This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

Models for supporting learning: Salmon #ocTEL 7.1

For this activity I choose to look first at the Salmon Five Stage Model, which I'm already familiar with, and then the others as comparisons. I'll post the comparison discussions in a separate post after this one.

Gilly Salmon Five Stage Model

I'm familiar with the Salmon Five Stage Model, and have used it to some extent in designing the induction section of our courses. In general I find it helpful, mainly the emphasis that it places on the importance of the first few steps in achieving the later stages, which are where the 'real' learning takes place. On the one hand this insight can seem obvious, but on the other hand it can be easy to overlook. For distance learners, especially those that are returning to formal education after a long period, or who are learning in a culture or language different to their own, these initial steps of access and socialisation are very important. Time and effort put in at this stage reaps rewards at later stages.

Salmon Five Stage Model, adapted from University of Leeds Staff and Department Development Unit (SDDU) Online Resource

My difficulty with the Salmon model has always been that I'm not sure how well it applies to a long programme – whether the stages are supposed to repeat several times, or whether once Stage 5 (Development) has been reached it is maintained throughout. I have tried to design the induction period as guiding learners through the first few stages, and then the first activities in the first module as enabling learners to progress the rest of the way. But the learners are engaged in several collaborative exercises in each module, over a period of two years. It wouldn't be appropriate for them to remain at Stage 5 continuously, since Stages 3 (Information Exchange) and 4 (Knowledge Construction) are equally important for learning. My revised Salmon model, for what it's worth, would include an additional cycle, as represented in the diagram below. I must stress here that I've not read enough of Salmon's books to know whether this something she already proposes.

One other issue I have is how to deal with learners who are at different stages of the model. I'm sure this is addressed by Salmon, but again, I'd need to read more to find out what she says about this.

The infographics above were produced by Megan Kime as adaptations of the Staff and Department Development Unit online resource on Gilly Salmon's Five Stage Model for Teaching and Learning Online, available at:

Update: Applying the Model

Having reflected a bit further on what Activity 7.1 was asking for, and being impressed with the level of detail in Alice Shepherd's post on peer support, I'm adding a bit more detail to this on applying the Salmon model to my practice.

The context here is a fully online distance learning masters degree programme which I manage at the University of Leeds. The course is aimed at professionals from a range of backgrounds, studying part-time whilst working, from all over the globe. The students are (generally speaking) mature learners, some of whom don't have English as their first language, who are often new to distance and online learning, and to the subject matter (applied and professional ethics). The programme takes 24 months to complete part-time, and includes 8 taught modules and a dissertation.

Below I outline aspects of my current practice in relation to each stage, and some suggestions I have for future improvements. This is part of a larger project that I'm working on revising these aspects of the programme, and not everything is covered here.

Induction: Stages 1-3

The beginning of the programme is very challenging for us and for the students. We have a number of administrative hurdles to get the students through (registration, enrolment etc.) that often take a significant amount of time. We then need to get the learners up to speed with the VLE, with the programme structure and requirements, and with various aspects of academic practice/study skills. We currently have a two week induction period that takes place before the beginning of the first module. This is designed to take students through Stages 1-3 of the Salmon model.

Stage 1: Access and Motivation

Students are sent detailed instructions guiding them through the process of retrieving their log in details, and accessing the VLE. I'm on hand to answer any queries or resolve difficulties throughout the two week period, by email, phone, or Skype. Students are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the programme structure and timetable, all provided within the VLE.

Suggestions for improvement:

Much of my time during this stage is often directed towards resolving issues with the administrative hurdles mentioned above. I worry that this leaves less attention for those who have managed to log on but may be wondering what to do next. Encouraging students to read through course information online is not necessarily that effective. I'd like to perhaps to produce some audio or video material that provides a brief outline of the key bits of information, and guidance on where to find more.

Stage 2: Online Socialisation

Students are asked to share some information about themselves, including a picture if possible, via a group wiki. Staff also have profile pages within this wiki, as do current students on the course (in their second year).

Suggestions for improvement:

The wiki works okay but is not particularly exciting and student feedback has suggested that they don't really feel like it helps them to get to know one another. I'm considering running a 'cafe' webinar session to allow everybody to introduce themselves informally.

I'm also going to try and persuade staff involved on the programme to record brief (1-2 minute) audio or video clips introducing themselves.

Stage 3: Information Exchange

We provide examples of the kinds of material that will be provided throughout the course, and the kinds of activities that students will be asked to engage with. We set a sample reading, introductory in nature, on a general topic of relevance, and ask the students to discuss it on the discussion forum that they will use throughout the programme. Guidance notes are provided about the nature of online interaction that we expect.

Suggestions for improvement:

I'd like to pay more attention to the expectations for this kind of interaction. I'm wondering whether a discussion of online interaction and distance learning itself might be more useful at this point. Or I could ask students to post brief outlines of what they hope to get out of the programme, and then to discuss it. My role would be to highlight the kind of interaction we think it valuable, and to make our expectations (re: length of posts etc.) really clear.

Modules: Stages 3-5 (and repeat?)

There are 8 taught modules, each of which takes 5 weeks. Each module includes a number of scheduled (over a few days) asynchronous discussions of a particular topic or reading. Students are also asked to keep personal learning blogs, and are given individual exercises to complete (comprehension questions etc.), which are designed to help prepare them for discussions and for assessments (essays).

Stage 3: Information Exchange

Students are asked to contribute their thoughts in response to a discussion stimulus to a group discussion forum, and are encouraged to read and comment on each others' posts.

Stage 4: Knowledge Construction

The tutor prompts further discussion by asking follow up questions, or summarising points made by students. Students are encouraged to develop their thinking on the topic through discussion.

Stage 5: Development

Students are encouraged to continue their reflection in private, and to draw on discussions when writing their assessments.

Suggestions for improvement (Stages 3-5):

There's plenty that needs doing here but that might need to be the subject of another post at a later date. Suggestions are very welcome!


Repeat Stages 3-5?

As indicated above, I'm not sure how the model should work at this point. It seems that the stages should repeat for each new discussion task, but beginning from Stage 3.

Teaching Fellow and Online Learning Specialist at the University of Leeds

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