I’m prepping for an online teaching workshop that I’ll be leading later this summer and I’m doing some digging into the research and best practices around conditional release. The workshop is designed to target more advanced online teachers and I’m hoping to expand the use of conditional release to support online students. If you’re not familiar with the term, conditional release is when a teacher makes the release of course material contingent upon students meeting a particular condition or reaching a predetermined criterion. Gardner, Fisher, Raffo and Brinthaupt (2011) identify three different ways that conditional release can be used in online classes: action-based release, achievement-based release and controlled release. Each type can support different pedagogical innovations and support students in different ways. Here are some examples:
In an action-based release, course material is released based on student activity. I use action-based release pretty extensively in all of my online classes. For example, I set quizzes and discussion forums to be released only after a student has accessed all of the content in a module. In some classes, I use action-based releases to let students choose which content they want to study. For example, after a student chooses a reading from a list, related content will be released so the student can dig deeper into the content. I’ve also used action-based release to make sure students have completed a pre-assessment prior to starting a module.
While action-based releases are great ways to direct students based on their activity and choice, achievement-based releases allow teachers to release course material based on student academic performance. Some instructors may want to set a specific score on an exam before students can move to the next modules. Other instructors may want to provide remediation materials to students who performed poorly on a quiz. With achievement-based releases, these instructional choices are easily implemented. Achievement-based releases can also allow instructors to differentiate course readings, activities and assessments. For example, an instructor could use the performance on a quiz to break the class into three achievement groups (high, medium and low performing) and provide different supports and activities for each. While this would require some additional work and pre-planning, it would give groups of students a more personalized learning experience.
I’m not going to undersell this; controlled releases are a godsend. With controlled releases, I’m able to set release dates for all of my modules, course materials and activities before a class even begins. While this may sound like a lot of pre-planning (it is), controlled releasing course content allows me to focus on interacting with students and providing feedback on their work. Controlled release also helps me keep students on schedule and working through course content together as a single learning community.
If you’re new to conditional releases, you may want to research how your learning management system uses them and talk with your instructional designer about ways that you can use conditional releases with your students and content area. If you’re planning to incorporate conditional releases in an upcoming course or module, I strongly recommend letting students know when and how they’re being used. For example, if students have to score a 70% on a quiz before they can move on, make this absolutely clear to students. While conditional releases can offer some creative instructional solutions for online teachers, they’re only beneficial if they’re used in transparent ways with students.
Gardner, J., Fisher, L., Raffo, D., & Brinthaupt, T. (2011), Best Practices for Using Conditional Release in Online Classes, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 8(1), 3-15.