Working in an institution gave me foundations!
In a past life, (for 28 years) I worked in the disability field, more specifically, with people with intellectual disability and autism. In the late 1970’s I left school in the country, arrived in Melbourne and began work in at Kingsbury Training Centre, a new ‘forward thinking’ institution for people with intellectual disability. I was one of 3 staff on shift at any time, with 30 small children aged from 5 to 13 years old. Amongst the concepts, which were futuristic for the times, we ran individual programs, mostly based around life skills for the residents. As time went by, this concept was developed across all disability services. My shift into Educational services for adults, saw the IPP (Individual Program Plan) delivered, by law, across the state of Victoria. This has since been abolished and replaced by the ‘Person centred planning’ concept. The focus shifted from ‘helping and caring’ to ’empowering’, although I admit that it is implemented with varying success across organisations. One of my greatest contributions to the disability field designing the ‘All about me communication books’ this whilst at EDAR and consequently, winning the Dept of Human Services ‘Best practice award’. These books embraced the concept of individuality and empowerment and have been used across Australia.
Management in the disability services embraced the same philosophy: Management supported Staff from below, as the foundation of the organisation, rather from the top looking down. I particularly experienced this at EDAR, where I eventually became a manager myself. Collaboration and learning come hand in hand in developing an authentic and sustainable organisation which will manage change effectively. By role modeling this to staff, the philosophy flowed through to the clients and became a holistic learning journey for all.
What has this got to do with e-learning?
Be patient, I am getting to it!
I began my career change by teaching Cert 4 in Disability across 4 TAFE organisations. It was a very steep learning curve which flowed into Aged care, Nursing, Business and many other areas. In fact, I taught over 45 different units of Competency in my first year of work as a teacher. It came as a surprise that program delivery was largely focused on students as a group and that personal learning concepts had not been embraced. Content seemed to be delivered at students rather than involving them in collaboration, by providing real world experiences and choice of delivery methods. Teachers from a disability background find it natural to teach in a collaborative style as they tend to utilise the skills they learned in industry. Of course, I am generalising. There are many many amazing and talented teachers out there who are from various backgrounds, who have become that way by both natural means and through trial an error. What I am saying is that it is easier for teachers when this style of teaching does not involve behaviour change or who have had the learner centred approached modeled to them personally.
Recognise and embrace difference
Some people have struggled their whole school life to ‘fit into the mold’ and only ‘blossom’ when a teacher recognised their strengths and encouraged them to learn by using them.
Many people come to a position in their lives where they disengage with formal school learning, despite the good work of talented and dedicated teachers. Some have learning difficulties, some have the capacity but are not interested. Either way they separate from learning either physically or in their commitment. The path to re-engagement, if there is such a path, is individual and arises through linking learning to a passion or interest which in turn is linked to work life or purpose.
Perhaps the first requirement is a shared acknowledgement that not all people learn in the same way. Some like to follow an academic path while others learn better by doing and applying skills to practical situations. Some learners succeed through formal study while others succeed through engaging in work-like learning. Importantly both paths lead to success and should be equally esteemed.
Individual learning and e-learning
Many studies indicate the advantages of blended learning in terms of lower dropout rates and success in achieving learning goals. There is obviously nothing wrong with blended learning, but its implementation can be even more challenging than the introduction of 100% distance learning. A model appropriate to blended learning must allow for individual path combining contact and distance learning. In practice this is hard to implement because of logistic constraints, especially on contact hours. Careful design is therefore essential.
I am teaching the ‘Design and Research e-learning’ unit in the Diploma of VET program at Swinburne. Most recently I have trialled the use of the Australian Flexible Learning Framework Learning design tool as a first step towards developing programs for online learning. The Learning Design Tool is a FREE online resource which guides you step-by-step through the four essential stages to write high quality, learner-focused course content, and to create your own learning design template. Using this tool has helped teachers to think more seriously about who they are pitching the learning to and how they will design it.
Tips for individual learning online
Encourage your students to develop a Personal Learning Network. EXAMPLE: The majority of my learning is done informally, mostly because I have a huge network of ‘Twitter people’ who are e-learning consultants and teachers. READ: Using Twitter to enhance your personal learning network (PLN)- How can Twitter be useful to educators?
Don’t try to force feed content to your learners. Give them opportunities to learn collaboratively and experimentally. Use tools such as the discussion or chat tools in your LMS or Wikis and Nings for collaborative learning.
Find out what skills they already have and allow them to ‘choose their own adventure’ to become competent and skilled at tasks.
Take baby steps:
- Not all Gen Y are techno whizzes and often students in their advanced years are very computer literate. Gen Y are often fantastic at Facebook and SMS, but have no idea how to use email. Allow for plenty of support and learning.
- ‘Taking baby steps’ also refers to yourself. You don’t need bells and whistles to be a good online facilitator. Just keep it within your area of skill but keep learning and progressing!
Don’t underestimate peer learning. Quite often students have asked questions in the online discussion forums and another student has answered it for them beautifully. This is meaningful learning for both students. Good facilitation will encourage this, providing they are not left without support or encouragement from the teacher altogether!
Engaging Gen Y
In this video, which is part of a larger project investigating learner-centered teaching with technology, the need for motivation and engagement with technology is highlighted. The use of the technogy advertisements is designed to highlight the engagement produced by technology and media. Part 2 is also available on You Tube if you find it helpful.
I would like to finish with my favourite, thought provoking video…
Your comments are always welcome and I try to reply to them as soon as is humanly possible!