” This can also be done in an online environment but can be more challenging and requires more up-front planning. Boettcher and Conrad highlight for us four things that we need be focused on when launching an online course: presence, community, patience (for ourselves and our students), and clear expectations (2010, p. 53).

online themes


What is the significance of knowing the technology available to you?


As instructors and students begin the journey towards successful completion of an online course or program of study, they need to be aware of the technology and tools they will be required to use—since the course will be conducted in a virtual world rather than face-to-face. This could be unsettling for instructors and students alike who have not operated in this environment and may not be technically savvy. The terms blogs, wikis, discussion posts, Blackboard, and many more can cause even the strongest and most confident student to shudder and pause as they anticipate the roadblocks ahead. But, taking it step-by-step and slowing introducing new technologies and online requirements can help all involved build the confidence they need to successfully and easily maneuver through the course. “The best approach for teaching a first online course is to keep it simple. Focus on the essential tools…you can branch out later” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 55). This advice helps the online instructor teaching their first course and will help the new students as well.

 If students don’t understand the technology used in the course; for example, knowing how to navigate Blackboard or post their response to a discussion within the Learning Management System, then they will not be confident and may lose their motivation to stay in the course. It is important for students to have a high degree of self-efficacy which can be provided through scaffolding provided by the instructor and/or school in the form of orientation courses, clear guidance on using tools, and opportunities to phase in the use of new technologies. If instructors don’t understand the technology then they will be unable to support their students and may find it very frustrating to teach in an online environment. This isn’t good for anyone—the student, the instructor, or the school.


Why is it essential to communicate clear expectations to learners?

Clear expectations are imperative in any learning situation whether online or F2F. Students need to know what is expected of them in a course in order to be successful. I am reminded of the old statement—how do you know how to get there if you don’t know where you are going? Clear expectations let students know where they are going and enables them to build a solid plan or roadmap to get there. In addition, “clarifying how all this will work and sometimes might not work can help create a smooth and trusting learning environment” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 55). This will also help the students to set up their weekly battle rhythm which will help keep them on course—“a weekly schedule makes expectations clear and helps students plan their daily personal and work lives. It also helps to set clear expectations that an online course requires regular commitments and interaction” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 81).


Expectations should be set in many areas of the course to include when and how to turn in assignments, how to communicate and when, how assignments will be graded, how to ask for assistance with technology, and when the instructor will be available. This can be particularly important because “students often expect faculty to be there all the time. This is why setting policies and expectations for feedback and presence is essential to student satisfaction” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 77).


Other Considerations:

From my perspective, the technology and clear expectations in all the ways mentioned are two crucial aspects of being a successful instructor or student in the online environment. However, I also think it is very important that the instructor or course designers be careful to not overwhelm the student with too many assignments and keep in mind that these folks have other aspects of their lives.


The other aspect is whether to build in synchronous activities as well as asynchronous activities. In one of my courses, we had to do team work to build an instructional plan. At first I was skeptical about the process because I usually like to work on projects alone because I know it will get done and I don’t have to rely on anyone not pulling their weight. Plus I can work on it when I want and not be tied to anyone else’s schedule. However, it turned out to be a positive experience and I became friends with some of my teammates—we stayed in contact throughout the degree program. Asynchronous activities can add that personal element often missing in an online course, but it can also be problematic if folks live in different time zones or different cultures. The designer needs to carefully consider these aspects when deciding whether to incorporate asynchronous activities into the course design. It may be better to make it an option for the instructor if he/she feels it will work given the students in any particular offering.


The key thing to remember is that planning for teaching in an online environment is the foundation for success for the instructor and the student.


Online Learning Communities


How do online learning communities significantly impact both student learning and satisfaction within online courses?

Online learning communities help students build a sense of sharing and belonging in a virtual environment and research has shown that this sense of belonging is important to retention in online courses. People have an inherent need to connect and without this sense of connection they may feel isolated which decreases their satisfaction in the learning experience—this is the situation described by the online university attendee to Dr. Palloff and Dr. Pratt’s training session included in our “Online Learning Community” video.

