I have just been interviewed (online) by Elly Odom about Learning Platforms. Elly works for Derbyshire Adult Community Education and as well being the Moodle ‘caretaker’ before its re-launch she is doing her Certificate to Teach in Lifelong Learning (CTLL) .
I thought that it was worth recording my answers here. Let me know if you disagree with anything!
ELLY: What is your understanding of blended learning? Of learning platforms?
This refers to a blend of different learning methods and is most frequently used to indicate a ‘blend’ of traditional classroom based teaching and some electronic methods. It is important to make sure that the mixture used creates a blend which enhances the ‘product’. In some ways an unfortunate metaphor as blended whisky is a mix of whiskies of different quality. Ideally blended learning should be an effective and harmonious mix.
Learning platforms are online spaces where learners can undertake learning activities by: accessing: information, learning activities, track their own progress through assessment and feedback and through collaborative learning with others.
ELLY: What, would you say, are the benefits to learners of using learning platforms as part of a blended learning approach?
These are manifold and really depend on how the platform is managed and the teaching pedagogies employed:
1) Access to essential course housekeeping info eg term dates, assignment deadlines, rendez-vous locations for field trips and ways to contact staff.
2) Access to materials used in class for additional work, consolidation or to catch up after missed lessons
3) Accessing materials in advance of a class. eg Flipped classroom approach where learners study a lecture, video or even documents ready to discuss in class.
4) Accessing material and learning activities which offer ‘catch up’ exercises or extension study for students wishing to be stretched.
5) Use of forums to share questions and answers with peers and tutors relating to the course.
6) Undertake online individual tasks between lessons.
7) undertake collaborative learning tasks between lessons
ELLY:Are there any drawbacks for learners of using learning platforms for blended learning, or any particular issues (including and beyond computer literacy) that must be borne in mind by teachers/tutors?
1) It is essential that students have physical access and necessary skills to access the platform or the learning will not be equally available to all.
2) There are risks that learners feel exposed by leaving a ‘digital footprint’ on the platform including questions which reveal their lack of knowledge and skill.
3) content should take account of variable bandwidths available and avoid media rich material which may not be available to students on slower connections.
ELLY: What notable functionality/apps of learning platforms have you utilised/experienced that you believe have most enabled learning, and why?
- Forums – they can be used in do many ways to frame questions, discussion and joint activities.
- Wikis – a great way to create collective documents and learn along the way.
- Quizzes – fun but also offering formative assessment
- Embedding video content created for a course – immediate, relevant and engaging.
- Adding text and images
- Linking to or embedding OERs ( Open Educational Resources) great chance to benefit from quality materials already produced.
ELLY: Is there any particular app/function of learning platforms that you have used but found to have been of negligible benefit to enabling learning?
Not so far.
ELLY: As a teacher, would you advocate the use of learning platforms to blend learning? In what learning situations/for which learners would you suggest they were most or least appropriate and why?
A formal LP/VLE software can work well if access is swift secure and easy (ie self registration or in case of Uni or college, single sign on to network. ) and the navigation is well designed to ensure ease of access to specific courses. Best practice in clear and simple web design should be applied.
For some courses it may be more appropriate to offer learners a ‘learning platform’ using generic social media tools such as Facebook private group or a WordPress site. These can be managed well but will not have the full functionality of a product such as Blackboard, Fronter or Moodle.
ELLY: In your view, what are levels of reticence in engaging with learning platform and virtual learning technologies are there among learners/tutors? To what extent do you think this is justified?
In the last ten years I have witnessed a big shift in attitude with many adult learners and tutors expecting there to be an online space to support their class.
The minority of learners who do not see the advantage of a value added to their class presented by a Platform are likely to reference :
- low levels of confidence in using technology
- low levels to competence in using technology
- much work time spent on a PC and desire not to spend free time on line.
- Inconvenience of online access arrangements (laptop takes ages to fire up, need to go to local library)
Tutors are increasingly willing to deploy platforms but I suspect that many see them primarily as Content Management Systems for course documents. Staff do need to have access to good training to enable them to set up, monitor, manage and assess online collaborative learning activities.
ELLY: Looking forward, to what extent do you feel that learning platforms will change the way that teaching is delivered? Do you think learning platforms will have a place in the longer term, and can and should they be used to replace face-to-face contact?
Well designed online learning MUST be allowed to play a larger part in the future of our learning. For this we need:
- greater awareness of and commitment to the principles of Open Education
- absolute guarantee that platforms have full mobile functionality
We also need to be prepared to integrate virtual classroom software (eg Adobe Connect) for synchronous online learning.
The change that we should seek is in more engaging, challenging and personal learning with good quality of feedback and support combined with efficiencies of large scale delivery of content. We need clear recognition of which elements of educational input can ‘scale up’ and which cannot.