On Aug. 9-11, the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference explored state‑of‑the‑art online and blended teaching practices at Madison’s beautiful Monona Terrace convention center. The conference attracted more than 800 college faculty and administrators, instructional designers, researchers, K‑12 teachers, military faculty and administrators, and corporate trainers who learned about emerging technologies and innovative techniques to improve online learning outcomes.

Leading experts presented up‑to‑date research in distance teaching and learning, as well as ideas for translating that research into practice. Here are some key takeaways attendees identified as particularly relevant.

Re‑imagining Learning with Technology

When developing new and innovative learning programs, Richard Culatta (Chief Innovation Officer, State of Rhode Island) advises starting small and working fast. Don’t try to put out a perfect project on the first try, but instead work toward a minimally viable product that you can continue to improve. Do more pilot projects, prototypes, and beta tests to observe how students interact with a new learning approach, then gradually expand it.


According to Thomas Tobin (Coordinator of Learning Technologies, Center for Teaching and Learning, Northeast Illinois University), accessibility includes addressing both the physical and cognitive disabilities of online learners. Giving them choices about how they get information, demonstrate skills, and stay engaged in online courses leads to increased student persistence, retention, and satisfaction. It can also contribute to meeting accessibility needs.

Video‑based Learning

Research conducted by TechSmith Corp. about using online video for learning found that students prefer shorter videos, no longer than 10 minutes, with three minutes the ideal length. The highest viewer drop-off often comes after one minute because videos are perceived as boring or don’t contain the information students need.

The Instructional Design Process

Older instructional design practices and models often relegated evaluation to the end of a project, when it’s too late to make changes. Thomas Reeves (Professor Emeritus, Learning, Design, and Technology, University of Georgia) explained that newer instructional design models for online learning incorporate evaluation throughout the entire design and development process. An iterative process using rapid prototypes and lots of feedback from users and other stakeholders facilitates faster and higher‑quality instructional designs.

Learner Engagement and Gamification

In his keynote, Karl Kapp (Director, Institute for Interactive Technologies, Bloomsburg University), explained and demonstrated how we can apply simple strategies used in games to help make online learning more engaging for students and more pedagogically effective. Elements of gamification that can lead to increased learner engagement include challenges, narratives, characters, and competition, to mention a few. Lastly, gamification does not need to be expensive or complicated. It is more about cultivating a creative mindset than using sophisticated technologies.

Research to Practice

Researchers and practitioners tend to work in silos. Simone Conceição (Professor, Administrative Leadership, University of Wisconsin‑Milwaukee) and participants in this year’s Research Special Interest Group emphasized the need for evidence‑based practice and more opportunities for dialogue between researchers and practitioners. This year’s conference provided abundant opportunities for them to share, discuss, and form partnerships.

New on the website: Tough Challenges Solutions Results

Tough Challenges Solutions Sessions focused on faculty support, learner support, and learner engagement. Participants brainstormed challenges and solutions for each of these topics. See a summary of their work.


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