According to Dr. Palloff, research has shown that online communities can help students “co-create knowledge and meaning through interaction between learners and between learners and the instructor who acts as a facilitator interacting with the students on an equal footing” (Laureate, 2010). This kind of learning is grounded in social constructivism—“Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture of this sort, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture on many levels. It is emphasised that culture plays a large role in the cognitive development of a person. Its origins are largely attributed to Lev Vygotsky” (Retrieved from:, 8 May 2014).

In essence, we learn from each other and the interaction that occurs between us as we create meaning from our individual and shared experiences. I know that I have experienced added nuances and meaning on course content and material through the discussion posts and comments during the Walden program. This is because we each have our own perspectives and life experiences that we bring to the table and we approach the content and learning through our own lens—when we share that with our classmates the entire experience is richer and expands our own horizons.

What are the essential elements of online community building?

There are five elements essential to building an online community—people, purpose, process, method and social connection/interaction (Laureate, 2010). Obviously the learners and instructor are key people who need to be involved and active in the online learning community and they need to be there for a specific purpose (i.e. the class and course content). Process, or how the students and faculty will interact in the online community, need to be carefully considered and communicated to all involved. As Dr. Palloff warns us, we need to be careful to not overwhelm those students who may have not ever taken on online course and build the skills and confidence of the learner in this environment (method) (Laureate, 2010). Underpinning it all is the social constructivism and the need for routine, meaningful interaction to build the sense of community and belonging.

How can online learning communities be sustained?

I think this can be a difficult question and it depends upon the perspective being considered—are we asking how we can keep the community alive and vibrant from an interaction perspective; or how can we sustain and manage the community from an administrative perspective. These are very different viewpoints.

From the perspective of keeping the community alive and vibrant, the instructor and learners need to share in a meaningful way that adds value and help co-create knowledge that benefits each individual. Setting up routine opportunities for interaction (discussion posts) and assignments to encourage communication (blog posts or collaborative projects) are two ways to keep the dialogue going.

From the perspective of the administrator (similar to the Health Care administrator in the “Online Learning Community” video), how can we manage the learning community and collect data and information on the learners and their assignments (record keeping purposes) for mandatory training? This would be a consideration where I work because we have mandated compliance training that must be tracked so that we can pull the training records of specific individuals or groups when auditors request the data. This must be evaluated during the initial establishment of the online learning community platform and appropriate software platforms must be utilized.

What is the relationship between community building and effective online instruction?

According to research, effective online instruction occurs in the presence of online community building. The following statement was primarily aimed at discussions in the classroom but can also be applied to online discussions and online interaction and may be even more applicable—“studies on increasing the use of student discussion in the classroom both support and are grounded in theories of social constructivism. There is a full range of advantages that results from the implementation of discussion in the classroom. Participating in group discussion allows students to generalize and transfer their knowledge of classroom learning and builds a strong foundation for communicating ideas orally.[10] Many studies argue that discussion plays a vital role in increasing student ability to test their ideas, synthesize the ideas of others, and build deeper understanding of what they are learning.[10][11][12][13] Large and small group discussion also affords students opportunities to exercise self-regulation, self-determination, and a desire to persevere with tasks.[12][14] Additionally, discussion increases student motivation, collaborative skills, and the ability to problem solve. [15][14][13] Increasing students’ opportunity to talk with one another and discuss their ideas increases their ability to support their thinking, develop reasoning skills, and to argue their opinions persuasively and respectfully.[10] Furthermore, the feeling of community and collaboration in classrooms increases through offering more chances for students to talk together” (Retrieved from:, 8 May 2014).

What do you think about online learning communities? Have they helped you expand your knowledge beyond what you were able to glean from the actual course materials? If so, how? I look forward to hearing (OK, reading) your examples!



