Environmental Scan

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

An “environmental scan” is a review of the contemporaneous environment surrounding a particular topic. In an instructional design context, an environmental scan involves a current review of the available online learning around a particular subject matter. It involves a view of available proprietary and open-source contents, digital resources in the public domain, various technologies, and main competitors (in higher education and in the commercial sector). This short module describes environmental scans in more depth and how these are relevant in an instructional design context.


Takeaways

Learners will...

  • consider what an environmental scan is and why these are relevant in an instructional design context
  • reviews what information an environmental scan collects
  • explain how long an environmental scan is relevant and why it is pro forma to start an instructional design project with an environmental scan
  • list some common online spaces to explore for an environmental scan for instructional design
  • consider how an environment scan affects and informs an instructional design


Module Pretest

1. What is an “environmental scan” in an instructional design context? Why is an environmental scan important to instructional design work? What is the purpose of an environmental scan?

2. What information does an “environmental scan” collect? Why is it important to know this particular information?

3. How long is an environmental scan relevant? Why? Why is it generally pro forma to start any instructional design project with an environmental scan?

4. What are some common online spaces to explore for an environmental scan? Open-source learning spaces? Learning object referatories and repositories? Social video platforms? Social slideshow platforms? Subscription research databases? Online research spaces?

5. How does an environmental scan inform instructional design?

Main Contents

1. What is an “environmental scan” in an instructional design context? Why is an environmental scan important to instructional design work? What is the purpose of an environmental scan?

An “environmental scan” is, as the name suggests, an exploration of the environment focused around a particular issue. In instructional design, an environmental scan involves researching the available online e-learning opportunities (both proprietary and open-source) around a particular subject matter or topic. Further, there is exploration of available raw open-source files that may be harnessed to build digital learning objects (on tight budgets). There is exploration of the main organizations providing funding for the online learning; these include institutions of higher education, commercial entities, government agencies, and others.

For some topics that are highly academic, it is common to find little out in public space. For more generic topics, there may be a wide range of online learning opportunities and digital resources.

The identified learning sequences may provide the following:

  • a sense of design inspiration for learning objects
  • the learning strategies employed
  • the main knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) being targeted
  • the target learner audience(s)
  • the harnessed technologies, and others

An environmental scan is important to instructional design work because it enables instructional designers and developers to understand what is available in the environment for learners who want to learn more. It provides a sense of learning standards that they will have to meet if they want to compete in the space. It provides inspirations for what they may bring to a topic as contrasted with what others are doing.

The core purpose of an environmental scan is to understand what is in the online (and offline) environment related to a particular topic.


2. What information does an “environmental scan” collect? Why is it important to know this particular information?

To understand the “lay of the land” regarding a certain topic, a team may explore all the online sources mentioned above but also non-digital and analog sources like books, publications, analog videos, and others.

The questions answered in an environmental scan may include the following:

  • What learning opportunities are there for target learners at a certain stage in their learning to acquire knowledge about the topic?
  • What are the costs of these opportunities?
  • What teaching and learning strategies are employed? To what effect?
  • What resources are there for learners who are new to the topic? Who are somewhat experienced to the topic?
  • How original are the online learning objects? What is the point-of-view for the online learning objects?
  • Are there gaps in available resources? Can the local team design relevant online learning to address those gaps? Would they be able to develop resources to professional standards and quality with available resources?

It is important to know the above information and others because the team is creating content that is going out into the world at that time, and they are working within limits. If there are resources that they can harness for their own work, they can re-purpose others’ contents (if the contents are open-source…or if they are proprietary but affordable for licensure). The team’s efforts may then be focused on developing contents which are required but which do not yet exist in an accessible way.


3. How long is an environmental scan relevant? Why? Why is it generally pro forma to start any instructional design project with an environmental scan?

An “environmental scan” is relevant as long as the conditions in the world haven’t changed. In some topics, there may be a lot of dynamism, in which case the scan may not remain relevant long. If a topic is fairly unchanging, an environmental scan may last upwards of a year or even potentially longer.

It is generally pro forma to start an instructional design project with an environmental scan because the design and development team may not have deeper insights about the particular domain or topic. (Their expertise is more generalist, about human learners, and technical, about the design and development of online learning.)

If the team has early access to subject matter experts (SMEs) or domain content experts, these individuals may provide helpful cues for spaces to explore and peoples to contact.


4. What are some common online spaces to explore for an environmental scan? Open-source learning spaces? Learning object referatories and repositories? Social video platforms? Social slideshow platforms? Subscription research databases? Online research spaces?'

For the exploration of digital learning objects, ( https://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm MERLOT II or Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) is a common resource. The (https://community.canvaslms.com/community/answers/commons Canvas LMS Commons) is a resource for those who use Instructure’s Canvas LMS.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) may be constructive spaces to search, particularly if there are learning contents that may be open-source and used independent of the respective learning sites. (https://www.khanacademy.org/ Khan Academy) offers a variety of open-access videos.

Those looking for open-source imagery, videos, sound / music, and other resources may check out (https://search.creativecommons.org/ Creative Commons Search), a federated search on the Web and Internet.

(https://www.youtube.com/ YouTube) and its educational channels may be another important space to search.

The (https://scholar.google.com/ Google Scholar) indexer is an important space to search for research on various topics. Subscription-based access to databases may be informative as well.

And these are just a start. There are trustworthy government sites that may be accessed for various areas of focus (often with downloadable datasets, imagery, and other resources).


5. How does an environmental scan inform instructional design?

An environmental scan may inform a design and development team of what is in the world. In their review of the materials, the team may identify what works vs. what doesn’t, and that may inform their work. They can aspire to what works and avoid what doesn’t.

If they find free or affordable learning contents that may be harnessed for their own learners’ learning sequences, they may be able to acquire those resources and focus their attentions on other parts of the learning sequence.

If they find contents that may help outliers (those with too little lead-up experience, and those with excessive lead-up experience), they may make a note of the resources and point to external resources as cognitive scaffolding.

The team may identify leaders in the area, who may be invited to co-create materials or to participate in videos and interviews, etc.

If nothing else, an environmental scan primes the design and development team to start the work.

Examples

How To

Possible Pitfalls

An environmental scan gives instructional designers and developers a lay of the land, but it should not restrict what the team decides to do. What is in public is certainly not everything available. If the team itself can put out a better competitor product to what is “on the market” or in “open-source,” then they should most definitely pursue that—if it is good use of design and development resources.

Also, an environmental scan is necessary and should be thorough, but this work does entail a cost in time and effort, so it should be done intelligently and tactically.

Also, it is a good idea to keep accurate notes and documentation of the reviews, in order to capture constructive ideas for the instructional design work.

Module Post-Test

1. What is an “environmental scan” in an instructional design context? Why is an environmental scan important to instructional design work? What is the purpose of an environmental scan?

2. What information does an “environmental scan” collect? Why is it important to know this particular information?

3. How long is an environmental scan relevant? Why? Why is it generally pro forma to start any instructional design project with an environmental scan?

4. What are some common online spaces to explore for an environmental scan? Open-source learning spaces? Learning object referatories and repositories? Social video platforms? Social slideshow platforms? Subscription research databases? Online research spaces?

5. How does an environmental scan inform instructional design?


References

Extra Resources