“We compete, not so much against an opponent, but against ourselves. The real test is this: Did I make my best effort on every play?
I am taking a contemporary look at e-learning or, more properly modern learning. How can it help those who work in the Learning and Skills Sector (LSS) deal with it’s properties, opportunities, contribution and the challenges associated with its subsumation into effective teaching and learning? We have used these ideas to inform our enquiry into current tools for assessing e-learning development in modern learning.
This ‘Thought Paper’ looks again at what makes a successful college and how we might know what e-learning does as a component part of it.
Successful colleges are those that are able to recruit a full complement of students, based on competition for places on courses each year. Students seek to enrol in high numbers.
They achieve this through a combination of successful academic achievement and (of equal or greater importance), providing a learning and learner experience such that its reputation is strong enough to bring others to the college. Rather than ‘teach to the outcome’, successful colleges provide a learning and learner experience of such quality that academic success follows naturally.
Assessments of this are made through the Learner Voice activities, success rates, commentaries in Social Media sites, formal surveys and demand for places on courses. This is Reputation and successful colleges take care to foster their good reputation.
Satisfactory colleges will attempt to manage their Reputation directly. Good and Outstanding colleges allow their reputation to develop obliquely, as a natural consequence or outcome. Reputation is characterised as a settled view by everyone else but the object. A college can destroy or reinforce a reputation but cannot create it or own it.
Satisfactory colleges lack ‘a unique Reputation’. They provide a basic facility for obtaining qualifications without a high reputation.They will work very hard to attract students and have average success rates. Students will not talk about their exciting student experience.
Outstanding colleges are able to provide employers and employees with what they want relating to their business rather than a choice from a set of provisions. They give students and employers and employees what they want. Good colleges only give them a choice. They are seen as part of the training department of each employer they work with, providing a service drawing on training, or education, and pedagogical expertise and software hosting.
Satisfactory colleges provide what they have. In every case, the outstanding feature is provided as a judgement on the reputation of the college as evidenced by the demand of others to be associated with it. In these situations reputation is not owned by the college.
Technology has a huge role to play in this process. It defines the learning experience and behaviours. It can widen participation and deepen learning not least through the increased self-management of lifelong learning. It provides a lifestyle approach to being a student, valued by most young people, particularly where it helps make learning more accessible, more fun and more personal or contextualised and it strengthens on-line reputation. Technologies in college is far more than simply supporting learning. Good colleges work in a digitally literate culture. Digital Literacy is defined by JISC (2012) as:
‘those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society’
Good college’s relationship with technology is as a design science and there is value in sharing and learning from research on ‘what works’. Improving colleges will innovative use as a contribution to that design.
The impact of technology is not measured easily. This is particularly so for outstanding colleges who do not treat technology as a discrete service nor see it related only to teaching and learning. Ultimately the success of any implementation of technology is seen by inverse degree the turbulence caused by its introduction, where this is less than the perceived benefits. This is because the aim of e-learning is to introduce the new possibilities of technology to effective teaching and learning and the wider student and teacher experience, subsuming what works into general teaching and learning practice and ejecting the new that causes too much turbulence relative to the benefits.
The standing and effectiveness of any college is never greater than the quality of its teaching. Outstanding colleges have moved much of the effort for success from teachers teaching to students sharing the management of their own learning and successes.
Teachers who use technology well have the confidence to work with it imaginatively, requiring a set of mindsets over having a wide knowledge of software processes. Teachers won’t be replaced by technology but teachers that use technology will replace those that don’t in all colleges.
Confidence is the pivotal aspect that determines the ability to be agile in adapting to new technologies. Confidence of the individual when aggregated describes the e-maturity of the provider and the pace of the journey towards maturity is an interaction between staff confidence and organisational barriers.
Teachers in outstanding colleges are able to explore the craft of teaching autonomously with what is known of the design science of teaching and make adaptive changes with the support of colleagues. Poorly supported teachers will make reactive change in course teams. Unsupported teachers will look to college compliance.
Outstanding colleges are able to encourage divergent thinking by staff and students through the affordances of latest personal technologies. Satisfactory colleges don’t see beyond convergent learning. Compliant teachers won’t be seen as needing support.
Good colleges use technology to make learning more enjoyable and accessible. Poorer colleges see technology as providing evidence of college effort and improving administrative efficiency primarily. None of this need be affected by old buildings, the classroom being seen as a meeting place for learners, mostly with a teacher, but held together with an enthusiasm for the learning in hand. In good colleges, technology will not be seen as a substitute for a strong student/tutor relationship.
Over ‘compliance and control mechanisms,’ enforced by management structures slows progression generally and affects the desire to explore effective use of technology. In improving colleges, those that teach feel a sense of trust to explore effective pedagogy that includes the use of technology. In good colleges, technology supports good teaching and learning where it falls rather than teaching and learning occurring inside what is offered by college technologies. This leads to fragmentation of technologies in use. In improving colleges this is not seen as a problem as all use is judged by the unchanging values of good teaching. It follows that whilst good teaching and learning should be common to all colleges, technological profiles can be as unique as the provider itself.
The fear of fragmenting technologies and the risk of maintaining safety leads to withholding uses rather than teaching mature use.
This argument of holding back of teachers is reinforced in a Paper by the 157 group and the IfL, quoting a study at Birmingham Metropolitan College. They advocate the professionalisation of the teaching includes ‘letting go to get more’.
“in such organisations, perceptions of professional development being something that is done to employees, usually as a punishment or a reward, are being eroded. They are being replaced by more inclusive approaches that allow staff to play a far greater role in shaping and delivering their own professional learning and development.”
It follows that any estimation of the rate of progress could include a consideration of the degree to which any of these characteristics exist in a college.
Perhaps this problem can be summarised as a lack of trust in the capability of technologies to be both radical and safe?
A measurement of ‘where we are’ is of less importance and relevance than having a sense of direction and an understanding of progress in that direction and knowing where to find the tell tale signs. To inform a strong sense of a provider’s vector. Measurements tend to be constructed to ‘inform up’. Direction and progress tends to be felt within.
A mechanism then needs to be found to support a narrative approach to direction and progress, based on good teaching and learning as it is supported by technology, concentrating on the new and its turbulence, relative to benefit. The Common Inspection Framework (CIF) seeks this too.
Improving colleges provide evidence of their journey, from the perspective of students, teachers, and employers. It will attune with the Vision and be reflected in the college culture, which allows summary and positional statements supported by summary and positional evidence.
Technology can provide better and more agreeable ways of working. It must not add work, but release obligations for work elsewhere so roles are seen to evolve qualitatively and not grow quantitatively.
Experienced e-learning practitioners can summarise college journeys with technology, less experienced voices will need a mentor to support understanding, some will need a critical friend and some co-mentorships.