Social Constructivism. Wikipedia. Retrieved May 8, 2014 from:

 Video: Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from

My Personal Growth and Development


Personal development is crucial for employees to feel engaged and valued by their employers and to feel as if they have a say and impact on their future and career. Development “refers to formal education, job experiences, relationships, and assessment of personality and skills that help employees prepare for the future” (Noe, 2013, p. 367). My path forward for personal development includes formal education, informal education, job experiences and mentoring.


Formal education (off-site and on-site programs designed specifically for a company’s employees, short courses offered by consultants or universities) has been my primary focus for the past two years as I have completed my Master’s in Instructional Design and Technology. As part of my continued education, I am pursuing follow-on certificates to augment my Master’s degree—the current one in Training & Development as well as other ones in Online Learning and Adult Education. I believe formal education is crucial to expanding one’s skills and opening doors of opportunity—it has certainly done that for me because I have no doubt that having earned my degree from Walden was instrumental in helping me obtain my current position as the Training and Development Manager at my site.


Informal education is also very important in today’s world and has become much easier to pursue with the internet and access to so many resources. Informal learning “refers to learning that is learner-initiated, involves action and doing, is motivated by an intent to develop, and does not occur in a formal learning setting” (Noe, 2013, p. 8). I spend quite a bit of time on the internet exploring information and knowledge about training–I attend webinars and read articles and blogs so I can increase my skills and effectiveness in this area. I strongly believe it is imperative to be a life-long learner in order to be successful and stay current in your passions.


Job experiences are another great way to develop personally—I have been very fortunate over my career to have numerous jobs which provided practice and experience in many different skills which formed a foundation for where I am today—in a job I truly enjoy and where I can make a difference in people’s lives. “Most employee development occurs through job experiences: relationships, problems, demands, tasks, or other features that employees face in their jobs” (Noe, 2013, p. 386). Into the future, I will continue to seek out different job experiences to broaden my skill set further and help me contribute even more to those I support. The job experiences I will seek out in the near future will be focused on training and on pharmaceutical manufacturing—primarily so I can continue to improve as a trainer and training developer and better understand the needs of the employees at my site.


The fourth area that I will consider for personal growth is mentoring—both as a mentor and a mentee. “Mentoring programs have many important purposes including socializing new employees, developing managers, and providing opportunities for women and minorities [and any employee in my mind] to share experiences, and gain the exposure and skills needed to move into management positions” (Noe, 2013, p. 394). I would like to find someone in my new company to be a mentor to help me navigate the politics and culture of a commercial company because all my experience previously has been in the military or with the government. I would also like to be a mentor to less experienced employees in my company so I can share my experiences coming up the ranks as a follower and leader.


Given where I am in my career, these are the areas I feel most beneficial for my own personal growth. Your list may be different depending on where you are in your journey. I look forward to seeing what your plan is and how you see it benefiting you.


As part of my current job as Training and Development Manager, I am also invested in the personal growth and development of the employees at my site.  As part of that duty, I have put together a short PowerPoint presentation that could be used to convince our HR department and leadership that implementing a site-wide employee development program.  I invite you to take a look.

Implementing a Site-Wide Employee Development Program


Noe, R. A. (2013). Employee training and development (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill

I Love Technology!


Okay, I will freely admit that I love technology! I guess I would characterize myself as am early adopter and using technology in training really jazzes me up. I can see so much potential in technology to deliver our training message via engaging and interactive ways. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think technology is always the best solution because it’s not. Sometimes F2F course or reading information or informal learning via internet research is the way to go—but I think in many cases training presented through technology can be very effective especially when used as part of an overall integrated, blended strategy. I’ll show you some examples of how I see this happening where I work as we discuss the key technologies I selected to focus on in this blog post: web casting, mobile technology, simulations/games, and virtual worlds. All of these can be important components of a robust e-learning program.



