Learning Tech Labs January Meetup

Last week in the Science Gallery Learning Tech Labs hosted its monthly MeetUp bringing together educators, entrepreneurs, developers and those interested in the implications of technology in training and education (the distinction between the two is best characterised by Ken Robinson – most parents would be happy to know their child is receiving sex education in school; less so training).

We often hear of the benefits of tech and how it permits scale but the capabilities can often trump the learning experience so the three speakers on the night broached many of the same issues – the learning and teaching experience online – but from different perspectives.

Layers of learning services

Peter Carlin from Learning and Development consultants Logic Earth addressed the poor state of corporate learning and development. When it comes to learning in workplace there’s a 70:20:10 model which breaks down as:

  • 70% of learning is done on the job
  • 20% of learning comes from others in the organisation
  • 10% of learning happens formally though official L&D department channels

There’s a school of thought, according to Peter, that says that L&D departments should just stick with the 10% and stay clear of the others. Whichever you look at it there’s an inherent paucity of learning that arises from the formal structures put in place within an organisation to facilitate it. It’s the learning provider’s responsibility (whether external or an internal L&D department) to create higher quality, more compelling content to keep at pace with the changing role of learning (as an ongoing requirement) and the demands of workers today.

The big change is not the technology and what it allows providers to do – where the focus often lies – instead it’s about how 21st century workers assimilate information. The real challenge is not about providing technology based solutions for the sake of them rather we should understand workplace learning and create layers of services rather than a single mode of delivery.

Research shows that high performers in the workplace don’t really care about formal learning. Instead they will create their own learning curation methods and seek their own networks to facilitate this.

Providing the tools to cultivate that self-directed learning curation is a step in the right direction. Khan Academy, for example, uses the Learning Technology Interoperability (LTI) standard to allow other LMSs to plug-in to its content much like an API.

Back to learning

An Cósan Community College is based in Jobstown in Tallaght, Dublin an area with a low rate of school leavers who proceed to third level. While up to 99% of secondary students in higher income areas of Ireland go to third level this sinks to as little as 15% in less well off areas. Liz Walters, the Director of the Virtual Community College that has expanded its reach beyond Dublin to a national level with the use of technology.

Many of the students in their courses have had bad experiences with the education system which has left them feeling disenfranchised, bored and inadequate. According to Liz those who have been “failed by the formal system are not just going to walk back into education”. So rather than just putting course material online a support network is crucial that will facilitate and empower learners.

An Cósan partnered with Carlow IT in order to create blended, peer learning communities who would support and encourage each other through an often intimidating journey back through education using virtual classrooms that let students “co-create knowledge” rather than just consume information.

Teaching the disembodied

There’s been considerable research into the impact of blended and ‘e-’ learning on the learning experience but very little on the effect it has on the experience of the practitioner. Self-proclaimed ‘maverick’ Brendan Flanagan from the National College of Ireland has carried out research on the transition path of tutors from the classroom to the virtual environment.

In synchronous online delivery, for example, it’s assumed that tutors bring their learning methods to the online environment. What wasn’t anticipated was that a tutor’s online experience was changing their face to face classroom interaction as well.

Having an understanding of the learning and teaching experience online can only improve it to a point where we’re not just emulating a classroom experience online but ensuring we can use the technology to create robust and bustling learning environments. This is often problematic online where participation in the likes of forums can fall short of desired expectations so addressing “the loneliness of the long-distance learner” (and educator) is key.

A paper called “Teaching the disembodied” (PDF presentation here) considered strategies to increase remote learner engagement.

By the end of the evening there was plenty to think about and lots of discussion among attendees. Very much looking forward to February’s event.

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