Monday, September 9, 2013

Report #4: Take-away: Inquiry-Based Learning

I attended the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning in August - here's my take-away from "Inquiry-based learning in self-paced, online professional development" presented by Erin McCloskey, Faculty Associate, Distance Education Professional Development, Continuing Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Take-away: Consider using real-time, problem solving needs to drive your course (for adult learners). 

This was an online, self-paced, non-credit course on mobile learning, and the approach was something I'd like to see a bit more in online courses for adults . In this example, students began their learning journey with a guiding question (GQ) that they chose (How can mobile learning benefit non profits? How easily can teachers integrate mobile learning into pedagogy?). Jumping ahead to the end, the learner then produced a project that was driven by the guiding question, such as a survey, video, written report, infographic (you get the idea). The course was broken down into 3 phases: preparation, exploration, and consolidation.

From the diagram to the right,  you can see a box that says "didn't provide a lot of content". This session reminded me how important it is to teach students how to curate and consolidate content they find - information literacy skills - than to always provide them with content.

You also see a box on the bottom that says "course scaffolding".  Students weren't totally on their own (feedback on guiding questions, reflections, etc), but mostly on their own. According to their feedback, students felt a bit lost their first time around, so in the next offering, a screencast was added, the course checklist was revised, and all important resources were placed in a prominent location. 

Connecting this back to the take-away:  I'd like to see this approach more (even if it is just a smaller component of a course) because it allows these adult students to choose a guiding question or problem that they are interested in. To me that's about time and motivation. I'm thinking about professionals who are also investing their time in more education, for whatever reason. If they can use that precious time to solve a problem they are already thinking about in their profession, that's optimal. If it doesn't touch their professional life - if they can work on a question that they are at least curious about on their own, that's optimal as well. Then there's the information literacy piece - finding, assessing, and applying content to the problem - this is a skill that is applicable in any profession, and a piece that would be a great place for the instructor to offer feedback. On the motivation piece, this self-paced non-credit course, upon second offering, had a 75% retention rate (up from 59% on the first offering). I still need to contact Erin McCloskey about other factors affecting retention, but that's fantastic for a non-credit course. Does the format (inquiry-based) have anything to do with that? I'd like to know.

Edit:  Erin responded to the retention rate - the high percentage - the jump from 59 to 75 is most likely due to participants' motivation to earn a certificate. In the first offering (with lower retention), some participants were alumni (and not seeking a certificate), and in the second offering all were seeking a certificate. She also believes the second offering was substantially better (design-wise), that that the inquiry-based format did matter, and was better for people with more specific needs or goals, though she is working on ways to scaffold the inquiry format for students with less defined needs.

Further reading on Inquiry-Based Learning:

Theoretical frameworks that informed the design of this course are: Nesbit and Winne and Kulthau.