Web casting or webinars are a common way to impart information and are part of the distance learning landscape. Webcasting “involves instruction that is provided online through live broadcasts” (Noe, 2013, p. 349). I really like webinars and I attend them frequently to stay up to date on my instructional design and training delivery skills—I really like being able to “attend” these sessions and pick up tips and tricks to enhance my training toolbox. I especially appreciate when the hosts of the training record the sessions so you listen again or listen for the first time if you had to miss the session for some reason (like your boss said you had to be somewhere else J). Gotta be real though, some webinars are real snooze fests and mirror death-by-PowerPoint classroom training sessions. Some of the worst ones have a “lack of interaction between the trainer and the audience, technology failures, and unprepared trainers” (Noe, 2013, p. 349). Having conducted a couple of webinars, I can attest to the fact that it takes a lot of preparation and really considering when and where you want to include interaction and attendee participation. I really think webinars will continue to be a great way to get information out to lots of people less expensively because you don’t have to travel and can attend from anywhere; but people do need to consider how to make them as effective as possible because there are good and bad ways to conduct webinars–the best ones are interactive, involve lots of activities, and require participation by the attendees.



Mobile technology is another area that I am really excited about. I spend a lot of time on my smartphone and tablet and can only imagine that this will continue to expand as these become even more mainstream. Mobile learning is “training delivered using a mobile device such as a smartphone, netbook, notebook computer, or iPad … [and] can involve both formal and informal learning. Formal learning might include e-learning courses, podcasts, or videos on the mobile device. Informal learning includes engaging in communication and messaging with other employees via Twitter or blogs” (Noe, 2013, p. 345). I really like e-learning but I think it hasn’t always been done effectively or well—I’m thinking of those distance learning course that are so boring because you only go through page after page of information that has no interaction or application at all. I call these “page-turners” and I like to avoid them at all costs. I do think that e-learning can be engaging and compelling for students—and they can be delivered on our desktop computers or on mobile devices like laptops or tablets.


I have plans to incorporate e-learning on mobile devices in my organization as part of our new training strategy. I would love to develop e-learning assets for tablet computers because they are smaller and can be used in more locations in our manufacturing environment but as I was told today by our VP of Quality—“we can’t even get our regular IT to work so I think this is quite a bit down the road” (Interview, 4/10/14). Well, a girl’s gotta dream right? So I’ll keep this in the back of my mind while I pursue training on laptops that the manufacturing folks can access within the manufacturing suites and move to various locations where the need is. As part of my review of training needs in my organization during the first 2 ½ months I’ve been there, I’ve highlighted the need for additional training resources so we have initiated hiring actions. One of those actions is for a training specialist with an e-learning focus—I think it is very important to use e-learning courses to supplement classroom and OJT training. (I’ll talk more about this in the next section on simulations.) As Noe reminds us, “for mobile learning to be effective, it needs to be short, easy to use, and meaningful. One estimate is that the length should not exceed ten minutes because users likely do not have long periods of time for learning and attention spans are limited…the screen layout should work with or without graphics…[and] should only be relevant to the content and sized so that the user can see them without scrolling” (2013, p. 346).



So what kind of e-learning do I plan to use on mobile devices? Some will be more typical e-learning courses but I certainly plan to make them more interactive and engaging than the page-turner versions by adding in interactive elements like activities, quizzes, and screen-recorded simulations. I think simulations are the way to go in my environment because much of what we do is process or procedure oriented or requires knowledge of machines and equipment. Some of the types of simulations include “a branching story (present a situation and ask trainees to make a choice or decision; they then progress based on those decisions); an interactive spreadsheet (given a set of business rules and asked to make decisions and spreadsheet shows results); game-based (play a video game on the computer); and virtual lab (interact with a computer representation of the job for which they are being trained)” (Noe, 2013, p. 339). I really like the branching story and the virtual lab. Where I work, I see the branching story being very useful for management and leadership skills—give supervisors a situation and let them make decisions in a no-threat environment and test the results of their actions. We are instituting a supervisor development training program and this kind of e-learning would be a great way to augment our planned classroom instruction.

