Instructional Design for 21st Century

Most of my teaching experience involves working with grade 10-12 students in a BC offshore schools in China.  I have taught Biology and Chemistry to grade 11 and 12 students and Science to grade 10 students since 2004. At present, I teach Chemistry and ICT course to grade 11 and 12 students. My goal of teaching is to relate knowledge to the personal experience of my students so they don’t see it as an artificial entity to get diplomas and certificates. I have to keep in mind that most of my students are Chinese and come from Chinese school where knowledge and personal experience do not fit together.  So sometimes it surprises my students when I create opportunities to encourage them to relate their knowledge to their personal experience. I reinforce this association with the understanding that it might be useful when the students bump into the same problem later in their life.  Connectivist theory is the backbone of my philosophy of online teaching and learning design. This theory explains that www resources provide new prospects of learning and creating knowledge. We use this in our everyday life when we search for some information and make informed decisions based on the information. People are eager to learn. Moreover, there are problems out there to solve and there is no need to waste efforts and energy to reinvent the wheel. So people can utilize www resources to connect to others and find information. In other words, now knowhow has changed to knowwhere. Knowledge resides in learners and learning is a social activity. As Siemens (2006b) has suggested, “the learning is the network.” Interaction and communication technologies provide means of transfer of knowledge and skills. Consequently, everybody receives information, verifies it with his prior knowledge and applies in his own context to solve his problems. This analysis and application of knowledge create more knowledge. It is very rewarding and is a democratic environment. Moreover, participants are nodes of equal share on the network so they feel stake holder of this whole network and thus put more efforts to feed it.

Here are theoretical underpinnings of my philosophy of online teaching and learning

  1. The learning environment should be similar to everyday life. There is no need to have a pseudo environment for learning because learning is supposed to prepare students for real life skill and to teach them how to solve problems of real life. After being in the pseudo environment of schools and universities for many years, students find it hard to relate their knowledge and learning with outside environment.
  2. The learning environment should encourage the active participation of the learner because it is participants who are going to create knowledge and if they are passive or not interested then learning is not going to happen.
  3. Learning environment should accept that student learn in a variety of ways and at different rates
  4. The learning environment should consider that learning is Social and academic. So both an individual and group processes should be encouraged
  5. Learning is most effective when students reflect on the process of learning — set goals for improvement
  6. The learning environment should consider differentiation of students’ potentials and should develop personalized instructions for learners.
  7. Learning environment should provide variety in Learning
  8. Learning environment should push different levels of thinking
  9. Learning environment should push different types of thinking (critical thinking)
  10. Learning environment should drive more complex instructional methods


In an online learning environment, a teacher has to have many roles. He is course developer, teacher, guide, goal setter, content expert, facilitator, communicator with the technological knowhow of learning management system. There are a lot of skills required to be a good online teacher. Moreover, he/she is also limited with times and space issue because he has to entertain queries coming from different time zones so it is not an easy job to manage all this with busy social life. Students, however, are in a way better place to learn in an online environment because they can learn while being in the comfort of their own homes. Students who are not tech savvy find it challenging to get used to online learning environment but it is just like learning any other thing. There is a learning curve. I think learners in an online environment should have high efficacy level and have the technical knowhow of LMS to utilize it to best of its potential.  Moreover, the learner should benefit from the selected resources given in the reading list and integrate with their personal experience and reflect. Learning happens only when learner reflect.

Theoretical underpinnings of my philosophy of online teaching and learning provide basis of my learning environment. I will work to improve student interactions because any successful online instructional design should ensure that all three types of interaction are facilitated for learning to happen. “sufficient levels of deep and meaningful learning can be developed as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at very high level” (Anderson 2008). Student-teacher interactions can be improved by effective, timely and personalized feedback by the teacher to student. As a facilitator teacher can scaffold the student who may feel discouraged by the frustrations of technical issues of LMS.  Moreover, a better activity design can greatly enhance participation of students. A better activity design can provide clear instructions about expectations. Moreover, activity design should not have a less cognitive load for the students to process. Otherwise, it will discourage and cause frustration for learners. In addition, activities should include variety in design. For example, a student who finds it hard to face camera should not be expected to produce a video clip.  Activities should be designed both for individual and group processes and should consider differentiation of students’ potentials. Technology can be used to enhance student-student, student-teacher, student-content interactions.

