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Dr. Lockee, a professor of instructional design and technology at Virginia Tech, prepares students at both the masters and doctoral levels to go out into the world and impact their workplaces. She guides students down their specific career paths, whether they decide to pursue instructional design or eLearning development.

Many of Dr. Lockee’s masters’ graduates go out into the world and become instructional specialists in a variety of different contexts, making them very practitioner-oriented. Doctoral students tend to accept higher education support roles, such as eLearning development, faculty development, or leadership roles within learning support organizations in higher education.

“The nature of our program is that it’s highly international. We get perspectives from all around the world in terms of teaching and learning concepts from technologically-advanced situations to working with developing nations and learning a lot about what challenges they face in trying to advance teaching and learning in those kinds of contexts,” Dr. Lockee said. “I think the international perspective makes for a great learning experience for all of us, me included.”

Some of Virginia Tech’s students transition from not only working in an educational context, but towards workplace learning. For instance, students leaving for the healthcare field may find jobs developing training for electronic medical records to disease treatment and patient education. Alternatively, an instructional designer might opt to work for the military, government, or non-profit agencies.

Lockee Educates and Researches for the Future

In Dr. Lockee’s professor role, she teaches courses in instructional design, message design, and distance education, while her research focuses on instructional design issues related to technology-mediated learning.

“I’m using the term technology-mediated learning to address the ubiquitous nature of our discipline,” Dr. Lockee said. “So, while a lot of what I work on is in education and eLearning, I also explore performance improvement and help design solutions that are place-based as well.” An organization may have a need where technology can support performance and provide problem-solving assistance.

Some of Dr. Lockee’s most recent work focuses on instructional design issues within the context of online learning, whether the sessions are for distance or distributed learners. Solutions could solve problems for distributed global learners gaining an education at Virginia Tech, or for a company who needs accessible global learning solutions in a ubiquitous way.

In certain workplaces like a manufacturing facility, qualified employees need learning opportunities to be flexible. They can’t have a situation hold up the production process.

“The focus on online education or online learning experiences is broad, especially in terms of what I’ve been working on and the people I’ve been working with, but the design issues are the same,” Dr. Lockee said. “We need to think about how to make learning more accessible, but also convenient. Users need access to various systems and tools to ensure lack of access doesn’t impede their workflow or their program in whatever performance they’re engaged in.”

Message Design

While Dr. Lockee has been working on making programs more accessible and flexible, she has also been exploring principles and applications of instructional message design. This sub-discipline of instructional design focuses on how information is organized and presented in a technology-based learning environment.

“Message design considers what we know about how people learn and translates those principles into specifications for content design and development,” Dr. Lockee said. “Message design guides decisions related to what assets we include in a particular frame or how we choose interaction strategies in support of the kinds of learning we want to happen and make it meaningful for the learner.”

These are the types of issues that Dr. Lockee deals with in terms of instructional message design. This approach involves carefully thinking about how information is organized, especially when there are a plethora of options available through robust learning management systems and content development systems such as Storyline or Captivate.

Dr. Lockee has been focusing on helping her students and colleagues in the workplace understand the reasons for choosing different types of information and different kinds of instructional and interaction strategies from thousands of options. There is extensive research available, which helps Dr. Lockee provide evidence-based guidance when designing effective learning programs.

Micro-Learning Advancements

One particular trend Dr. Lockee finds fascinating is micro-learning. Micro-learning advances the notion that learning is continuous, and also leverages what we know about how people learn and their cognitive load. Generally, people can only take in so much information at once. There are limitations on memory, but strategies can be used for internalizing information.

“The goal is to make information relevant to the learner,” Dr. Lockee said. “This push towards making learning continuous and using technology to advance this promise holds a lot of potential. We should strive to make learning much more accessible, but also meaningful and ongoing.”

At the same time, Dr. Lockee doesn’t want to take away from the intended learning outcomes and people are much more likely to retain information and use these learnings later if the opportunities are engaging and presented in a way that’s more aligned with what we know about human memory and cognitive processing.

“Micro-learning has been inspirational as an approach to make learning continuous and I’ve been trying to do more micro-learning techniques in my own classes, despite the fact classes I teach on campus are currently event-based,” Dr. Lockee said. “Students have the classes once a week for three hours at a time and I’ve tried to leverage the notion of micro-learning and pulsed learning through strategic interactions outside of our class meeting time.”

Pulsed Learning is a New Educational Trend

Pulsed learning is similar to what those in the marketing world call drip marketing, where nuggets of information are passed onto the learner. A teacher pushes out increments of learning in an ongoing way in smaller chunks, rather than using micro-learning where learners go after the information.

“With micro-learning, you think about the use of learning objects to support the creation of smaller learning modules, going back to the notion of supporting a person’s memory capacity and cognitive load,” Dr. Lockee said. “In the pulsed learning approach, you’re pushing information out to learners in an ongoing way.”

In Dr. Lockee’s class this semester, she is using real world applications of the concepts during class discussions. The students think about the subject for discussion or find examples themselves.

“Students then go work on their homework or other classes and do other things, like a constant reminder or presence that creates a continuous perspective on learning,” she said. “I think we’ve learned this important lesson from the business sector and in marketing and communications.”