The other aspect of simulations I plan to incorporate are virtual labs. I really want to create simulations of our key processes within the plant so that operators can practice key processes and skills in a low-threat environment without risking product. Miller Brewing Company uses mini-games and have found that the games “do a better job of replicating how to pour beer correctly than traditional classroom instruction; it is more conventient and accessible for trainee practice; and the real product is not used thus eliminating waste and reducing costs” (Noe, 2013, p. 340). For my organization, I plan to use e-learning authoring software to create a See-Practice-Do simulation of our processes so the trainees can see how it is done in a video, practice the steps using cues and guidance, and then carry out the process without assistance. They would receive feedback on their performance and tips to improve the next time. I truly think that this approach will shorten the time they spend in OJT learning the skills—but it can never replace the hands-on training because there is nothing like working with the real equipment.



The last technology I want to discuss is virtual worlds like Second Life. I have been intrigued by these for a couple of years and would love to incorporate something like this into my training program in the future. A virtual world is a “computer-based, simulated online three-dimensional representation of the real world where learning programs or experiences can be hosted…the strength is its ability to create virtual reality simulations that actively involve the learner, such as putting the trainee’s avatar in a realistic role play” (Noe, 2013, p. 343). I think it would be beyond cool to create a world that look like our plant and have the employees navigate through it to practice different skills—such as safety training or fire evacuation. Stapoil, a Norwegian oil company, uses their Second Life “oil platform for safety training. It catches fire and employees have to find lifeboats to safely exit the platform” (Noe, 2013, p. 343). Unfortunately, this option is really expensive with the cost to rent space running $2200-$300 per day! I truly can’t see my organization spending this kind of money so this is probably well into the future just like the use of tablets.



So what are the implications of using technology in training? In one article I ran across on the Training Magazine website, the author makes the case that not everyone is like me—not everyone wants to use technology for training. Some really like the tried and true ways of classroom training (I do too by the way) and would rather not play a game. Margery Weinstein in When It’s a Game, But It Isn’t Fun, asks “but have you ever considered that more employees than you think might not enjoy gaming, and would rather just be told in a straightforward manner what they need to know? I ask because I’m one of those employees who doesn’t like the idea of having to play a game to learn. I would much rather be given a book to read or an e-mail from the company explaining what I need to know, why I need to know it, and when the test will be. Worrying about playing a game—on top of learning—stresses me out. I worry I won’t understand the software or cloud-based program running the game and the thought of competing against my peers also causes me anxiety” (2014, Retrieved from: Margery suggests we offer employees the choice to use the technology or more traditional methods such as a book—I will definitely have to keep this in mind as I create the plan for implementing our training program because I want all employees to be engaged and not feel anxiety about training because of the training delivery method.


Another article was really interesting to me because it discussed all the things with e-learning that drive me crazy (like the page-turners) and committing to making it better. It is called the Serious eLearning Manifesto and it says that eLearning should be:


Principles of Serious eLearning

Principles of Serious eLearning

Go check it out—they have 22 Supporting Principles. Check it out here:


I hope you are excited about the technology that I’ve introduced here but never forget that the message is what is important—so whether we deliver the message through traditional methods or through more cutting edge ways using technology what is important is that the employee learns what they need to know to perform their job with proficiency and excellence. What do you think?



Allen, M., Dirksen, J., Quinn, C., & Thalheimer, W. (2014). Serious eLearning Manifesto. Retrieved April 10, 2014 from

Noe, R. A. (2013). Employee training and development (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill

Weinstein, M. (2014). When It’s a Game, But It Isn’t Fun. Training: The Source for Training Development. Retrieved April 10, 2014 from:

Planning for a Needs Assessment


This is a long post but hopefully worth the read–especially if you are also in the throes of planning a needs assessment!

A needs assessment “refers to the process used to determine whether training is necessary” (Noe, 2013, p. 114).  For my needs assessment, I chose to do my own company because I am actually in the process of performing a needs assessment.  I won’t be naming my company but we are a third party manufacturing firm for the pharmaceutical industry and as such we make medications for pharmaceutical companies.  This manufacturing environment is very controlled and governed by strict regulations and guidelines.

