Activities are how the objectives are carried out. They rest on the objectives and answer the question: How will the objectives be fulfilled? They are the walls and floors of a course, built on the foundation of objectives. They are the fun part of course design for me because they are where the imagination comes through, the nuts and bolts. This is where the content comes in, as well as how to deliver it.
Content is a magic word in online learning because it really is what is being taught to fulfill the objectives. In online learning, content is the deliverable; it's what the students receive or are led to through the computerized Course Management System that they work with. Content is the words and the pictures, the articles, the text, the films and other multi-media installed within the CMS's web design. The fun stuff! The activities express the content; they show the true form of the house being built from the ground up. Once you can walk around inside a growing house and see its content, you can really get a sense of how it will look, how it will work - finally!
Here is a form explaining the activities my students will do to operate the
Safety Net and learn to have Emotional Healing Within a Safe Online Community
(form 6.3, Smith, 2008). The form calls these activities Absorb-Do-Connect according to Horton (2011), who described these different types of activities as such very intelligently, I believe. "Absorb" activities are ones that the student absorbs; they're kind of passive: reading, viewing videos, listening to a lecture. "Do" activities are generally practice activities, kind of uncomplicated but useful: practice, fill out a form, post to a discussion board. "Connect" are more higher-order thinking activities, much more creative and demanding of different skills and modes of thinking: describe yourself, respond substantively, self-reflect. If the teacher alternates passive activities, like absorbing the content through reading, with more active activities, like writing a self-reflection, it's much easier for the brain, and thus the student, to learn the content.
Another very interesting bit of Instructional Design are the "chunks and bridges"! Talk about building a house, eh? "Chunking" the course information is a key to learning because information is broken up into small, digestible bits (to mix the metaphor!) that the brain can manage easily - say, 15 minutes-worth of info instead of an hour. This allows the brain to use a comfortable amount of working memory instead of overtaxing this resource. Then the Instructional Designer uses bridges to transition from one chunk to another. This form (10, Smith) illustrates these transitions to help create a proper flow to the whole course.
Best Practices: Some online learning Best Practices I utilize in this mini-course are the "Chunks and Bridges" and a conversational style of writing, which can be inviting to the reader and much easier to actually do for the writer, especially for young people, and especially with all the writing entailed in e-learning! Another primary Best Practice I use is authentic assessment for, as Robin Smith writes, "Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for educational improvement." In other words, we're not assessing to punish or take away points or measure the ability to memorize; we're using assessment to qualitatively - and authentically - and vastly - improve our students' experience of education (Smith, 2008)!