Research and Development Initiatives

Besides providing quality education to her students, Dr. Lockee is involved in numerous research and development initiatives, especially in regards to product and program design that supports workplace learning and performance needs.

“However, the question we tend to not think about is why? Why do we need interaction and what role does it play, and thankfully there are many smart people who have been looking at this question for many years in our field.”

What researchers have been trying to discover is how to engage students in computer-based instruction. Researchers are looking at how the different types of interactions are possible and why these interactions should be used, and to what end. Past research has shown there are different purposes for computer-based interactions versus instructional purposes.

“These purposes can really provide some great guidance for us when we’re designing eLearning activities. Having insight into the ‘purpose’ helps us think about what we want to do and what we want to accomplish,” Dr. Lockee said. “The process involves asking what goals our learners should have.”

When these types of interactions are engaged in or learned about, the interactions emphasize not just physical interactions but also other responses and scenarios. The information helps researchers design authoring programs, where physical interactions are compiled as well as the cognitive interactions. With this knowledge in hand, we’re provided with helpful guidance in terms of choosing which option to select from very robust, eLearning authoring environments.

This particular aspect is why Dr. Lockee feels the notion of adaptive learning will continue to grow alongside the learning and content management systems. There will be more opportunities for personalized learning programs for students where learning and performance needs are addressed, including formal education, K-12 education, higher education, and in the workplace.

Adaptive learning systems determine what learners already know and create customized learning experiences based on their prior knowledge and the targeted learning outcomes. These systems help eliminate wasted time having students engage in content that they already know.

“The system can detect knowledge, measure knowledge, and then adapt to existing knowledge, so meaningful learning experiences can be created for students,” Dr. Lockee said.

The Flipped Classroom Concept
Another current trend in technological innovation is the flipped classroom, an approach where students participate in background work prior to coming to class. Readings and activities are completed and knowledge is obtained before students come together face-to-face. The pre-work activities could mean conversations and activities that are more social and interactive. For instance, instead of using the classroom in a one-to-many type of delivery system and passive approach to a more didactic instruction, the class becomes a more socially engaged learning experience.

“The flipped classroom involves thinking about how to best use the opportunities to be together and the best way to use time outside of the classroom for building our knowledge through reading or activities that help us get the baseline information or introductory knowledge to come to the classroom prepared for application of the prior activities,” Dr. Lockee said.

Because technology continues to play a bigger role in higher education, there are more opportunities for students to access learning opportunities outside of the classroom. Technology opens up possibilities never seen before, but understandably, education has had to change because of these opportunities.

Dr. Lockee has looked at ways to leverage the benefits of being together in the same physical space to watching how robust content management can be used in online learning opportunities outside of class. Flipped learning not only focuses on how to be technology-based, but also how to take advantage of students having access to information away from a lecture hall. The goal is to still engage in meaningful, engaged learning experiences in the classroom rather than just passive learning.

Currently, the pendulum is swinging away from the standardized approaches to assessment and leaning towards an authentic problem-based pedagogical approach. At Virginia Tech, educators have observed this transition in the K-12 sector. There are questions being asked about where education will go from there.

“One of my favorite quotes from one of our leading scholars, the late David Jonassen is ‘when students graduate and get jobs, they don’t get paid to take tests. They get paid to solve problems and we’re creating a nation of excellent test takers,’” Dr. Lockee said. “I think we finally realized that a field of excellent test takers is not what we need.”

Educators are observing how problem-solving skills are necessary at any level, whether the level is high school graduation or college graduation. Students need to be ready for the workplace and have experienced real world problems, while having the capacity to know how to solve such problems.

“The educational approach focused on high stakes testing, memorization, and low level kinds of learning doesn’t produce problem solvers,” Dr. Lockee said. “I think the flipped learning movement is a reflection of how we can best take advantage of the time that we are together in a classroom. How can we engage in collaboration and still produce authentic problem-solving and meaningful learning.”

One of the challenges Dr. Lockee sees with conversations around technological learning innovations is the focus on what can be done.

“In many cases, those in charge of technology integration and adoption become enamored by the latest innovation and what the technology can do,” she said. “Instead we are guided by the needs of our learners, considering such innovations in support of those needs.”

She went on to say meaningful learning can be accomplished when learners are developed and technology is leveraged to support different types of outcomes, rather than focusing on the hype surrounding technological innovation. Educators are looking at pedagogical approaches where meaningful learning experiences are facilitated and technology’s promising innovations are used to support these types of learning experiences.

One of Dr. Lockee’s hopeful takeaways from this process is looking at prior research and current trends that align with past discoveries.

“I think we can draw from the kinds of outcomes and research that have occurred before to help us forward our thinking and what we can do in the future,” she said.

There is ample evidence supporting Dr. Lockee’s popularity as a professor at Virginia Tech and a well-known researcher in higher education and in the workplace. Her knowledge and expertise is creating positive change in technological innovation for learning across the United States.

If you would like to hear Dr. Lockee at EdgeCon 2019, make sure you sign up today. More information can be found at