I have been with this organization for about 7 weeks and as the new training manager, I was hired to perform an evaluation of the entire training program.  Over the past few weeks I have spent most of my time evaluating our basic operations orientation course and have developed several recommendations which have been positively received; however I need to evaluate the other areas as well and determine training needs from an overall site perspective.  While I have been there I have repeatedly emphasized to leadership that not all the areas identified as “human error” may be due to training but could also be tied to process issues, leadership failures (not holding people accountable), employee motivation or attention to detail.  The needs assessment should help identify when training is the appropriate solution or intervention.

As part of this needs assessment, I will consider the following questions.

What stakeholders would you want to make sure to get buy-in from?

For my location, there are numerous stakeholders ranging from office personnel to production operators.  These stakeholder groups include:

  • Production operators
  • Quality Assurance associates
  • Quality control personnel to include analytical and microbiology laboratory personnel
  • Maintenance
  • Warehouse
  • Customer service
  • HR and other front office personnel (i.e. finance)
  • Training
  • Regulatory/compliance
  • Site leadership (GM, managers, supervisors)
  • Customers
  • Regulators.

All of these groups with the exception of customers and regulators are expected to demonstrate proficiency in their jobs and as such are in a position to provide input into the training needs of our organization.  Changes due to the needs assessment will be more effective if those who are being trained have input and a say in how they are trained.  As an example, “Reynolds and Reynolds, an Ohio-based information services company, uses surveys to obtain sales employees’ opinions about what kinds of training they want…[and] if possible, employees need to be given a choice of what programs to attend and must understand how actual training assignments are made to maximize motivation to learn” (Noe, 2013, pp. 130-131).  While much of our training is compliance-related, input into delivery methods or developmental courses is appropriate.

Customers and regulators are also stakeholders in the needs assessment as they are the recipients of our products.  Input into the training program may be more indirect for these two groups but should be considered nevertheless.

What questions would you ask (and to whom would you address them) during the organizational, person, and task analysis phases?

Organizational Analysis

“Organizational analysis involves identifying whether training supports the company’s strategic direction; whether managers, peers, and employees support training activity; and what training resources are available” (Noe, 2013, p. 122).  For this area, I would ask:

  • What are the issues or problems being encountered at the site affecting our bottom line—i.e. delivery of product to the customer (quality, timeliness, cost)? (all employees, particularly leadership and managers/supervisors)
  • Are there any changes to our products or direction coming up in the future? (site leadership)
  • How is the training function perceived at this location? (all employees)
  • What is the budget for training at our location? (site leadership, managers)

Person Analysis

“Person analysis helps to identify employees who need training; that is, whether employees’ current performance or expected performance indicates a need for training” (Noe, 2013, p. 123).

  • Are there any specific areas of poor performance as indicated by audit findings or problem reports?  (managers, compliance group)
  • Are there any areas you don’t feel as proficient in or you don’t feel you have received adequate training to perform?  (employees)
  • What are the demographics of our employee base?  (HR, managers)
  • What are the consequences of poor performance here at the site?  Incentives for good performance? (HR, managers, employees)
  • Do you receive feedback on your performance? How often?  In what manner? (employees, managers)
  • How will I know which employees need training? (Table 3.1, Noe, 2013, p. 116). (HR, managers, supervisors)

Task Analysis

“Task analysis results in a description of work activities, including tasks performed by the employee and the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to complete the tasks” (Noe, 2013, p. 135).

  • Which areas do you feel can benefit most from training?  (managers, supervisors)
  • What are key knowledge, skills, and abilities that our employees need to be successful? (managers, supervisors, compliance, quality assurance/control)
  • Has a task or job analysis been performed for our different manufacturing areas? (managers of each area)
  • How are the tasks of each job governed by standard operating procedures or regulations?  (all employees)
  • Who are your best performers in each manufacturing area? (managers of each area)

What documents or records might you ask to see?

Documentation reviews is one technique to employ during a needs assessment.  It is good for “information on procedure, is objective, and a good source of task information” (Noe, 2013, p. 118).  For our company, I would ask to see the following documents:

  • Standard operating procedures (SOPs)/regulations
  • Existing training curriculums/courses
  • Audit findings
  • Problem reports/deviations
  • Customer feedback reports
  • Budgets
  • HR exit surveys

What techniques would you employ and why?

