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Innovative Pedagogical Practices in Immersive E-Learning

One of the important realizations that should be derived from the advances towards effective immersive e-learning is that our pedagogy is not static but, in fact, needs to be agile and adaptive to fully take advantage of this evolving learning environment. To make sure that when we speak of pedagogy, we are all on the same page, I refer you to a previous definition which I used in an earlier post, which follows.

Phylise H. Banner in her blog post entitled The Pedagogy of Learning Design: A Translation of Pedagogies defines what we are talking about and lists some essential elements. In the realm of education, the word pedagogy is used when talking about this designed approach to instruction and the alignment of learning elements such as objectives, content, activities, and assessments. She suggested that we need to focus on three key elements of effective e-learning: social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence.

Social presence focuses on creating a welcoming setting that is open and inviting so that our learners will want to engage with each other, the facilitator, and the learning content. Social presence is fostered by activities, methods, or approaches put in place to break the ice, build trust, and facilitate interaction with those around you.


Teaching presence focuses on three major functions that we take on as training and learning professionals: design, facilitation, and direction of the learning experience. We build teaching presence by designing learning events that guide participants through learning materials, reinforce key concepts, foster critical thinking skills, provide opportunities for formative feedback and support, and evaluate progress throughout the learning experience.

Cognitive presence focuses on critical thinking skills. We want our learners to be active learners—actively integrating key concepts into their own worlds, exploring related resources, and adding new ideas and new knowledge. Cognitive presence is, in essence, the scaffolding of learning as we move from the initial stages of knowledge and comprehension toward the critical learning stages of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. 

What we are talking about here is a new direction for educators, corporate trainers, instructional designers, and learning principles tacticians. The focus is on transformative teaching and on inspiring learners to be agents of change where innovative thinking becomes a natural mindset. The alignment of learning elements that Phylise is talking about requires that we think of what the elements of learning objectives, content, activities, and assessments would look like in an immersive e-learning environment. Keep in mind that previously, these elements were defined by the industrial model of education. For this to come about, there needs to be a change from pedagogical practices defined by the industrial model of education to one that is in sync with a global, networked, and collaborative digital age. This requires innovative pedagogical practices.

Innovative Pedagogical Practice


Law (2002) in a paper titled “Leadership, Change Management and Good Pedagogical Practices” defined Innovative Pedagogical Practice (IPP) as:

“…the product of change as well as a process. As a product, IPP is an organizational response to demands exerted internally or externally on the school”

Researchers of SITES II suggest that an innovative pedagogical practice (IPP) possesses one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Promote active and independent learning.
  • Competencies and technological skills to search for, organize, and analyze information and communicate and express their ideas.
  • Collaborative, project-based learning involving complex real-world problems.
  • Individualized, customized instruction.
  • Address issues of equity, including gender, ethnic, geographic, or socioeconomic factors.
  • Break down the walls of the classroom (i.e., time, space, and participants in the teaching process).
  • Improve social cohesiveness and understanding.

When soliciting cases of innovative practices from all over the world, the researchers of SITES II required participating countries to select cases which had the following characteristics:

  • Technology played a substantial role.
  • Evidence that indicates significant changes in roles of teachers and students, the goals of the curriculum assessment practices and/or educational materials or infrastructures.
  • Evidence of measurable positive student outcomes.
  • The innovative practice shows sustainability and transferability.

One point that should be clear is that we can not just transfer old pedagogical practices from brick-and-mortar classrooms in the past and simply ignore the effect of working in an online environment.

Open and Social Pedagogy

At the core of innovative pedagogical practices is the requirement that these practices encourage effective, focused collaboration across global networks. One suggestion that addresses the effectiveness of collaboration is the concept of “open pedagogy“.

