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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Interview with Sameer Bhatia, E-Learning Innovators Series

Effective assessment in an online course is not easy to achieve. Courageous developers have tackled online quizzes. It is interesting to look behind the scenes and see the challenges. Welcome to an interview with Sameer Bhatia, founder of

1. What is your name and your involvement in e-learning?

I am Sameer Bhatia, the founder of, an online learning community. Prior to ProProfs I ran an IT certification products company that has been in the business of providing e-learning centered around Cisco certification products.

2. What is and the learning philosophy behind it? is the knowledge FREEway, providing free resources and tools for online knowledge sharing. ProProfs is dedicated to offering new services and content that reflects the diversity of interests and topics in which today's users are engaged. Founded on the idea that knowledge should be freely available to people from all walks of life, features free schools on SAT & IT certification, and offers an ever increasing portfolio of tools for social knowledge sharing including quizzes, flashcards, blogs, forums and games.

3. What is your view of how best to assess whether or not students have achieved learning outcomes in an online course?

We created ProProfs Quiz Maker ( to address this need. By allowing educators to create tests, practice questions and quizzes around any topic and then embed them directly into their class websites, learning management system or e-learning courses, we allow educators to ascertain if students are achieving the learning objectives. We also aggregate the data across all attempts so a teacher can better understand what areas of learning the class as a whole needs more attention on.

4. How might assessing if students have achieved learning outcomes be different in a mobile learning course?

While content created using Quiz Maker ( displays fine in most mobile browsers, we are in process of creating a special version so assessments can be distributed to a classroom easily via mobile devices such as iPhone and iPad. Watch out for this in our upcoming version.

5. what is Quiz Maker and how does it work?
ProProfs Quiz Maker ( is a free learning tool that enables educators to utilize the power of the Internet to create online quizzes and practice tests for their students. The Quiz Maker provides an easy access for students and educators, without the hassle of downloading bulky software. In addition to the ability to create custom quizzes, we also offer the largest collections of freely available online quizzes, ranging from K-12 education to topics such as technology certification, SAT, GRE and even general trivia.

6. Are there any really bad quizzes or quiz styles that should be avoided at all costs? If you don't mind, describe a very bad (ineffectual or even potentially problematic) quiz and then compare it with a very good quiz. What makes the difference? What do instructors and instructional designers need to keep in mind?

One of the key issues we have seen is the choice between long/short quizzes. Educators need to choose the test style after careful consideration. Long tests have their place in education; for example, many instructors use them during mid-terms or finals. However, to ensure that students are understanding the material, short quizzes in practice mode (with answers revealed immediately after a question is attempted) work much better. These create a stress free environment and students feel encouraged to take the quiz repeatedly. The repetition brings remembrance and helps students master the subject. Using short quizzes in conjunction with larger tests for mid/end of term, have reported strikingly positive results.
With a lot of feedback from teachers we have built features to allow secure & timed long tests as well as short quizzes that can be run in practice mode with customizable results to make learning fun. Educators however need to choose carefully based on the learning objective.

7. Do you have any plans for the future?

Our next version will be available in just a few weeks. Key features would include tracking of who took the quiz, ability to store results and provide more customization of end of quiz results.

8. Please share the name of two good books you've read lately.

The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Gary Blank is a must read for entrepreneurs. The other book I read recently is Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson. While both these book are not directly related to e-learning, they have had a big positive influence on how we build our e-learning products. We have stepped up on our feedback loop with educators to ensure we build something that they totally love.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Revisiting Podcasts for E-Learning and M-Learning

With a new surge in popularity of mobile devices, including tablets (iPads) and aggressively app-oriented smartphones (Droid, iPhone), podcasts can be employed in even more settings in both mobile learning and single location-based e-learning. Further, podcasts that form a component of integrated applications (archived webinars, narrated slideshows), can be used in new ways to accommodate conditions and contexts of learning, as well as learner preferences and styles.

Audio recordings for ubiquitous learning which involves a combination of e-learning (with laptops) / m-learning (with mobile devices) for both education and professional development and training. Podcasting has been around for 5 or 6 years and has was eagerly embraced by educators and institutions from the beginning.

New technologies often revitalize older techniques and technologies. Podcasts are no exception, thanks to new mobile devices and access, with 3G and 4G wireless networks. Podcasts are ideal in all courses and degree programs, particularly business (with case studies), natural sciences (environmental field trips, etc.), humanities (memoirs and debates), cultural studies, and composition. Podcasts are also used to keep students informed and connected.

Podcasts are particularly effective for brief, intensive training, or online college courses that require field work and which incorporate informal learning. They often incorporate newscasts, human interest stories, and investigative journalism.

Characteristics of effective podcasts:
*the speakers tell a story and incorporate personal experience -- encourage listener engagement
*optimized for easy download
*variable length
*lively voice -- ideally with a conversation
*narrative and organization easy to follow, even with ambient distractions
*multiple locations / mirror servers / convenient and ubiquitous access

Podcasts are most effective when they are integrated with an application or cluster of applications, and have Web 2.0 elements (social networking, RSS feeds, downloadable via Facebook, announces via Twitter, etc.) The accompanying applications should encourage reflection and internalization of the content as a whole. So, mp3 files /podcasts can come bundled with other elements such as:

*companion website with supplemental readings (links) and guiding questions
*downloadable or streaming presentation (animated or static powerpoint)
*discussion board
*aggregated tweets or posts
*poll or questionnaire (zoho polls, zoomerang, survey monkey)

How and why podcasts are effective when integrated with mobile applications:

*Engage by replicating a conversation
*Reinforce content with webinars
*Rehumanize the e-learning / m-learning space
*Accommodate learning styles / preferences
*Motivate via self-efficacy / self-actualization / self-determination
*Achieve ideal time management
*Give confidence and more complex understanding of the topic via expert insight
*Encourage collaboration / dynamic exchanges of content

Question: Is mobile learning merely a fad?

"Buzz Breaker" panel responded to the question at Meridian Knowledge Systems "Learn and Know" e-Learning Conference in Chantilly, VA, April 19-21, 2010.

Mark Bower, Karl Kapp, Susan Smith Nash (e-learning and training panel members) discussed the question with corporate trainers. Conclusion: with new mobile devices and expanded connectivity and access, we're likely to be right on the cusp of yet another explosion of m-learning, particularly as different apps are mashed together and there is significant media-mashing (audio with images, etc.).

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