So far during my initial time at the company, much of my data collection has been done through interviews with key stakeholders—managers of each key area (manufacturing, QA, compliance, warehouse, and training). This allowed me to identify what the managers of each area see as the needs in their areas and provided me with a starting point for further investigation.

In addition to interviews and document reviews, I have also used observation—this was done for the basic operations orientation course because one of the first things I did when I joined the company was to attend the course as a student.  Since I was part of the class, it did not skew the results by adding the observation bias.  I would like to observe production operators in the future to see how they perform and how well they use and comply with our SOPs—one of the disadvantages to this method is that “employees behavior may be affected by being observed” (Noe, 2013, p. 118) but the best way to see what operators do is to watch them so I believe observation will be an important data point.

I also plan to implement training advisory boards to get input and feedback from employees on all the shifts—this will be one way to garner input and buy-in from the employees on the floor.  This is an example of a focus group which can reach many people at once (unlike interviews which typically only reach one or two at a time).


Way Ahead

The needs assessment will be instrumental in identifying when training is appropriate in my company and what kind of training will be best.  I have started the process but I have a long way to go to fully explore the range of interventions that will be appropriate.  This assignment has helped me to lay out some initial considerations for this assessment—now I need to go make it happen.

Why Should a Company Invest in Training?


For our class we were asked to put together a short “elevator speech” to give to someone we wanted to convince that investing in training is a good idea.  The key to an elevator speech is to make it grab their attention so you can get more time with them to make your full presentation.  Listed below is the verbiage of my elevator speech—90 seconds to make our case.  I have also include the audio file of my speech for your listening enjoyment!

What do you think?  What suggestions do you have to make it more compelling or stronger?

Elevator Speech

I’m glad we can spend a few moments speaking about training and development.  I’m aware our organization is having some issues retaining talent and finding people in our area with the skills and knowledge to contribute to our bottom line—I’m confident we can address many of these issues with training and development targeted to our specific business strategies and goals.

Did you know that the American Society for Training and Development  did a study of 500 “publicly traded, US based companies and found that those who invested the most in training and development had a shareholder return that was 86 percent higher than companies in the bottom half and 46 percent higher than market average” (Noe, 2013, p. 17).  Based on these results, training and development can directly support our business strategy to increase productivity and quality because “training that helps employees develop the skills needed to do their jobs directly affects the business.  Giving employees opportunities to learn and develop creates a positive work environment which supports the business strategy by attracting talented employees as well as motivating and retaining current employees” (Noe, 2013, p. 60).  Ritz-Carlton hotels are a great example of placing an emphasis on training, particularly just-in-time training and has increased its satisfaction score with cleanliness from 82 % to 92% in six months (Noe, 2013, p. 92).

I would like to schedule a time to meet with you in the next few days to talk in more detail about how training can help us retain more of our workers and increase their productivity—this will reduce costs and increase employee engagement which is a win for us and our customers.  When would be a good time to get together?

My Elevator Speech  (just click on the link to open the PowerPoint file with the embedded .wav audio file–then click on the megaphone icon to open the media player–then click on the Play button)


Noe, R. A. (2013). Employee training and development (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill

So Many Requirements–So Little Time (and Resources)!!


It is very difficult to properly scope the requirements of programs particularly those that are pushing the envelope of technology—the Department of Defense has many of these programs and makes every effort to manage them effectively.  Unfortunately their best efforts aren’t always good enough because, let’s face it—stuff happens!

  • The technology doesn’t always work or we just can’t solve the technology issues by the customer need date;
  • the need that initially drove the program changed (i.e. the Berlin Wall fell);  or
  • there are too many customers with competing goals and requirements (i.e. the Joint Strike Fighter).