The goal of “open pedagogy” is to capitalize on the talents that collaborators bring to the task or challenge of real-world problems. It means that the collaborators are open to each other when it comes to dialogue from a cross disciplinary perspective. Conole (2013) in his work on open pedagogy titled “Designing for Learning in an Open World” pointed out that open pedagogy has the following eight interconnected and dynamic attributes:

  • technology that is participatory (Web 3.0 and mobile) – includes social media and applications used by mobile devices.
  • people who have trust in others’ work, are confident and demonstrate openness.
  • innovation and creativity – involve spontaneity and a willingness to adopt another view and different approaches.
  • sharing of ideas and resources freely so that knowledge and materials can be disseminated.
  • connected community so that practitioners can network and become part of a community of practice.
  • learner-generatedness – facilitating learners’ contributions by enabling and encouraging them to create and share information, resources, and ideas.
  • opportunities for reflective practice – initiated by participation in critical analysis of practices, professional learning, and connection with others’ perspectives; and
  • peer review – the open critique of others’ work and scholarship.

Another important characteristic of the collaboration that should be considered is that it is also social in nature. Social pedagogy is an important element that addresses the effectiveness of online, cross networked collaboration. Bass and Elmondorf (2015) in a white paper titled “Social Pedagogies” defined social pedagogy as:

“… design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an “authentic audience” (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course.”

One of the great goals of e-learning that is often missed is that the learners should have a real-world audience in which to enter into discourse with concerning the new knowledge and skillsetsthat they have arrived at through collaboration. In other words, they need a testing ground for what they have created so that they may receive feedback and perhaps refine their thinking.

Some important characteristics of social pedagogies should be:

  • Focus on the importance of “authentic learning“. According to Bass and Elmondorf (2015), authentic learning activities have “real world relevance“, set problems for students that are “ill defined” and complex, provide opportunities for students to examine and address the task from multiple perspectives, and give students ample opportunities to collaborate, reflect on their learning, and integrate their knowledge in various ways.
  • Focus on “learning traits” that emerge from authentic learning situations. It has been hypothesized that social pedagogies are particularly effective at developing traits of “adaptive expertise“, which include the ability of the learner to use knowledge flexibly and fluently, to evaluate, filter, and distill knowledge for effect, to translate knowledge to new situations, and to understand the limits and assumptions of one’s knowledge. Equally important is the cultivation of certain attitudes and dispositions characteristic of adaptive experts, including the ability to work with uncertainty, adapt to ambiguity or even failure, and to feel increasingly comfortable working at the edge of one’s competence.

If you consider the points above and what has been stated in previous posts in this blog, then you realize that these mindsets and ingredients can make an immersive e-Learning approach very effective.

Bass and Elmondorf (2015) summarize the nature of social pedagogies in the following manner:

Social pedagogies are ways of seeing how acts of communication and representation connect authentic tasks to learning processes, learning process to adaptive practices, practices to learning environments and intellectual communities, and how the constellation of these elements help students integrate their learning by connecting to larger contexts for knowledge and action.”

At the heart of these pedagogies is the goal of creating “true learning communities” in e-learning organizations now and in the future. The problem that we need to overcome is the prevalent consumerism mindset that has defined how we design and conduct learning experiences both in the corporate setting and in formal educational organizations for several decades. In a digital world where we want to nurture and grow new innovators, the balance needs to change from overt consumerism to an emphasis on the creation of new knowledge and skill sets. It is these agents of change who will collaborate to solve complex real-world problems. One of the essential keys to this happening is educating learners so that they acquire “habits of the mind” that are more in sync with the demands of the new global realities.

Credit: www.bryanjack.ca

Pedagogy and Virtual Technology

If we take the concept of immersive e-learning to its ultimate transformation, we enter the world of augmented and virtual reality environments. An important question to ask is:

“If we want to harness the power of the new virtual and augmented technologies to serve pedagogy, what will our pedagogical practices look like in this new learning environment and is it better than what we already have?”

