Instructional design standards for online learning material at South African Higher Education Institutions

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du Preez, Isabella
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University of the Free State
The quality of online learning is a contentious topic in higher education, partly because it is elusive in that there is no uniform and concrete definition for it, but also because there are countless standards, principles and instruments as attempts to establish quality in online learning. These quality initiatives, however, emanated mostly from the Global North, with little or no consideration for the challenges online practitioners face in the Global South. What is evident, though, is that more and more pressure is put on online practitioners to ensure and enhance the quality of these learning programmes. One such group of practitioners are termed instructional designers: responsible for the design and development of online learning material. In Sub-Saharan countries such as South Africa, the instructional design profession is still in its infancy stage, facing a lack of published quality standards from the qualification authorities on the design and development of online learning material. Research on the practices of these instructional designers in the African context is also scant. As a novice instructional designer at a dual-mode higher education institution, I am responsible for the design and development of online learning material and often find myself questioning whether the material that I am designing can be regarded as effective and engaging. My research question was born out of my own need for contextualised standards specifically for online learning, as I realised that online learning is mostly judged in terms of its online learning material. I therefore posed the following research question: what standards, relevant to the South African context, can be used to design and develop quality online learning material? My study is based on the model of writing two interrelated publishable manuscripts, both focusing on two crucial aspects of instructional design, namely pedagogy and visual design. In the first manuscript (Chapter 2), I followed a qualitative approach to analyse 12 global and local quality guiding documents to distil key pedagogical and visual presentation principles for the design and development of online learning material. This study revealed 19 pedagogical principles, with the most eminent ones being collaboration and the fostering of higher-order thinking skills. Thirteen visual presentation principles were identified, with multi-modality and personalisation being the most prominent. I concluded the first manuscript by proposing a framework depicting key pedagogical and visual presentation principles for instructional designers to use when they design and develop online learning material. In the second manuscript (Chapter 3) the aim was to gain insight into how some experienced South African instructional designers view and translate quality when they design and develop online learning material. Following a qualitative research approach, I conducted in-depth interviews with nine experienced instructional designers in South Africa. The interviews revealed that human connectedness is a top priority for South African instructional designers, and they do so by intentionally incorporating a teaching presence and collaborative learning activities. The quality principles mentioned by participants coincide with the community of inquiry model ensuring sound practice from a pedagogical and visual design point of view. In my final chapter, I intended to respond to the main research question. I used the insights gained in each of the manuscript to synthesise standards relevant to the South African context that can be used to design and develop quality online learning material. I propose a set of standards with comments on how to adapt it for the Southern context where applicable, also alluding to challenges to implement these standards as a means for instructional designers to mitigate and address them proactively. It is my hope that this set of standards can assist novice instructional designers in their design and development practices of online learning material.
Dissertation (M.A. (Higher Education Studies))--University of the Free State, 2023
Instructional designers, online learning, pedagogical standards, visual presentation standards