Sometimes projects run into problems because the customer (or developer) has an insatiable appetite for more.  I actually ran into this problem as a subject matter expert and instructional designer for a lesson I was developing within a course.  This lesson was one component of a two week professional development course for cost estimators—sounds fairly straightforward but there were many issues.  First the requirements or performance outcomes for this lesson were not well defined—it is really difficult to scope a lesson when you can’t get a clear answer on what the students need to do when they are done.  Scope creep is defined as “uncontrolled changes in the requirement of the course as defined in the scope definition of the project management plan…sometimes changes to the course may occur when course requirements are not properly defined, documented, and controlled” (source).  So in order to have scope creep you must first have scope definition!

To try and define the scope of the lesson, I went to a spreadsheet that listed key Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs)—this gave me a starting point for the topics but to write an effective lesson, you must have learning objectives.  So what is a learning objective?  What the student must do; when, where, and how they must perform the skill; and how well they must perform it (performance targets).  The spreadsheet didn’t have this level of detail so I had to come up with it based on the very general statements provided.  OK, scope roughly defined.  So why did scope creep happen?  Well, let me tell you why!!

Once the learning objectives were created (and approved), I began creating the lesson however I quickly determined that it was going to be difficult to teach the students the knowledge required because they didn’t have the foundational concepts to be successful—it was a topic area from another function (contracting) that affected cost estimators.  In order to teach the concepts the leadership wanted them to know, I would first have to teach them the basic terms, processes, and procedures.  The question was—how to do this when the lesson could only be a certain length?  There were a few different ways to approach it—provide a teaching note (reading) with the information that the students would read before the lesson (gets the job done but boring and no interaction) or create an online module teaching the concepts in an interactive, more appealing way (gets the job done, takes longer to develop).  So being the enterprising ID, I decide to do both—I created a teaching note to fill the gap while I began creating the online module (I mean it is so much cooler!).

Greer, in the Project Minimalist, tells us that “scope change may be defined as any addition, reduction, or modification to the deliverables or work process as outlined in your original project plan.  Change of scope is normal—it’s not necessarily a problem” (2010, Retrieved from:  “A common source of change is the natural tendency of the client, as well as project team members, to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses (scope creep)” (Portny et al, 2008, p. 346).  So while my motives were good (improve the student’s learning experience by implementing interactive, situated learning in accordance with constructivist learning theories), it was a problem because I had a definite deadline and there was no way I was going to get the online module done in the time frame available.  Regrettably, I didn’t figure this out (or didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do it all) until after I spent many late nights without sleep working on trying to get this done.  The way that I dealt with the scope creep (adding an online module) was to work harder and longer—caused stress and diverted me from tasks that had a better chance of success within available time and resources.

What should I have done?  My idea was a good one, however in hind sight, I shouldn’t have bitten off or taken on more than I could handle well in the time frame I had.  One of the key things we need to do as a project manager is identify the constraints of the project—time and resources being big ones.  The time constraint was the deadline to get the material done for the student pilot offering—there was no leeway in this due date.  The resource constraint was basically my time—how many hours did I have to spend on the effort while not detracting from other projects.  I should have been more realistic about what I could do with my available work time within the calendar time available.  Optimism is a natural tendency but we need to temper that success-oriented attitude with reality and experience.  Plus creating online content was new to me so I should have realized it would take me longer than my development time for in-class material.

Sometimes as an ID what we want to do isn’t feasible given the time or resources so we have to devise a simpler, quicker, less costly approach—I already had that so I should have just stuck with that and monitored student performance and feedback on the lesson to see if further enhancements were worth the investment.  I could have done this by monitoring student performance on graded exercises and by evaluating their feedback (Kirkpatrick’s Level 2 survey forms).  If the training as designed (with the teaching note) was not sufficient, then I could have gotten the go-ahead to develop the online module to phase into the course.

Have you fallen into this trap?  You have great ideas for the instructional product but you know that you can’t achieve them within the project constraints—but you decide to go for it anyway.  Share your experiences with me.  What did you do?

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007). Project managing e-learning: A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management. London: Routledge. Copyright by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Taylor & Francis Group, LLC via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.