Second LifeOpen Sim and other virtual environments have given us a glimpse into the past into how we can interact with other participants in a created environment. However, the question that challenges us is: how can such technology enrich our pedagogical practices so that we achieve “true learning communities” both within the corporate setting and the setting of formal education?

Credit: www.jmir.org

A point that has been made in the past and bares repeating is that our pedagogy cannot remain a static entity in the evolving world of immersive e-learning. It must be agile, adaptive and keep the purpose of education in clear sight. Just like exploring a new land for the first time, augmented and virtual environments require that learners acquire new skill sets that will allow them to collaborate in a new virtual environment. Movement and lines of communication in a new environment are essential.

One of the better means of making use of virtual technology in the design of learning experiences is through simulations that combine problem-based learning with the benefits of experiential learning. It would be naive to believe that this does not involve challenges, as the following chart indicates:

Credit: Cynthia Cologue(Institute for Advanced Studies)

If we are to move into more innovative pedagogies that utilize virtual and augmented technologies, then we need to design irresistible learning experiences that capitalize on what these environments have to offer. In a previous set of posts in this blog titled: “The Search for the Emerald Key“, I created a scenario that was a narrative adventure that unfolded as a result of decisions made by the collaborators. It had the following characteristics:

  • Collaborative problem solving
  • Branched scenarios based upon decisions made by the participants.
  • Altered role of the educator to take on the role of a mentor who could be called upon a limited number of times and then only responds to questions with other questions to re-focus the thinking of the participants. The educator was also given the power to interject confounding unexpected variables into the scenario while in progress to test the problem-solving ability of the participants under stress conditions involving time limits and suggested consequences of actions.
  • Ongoing assessment, both on an individual basis and on a group basis
  • Involvement of Instructional Designers, Game Designers, Learning Principles experts and trainers as part of the assessment team that assesses the participants.
  • Ongoing feedback for the participants during the scenario and after the scenario.
  • A branching scenario at the end which is completely novel and unexpected, where the collaborators can test out their new skillsets.

When you consider the introduction of Google Classrooms and Microsoft’s Hololens, you can start to connect the dots and realize that the big players in technology have e-learning in their sights.

We already have technology to create virtual worlds in such programs as Unity 3D, Cryengine3 and Daz3D, which is an excellent program for creating avatars and which also has a wealth of resources created by media artists so that you don’t have to do everything from scratch. We can learn much from the serious game design industry, and its benefits to e-learning can be clearly seen.

We can draw some conclusions in regards to immersive e-learning and virtual technology. Some of these conclusions might consist of the following:

  1. Four pedagogical approaches can be discerned within the context of a virtual world:
    (a) Associative (transmitting information), (b) Social Constructivist (forming ideas by discussion), (c) Connectivist (emerging from interaction between people), and (d) Cognitive (problem solving).
  2. Game-based scenarios offer benefits over both more restricted and more open-ended approaches.
  3. Virtual worlds, which were much overhyped as educational tools at the beginning, are starting to reach the mainstream as useful when it comes to productivity.
  4. Appropriate design is crucial, and the designs will involve: (a) task- and game-based scenarios in a fashion similar to that which I will demonstrate in a future post called “The Search for the Emerald Key“; (b) closely linked to situations that students and professionals will meet in “real life“. The experiences must go beyond just entertainment. They must be meaningful and lead to growth for the individual, and (c) learning through collaboration.
Ken Turner
Ken Turner
I am an explorer and innovator at heart who would like to see the continued advancement of virtual education for all ages. I have been employed in the e-learning area as a course designer and an online instructor for 22yrs (Oct. 2001 to 2024) for www.virtualhighschool.com. Before and during that time, I was also a brick-and-mortar classroom educator for elementary and senior high school levels of education. I have university degrees of B.A., B.Ed., and M.Ed. with an emphasis on curriculum design. I believe that we are on the cusp of the creation of a culture of innovation that will break us free from a tired and out of sync industrial model of education which not only holds learners back but also stifles innovation in the business sector.

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