In helping students to prepare for the world of work, this Paper considers what do we need to do to match the process of learning to the way people work together to develop in the world of work. To do this, I want to explore the relationship between the ideas of ‘Blended learning approaches’ and the use of ‘Learning Objects’. In the process I want to define the outcome of this exploration as 'String Learning'.
A modern possibility in using using Technology in learning has been the increasing management of the whole process by the person who wants to learn and it has come about through the personalisation of technology and the ease of availability of information. But learning has traditionally been done in volumes, based on a standard class-based process. Until recently, the ability to capture and marshal personal achievements and attributes that can be added into a coherent story of learning wasn’t possible. But the ability to have personal technology accommodates a personal record of learning and development. Actually we are just now using technology to capture, marshal and make new sense of all the things we learn; all of us, every day. But when people engage with educators to learn they are happy (or someone else wants them) to trade-off some of that independence for authoritative guidance and structure and to join a group of like-minded people for company on the learning journey around particular aspects of learning.
People in work don’t learn in rooms, all facing the same way but through collaboration with peers and team colleagues, applying critical thinking (testing) to what is available and making judgements and coming to understandings.
Perhaps our next big change in education then is to change the way we expect students to behave in these episodes of learning who often come to formal learning, thinking of education as a passive process, that is ‘provided’ rather than ‘acquired’; as if it is all student get from education is taught, rather than caught and acquired. Learning in college should not differ from the methods and tools used when students work in a team or for an employer or simply for pleasure.
Collaborative learning supports sharing and filtering knowledge readily available, using validity and reliability skills to filter sources and synthesise understanding. It requires critical thinking as students collaborate with each other’s ‘doubted knowledge’, found, through the web and elsewhere. It promotes enquiry-based and project-based learning in place of instruction. It requires an enterprise of learning rather than classroom passivity under instruction by receptive students. In short, students can increasingly manage their journey and their approaches to synthesising knowledge that they bring to class for debate and challenge and application.
Learning this way mimics the way people already in employment and self-employment learn, many working in teams, testing and discussing ideas and approaches. It helps prepare the ‘work-ready’ mindset making learning a lifelong and life-wide habit. Such is the profundity of the effect of this ubiquitous technology, we are teaching students how to work and not just what they need to know to fulfil tasks.
The behaviours of Blended Learning prepare students for modern learning
We know that employers are as equally interested in student attributes and aptitudes (the process of modern learning) as they are in the mastering of competencies (what is learnt) and blended learning helps develop these characteristics. It is hardly surprising as we move from a manufacturing to more service-based economy employers want to employ people they are comfortable to place in front of their customers and represent their organisation.
Employers and customers say they want students who ‘know how to’, but they are more willing to show flexibility, in terms of ‘finishing off’ those hard skills if they are ‘the right person’. What makes a person ‘right’ is a complex set of personability attributes that demonstrate personal potential. In cases of preparing for self-employment it includes making the right connections to find, engage and retain customers.
Hard skills are seen as a measure of working to a standard or competence. Aptitude relates to ‘potential’ in its broadest sense (i.e. agility, imagination, personal ability, warmth of character, reliability etc.) and, in an employment/self-employment that is increasingly service based, these are important factors to be able to demonstrate. If we can’t (as we are told) prepare students for jobs that are not yet invented we can prepare them with the mindset and character to deal with such fluidity to make the most of opportunity.
So then, in our new Blended learning world….
On Learning Objects
Learning Resources are almost invariably made by their authors for their own use with their students and they are made with enthusiasm and pride (which is what you want!). But Learning objects are learning resources written for audiences beyond the reach of the author; they are made for sharing and use by students the author does not know or teach.
The golden rule about learning objects is they should be designed around how they affect what happens with the student and teacher in the spaces in between studying the objects. Once a ‘resource’ becomes an ‘object’, that relationship is broken.
This is less so for basic learning components that are purely knowledge transfer, but becomes very important in anything produced beyond this that requires understanding. It explains the reluctance of teachers to work with resources other than their own so as to provide an efficient and coherent progression for the students. Where information is so readily and plentifully available, colleges are not the repositories of knowledge they were, but they should still be repositories of wisdom in how to find and act on knowledge and skill in application of what is learnt. With so much competition in on-line content is that authors fall into subjectivity, over-enthusiasm and complexity for recipient teachers who aren’t willing to give up so much control.
Here are some characteristics then of successful Learning Objects in FE.
Over-stretching the reach Learning Objects
Personalised learning supports and accommodates students where their learning takes them, but there is a danger that some see technology as a mechanism for efficiency. This is short-hand for enforcing compliance, uniformity of approach and seeing virtue in process (like following the rules of shopping in a supermarket). Compliance and efficiency works in the administration of learning but has no place in the enterprise of learning. Over-reaching Learning Objects are often designed with one approach to learning in mind. Technology should open out and accommodate new ideas, processes and approaches, allow individual exploration, imagination and creativity and expression and not require compliance. In short, in the enterprise of learning we should not try to standardise what should be personal. and learning Objects should never be valued for providing the same way of learning everywhere.
The String learning approach
By string learning, I mean then the choices, number, order and manner in which learning objects are strung together by the teacher to provide a coherent blended journey for each student. The choices made are based around how students and teachers want to confront the issues in terms of order, pace and progression and challenges raised by collaborative endeavour.
This String Learning approach adds real value to course design. It allows every student to collect Objects to study that relates to what they want. (Students don't want choice, they want what they want!).
It provides a unique route, perhaps formalised in a learning contract, that provides a front sheet of the learning episode in a portfolio that captures both hard and soft skills that student can then marshal and publish. Students can pick learning from what may have historically been separated into courses in a college offer. Student can also study common modules such as thinking skills and other universal attributes for all students to acquire etc. that are relevant to students, regardless of whether they are following a vocation, academic or practical course of study. It allows what is learned to be as personalised as how it is learned. It supports apprenticeship learning as easily as other forms of study and may have more relevancy to apprentices. It also allows development in learning technique as students can progress from private learning to collaborative learning to enquiry-based and then project based learning. Finally it allows the development of learning into more complex routes of study, all of which can be captured as unique learning journeys that discerns each student from the next.
Geoff Rebbeck - October 2016
String Learning by Geoff Rebbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.geoffrebbeck.com/learning-blog.