Interaction and Design – analysis of two DE articles


The paper I chose to examine on the topic of interaction in distance education came from the conference proceedings of the 2007 International Conference of Computer Aided Learning in Villach, Austria (Bennet & Peachey, 2007) The paper presents a case study of a pilot program at the UK Open University in which the virtual world Second Life is used in conjunction with Moodle, an open source learning management system (LMS). I chose this paper because I became interested in the implications of different forms of interaction including the type of content-content interaction (Sammons, 2007) exemplified by such a case.

Bennet & Peachey (2007) begin by describing the thinking that prefaced the organization’s move to implement such a pilot. The Open University is largely a distance learning institution, and the authors felt that distance learning in general was still locked in a teacher-centered model with the flow of information flowing largely from teacher to student. The existing format of the courses in the pilot had students meeting face-to-face at regular intervals (about once a month) with their assigned “tutors” and fellow students.

Even though the intervals were so spread out for face-to-face time, still, some students found it inconvenient and had to travel long distances for these meetings. The students already used Moodle for discussion forums, e-mail, quizzing, gradebook function, etc. in their asynchronous study in between meetings. The pilot sought to determine whether synchronous interaction in Second Life could be a suitable substitute for these face-to-face meetings.

The Second Life interactive sessions were set up on the Open University “island” using a Moodle/Second Life mashup called Sloodle, which allows relatively seamless integration of elements of the LMS with the virtual world. In Second Life, students (represented by an “avatar” or 3D animation) can interact with visual elements representing elements in Moodle (for example, flagpoles representing course announcements & a wall calendar representing the course calendar). The purpose of the mashup, then, is “to create a blended online learning experience that locates Second Life within the (LMS) environment so it is a synchronous, active tool supported by the asynchronous (LMS) context, forums, repository, and course material.”

The elements of interaction made possible by the Sloodle mashup include real-time student-student and student-instructor interaction in a constructivist learning environment. The authors draw several conclusions based on their case study. Second Life offers real opportunities for situated learning in a community of inquiry where face-to-face learning is difficult or impossible to arrange. In addition, the authors felt that the dimension of Second Life provided interaction opportunities for those students who did not participate much on the course discussion forums in Moodle. In this way the course design appealed to different types of learners. Finally, the authors cited implications of the course design in terms of reusable learning objects, calling them “both standalone and transportable,” and positing that “the structure, approach, flow, constructivist activity and progression model can be used in more than one context.” This is where I see the potential in terms of future studies of content-content interaction – how can reusable learning objects be manipulated to interact with one another to create different learning experiences? Implications for student-content, student-student, and student-instructor interaction can also be considered: how do these types of mashups change the way students interact with content? How do these different learning environments change the way students interact with other students or with their instructors?


For the design segment of this assignment, I chose to examine a recent concept paper on instructional design (ID) in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology (Becker, 2007). The author observes that the processes in ID are very similar to traditional processes used in software design, and proposes that it is useful to consider alternative approaches in software design when thinking about new approaches to ID. The author notes that there have been several approaches to ID that have been developed and practiced over the years, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses in practice, and all of which roughly follow the ADDIE model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation). These types of approaches to ID are very common in the literature (Shearer, 2007). These ADDIE-like approaches are used as a springboard for the rest of the discussion in Becker’s article.

The author observes that ID shares with software design the designation of an “ill-structured problem”. An ill-structured problem is one with no single correct solution to a problem or pathway to success, where “existing and desired states are unclear and the method of getting to the desired state is unknown.” ID problems provide the additional burden of operating much more heavily in the social dimension, since there are educational objectives at the core of the needs to be met. This social dimension makes ID a “wicked problem,” a special kind of ill-structured problem with the added dimension of social problems that are impossible to precisely define or measure. There are several strict requirements for a problem to be considered wicked, and ID meets all of these requirements according to the author’s analysis.

The author finally suggests a solution that builds on traditional ID models but also incorporates a more incremental approach in which the learning and design objectives are constantly being revisited and revised. The ID pathway thereby more closely resembles a series of small feedback loops aiming toward a goal, rather than a strictly linear process. Where it is possible, stakeholders such as teachers, administrators and even students should be included in decision-making and feedback along the way. It is understood that the design in this respect is never “finished” but rather is constantly being improved. The analogy to software design continues with the similarity of this recommended approach to a popular current trend in software design, “agile development”. Others have recently espoused this agile approach to ID (Cross, 2009). Becker (2007) concludes by suggesting that this new approach to ID is not for the inexperienced; it is still useful for the novice to study the approaches described by the old models, as many of their central tenets still apply.


Becker, K. (2007). Wicked ID: Conceptual Framework for Considering Instructional Design as a Wicked Problem. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 33(1). Retrieved March 1, 2009, from

Bennett, J., & Peachey, A. (2007). Mashing The MUVE – A Mashup Model for Collaborative Learning in Multi-User Virtual Environments. In Conference ICL2007. Villach, Austria. Retrieved March 1, 2009, from

Cross, J. (2009). Agile instructional design. Informal Learning Blog. Retrieved March 4, 2009, from

Sammons, M. (2007). Collaborative Interaction. In M. G. Moore (Ed.), Handbook of Distance Education (2nd ed., pp. 311-321). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Shearer, R. (2007). Instructional Design and the Technologies: An Overview. In M. G. Moore (Ed.), Handbook of Distance Education (2nd ed., pp. 219-232). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.