Here is my scheme of teaching

  1. I create a clearly articulated list of goals and objectives for students for a particular topic and provides them study material and stepwise activities online. Clear instructions can remove ambiguity and thus reduce frustration.
  2. Students connect to properly formatted source of information (mostly videos, articles and news story) of a less cognitive load. These resources connect my students directly to subject experts and they get knowledge from the people from people who have spent many years working on one particular topic. I strongly believe that scientific concepts cannot be learned from PowerPoint and reading materials only. Perhaps these resources are good enough to acquire knowledge but definitely not sufficient for higher order thinking skills. So a variety of material like simulation (phet) with guided exploration sheet, animations with narrations, articles, news stories and videos are shared with students to provide them knowledge from multiple channels. Students play with simulation and animation. They find patterns and predict what would happen if they change some variables. In few trials, they find optimal conditions to get maximum output. They will learn that what condition will be required if they need to produce some result. Analyzing of bulk information is very important and this is very important skills in modern times as we are all exposed to a lot of raw data every day. “Humans may be predisposed to identifying certain patterns on the basis of their neurological makeup; these patterns, in fact, may be intrinsic qualities of mind.” Kerr (2007a) We analyze the data, categorize the data and then make predictions based on analyzed patterns. This enables them better organize knowledge in their working memory.
  3. Student receives knowledge by the variety of sensory channels, then they organize to make sense of raw information in their working memory and finally they integrate with their prior learning. Online presence enables them to search for glossary if they don’t understand some words. Moreover, we know that students just love to spend time with their gadgets. We can exploit their love for gadgets and keep them focused on work. I have a web interface ( ) that allows students to submit the questions and I often assign them a task to watch a video, do simulation or read article and make few questions to show their reflections. I repurpose the homework. They don’t have to write a long essay. They watch a video or simulation and make 5 questions about different aspects of the process. Moreover, they are asked to hand in question on paper if you don’t understand something. If they get it then make question online and if they don’t get it then write on paper what they didn’t understand. I allow students to go talk to one another to find answer to their question. If they can’t find then I answer their question.
  4. Sometime students reflect their learning experience in the variety of ways such as infographics, video or audio interview or blog. I mostly use the vanilla blog, which I have installed on my school server. For blogs, I provide a list of question to keep the students focused on the task.
  5. Student pair and share in the classroom. Students talk to one another about points mentioned in the learning expectations list of the topic. They rephrase, summarize other’s verbal explanations of a scientific phenomenon Group work teaches them collaborative skills. In addition, it helps them to process academic and social learning, and employ positive interdependence. Moreover, it encourages students to accept and extend ideas of others and promotes active listening. So groups provide ways to communicate one’s knowledge with others and allow students to reconstruct their thoughts. Students“reflect, select, connect, and project, each of these steps requires intense and laborious thought”(Anderson 2008) This environment enables them to support each other’s learning goals, and encourage them to engage in discussions to reach a common understanding.
  6. Students write an assessment for learning that tells me how well they have been successful in grasping the rationales of the scientific phenomenon. This assessment for learning is usually conducted using questions made by students. Students receive the real-time response of their online assessment and check their understanding, which allows them to learn from their mistakes. This also opens an opportunity for debate about the language of the questions because these questions are made by students and some of them a not very well articulated. Real-time response provides effective and timely feedback. This allows students to learn from their mistakes. They need to understand that, “it is not mistake that cause winners to lose, it is panic. Panic is sudden, anxious feeling of loss of control and panicking can make a small fumble wore, by causing people to lose their heads and forget to think clearly.” (Kanter, 2004)
  7. Students practice higher order thinking skills by doing advanced worksheets in groups in class. This provides them an opportunity to talk about their learning and as they talk to one another they learn and improve. I usually use word problems, Venn diagram, guided exploration sheet with simulation and concept maps to invoke higher cognitive order. At this level, my strategies are designed to
  8. drive more complex instructional methods
  9. help students look for patterns and develop inductive reasoning skills.
  10. provide students the experience of identifying critical relationships for grouping data.
  11. help students meaningfully grasp and constructs the concept.
  12. provide a visual display of learning 。
  13. encourage students to involve themselves in complex mental operations.
  14. encourage thinking at the analysis and evolution level of bloom taxonomy.
  15. experience the virtual immersive effect and enjoy the experience
  16. encourage participation as students engage more readily with virtual reality.
  17. help with understanding complex theories/concepts


I have applied the connectivist approach in my personal life to fine-tune my teaching practices. Last semester, I have taken two courses on use of technology in education. In addition, I have attended many professional development workshops that have better equipped me as a teacher. Now I don’t get frustrated much because I understand my student better and know solutions to their problems. Last semester, I have applied many new teaching methods and have improved my teaching practices. I have repurposed the homework to make it more like flipped teaching. I have seen dramatic changes in results, which is very rewarding. It has also increased my confidence level as a teacher that I can improve and serve my students better. Moreover, if I want my students to be a better learner, then I myself also need to be a better learner of teaching practices. I have made my teaching more learning centered. Previously I used to use PowerPoints a lot and used lecture method but now I don’t speak much in class. I just design activities to keep students engaged. I focus my efforts to create a self-sustaining learning community. I inform, enlighten and inspire my students to make them lifelong learner.



Anderson, T. (2008). Toward a Theory of Online Learning. In Theory and Practice of Online Learning (Chap. 2).  Access from:

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. (2004) Confidence :how winning streaks and losing streaks begin and end New York : Crown Business,

Kerr, B. (2007a). A Challenge to Connectivism. Transcript of Keynote Speech, Online Connectivism Conference. University of Manitboa.

Siemens, G. (2006b, November 12). Connectivism: Learning theory or pastime of the self-amused? Elearnspace blog.