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In recent weeks as the war in Ukraine has unfolded I have watched educators trying, with significant success, to use events as teachable moments. The intricacies of shifting boundaries and conflicts used to fuel debates about historical context. Economics teachers use economic interdependences between countries, evidenced through oil and gas supplies, phosphates and grains to great effect. Exploring ethnic identities form a core part of anthropological and social sciences conversations. What I see, are teachers in the English-speaking liberal democracies, the ‘West’ (where I have sight), teaching this war as not being ‘over there’, as some distant disconnected experience
. Rather it is being taught in the context of ‘it is happening here’ or at the very least ‘could it happen here?’

Very often teachers are struggling to answer questions from students and still ‘getting through’ the prescribed content, predetermined in curriculum structures and resources imposed from outside. The best national, regional and institutional systems empower teachers to leverage events that are affecting their students. The worst amongst them have rigid content requirements. These later are written by bureaucrats not by teachers. Concepts are more powerful than content, ideas more enduring than facts. Giving students a framework for critical thought using ideas and concepts allows them to seek out and identify facts and content. Importantly, it empowers the student to make connections between disparate thoughts, across time and geographies.

I think education should be radical, it should be focused on change, not on maintaining the status quo; it should be focused on transformation not normalising; it should be focused on the individual as a member of diverse and overlapping communities, not as unique cogs in a machine. Radical education should be innovating not perpetuating, enriching not sustaining, challenging not confirming.

Oscar Wilde said that

“The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”

True. So little has changed since the 19th century despite the dawning of a digital Information age. In my view, we are still too committed to a curriculum of content rather of concepts.

Courageous teachers across the world are navigating troubling times with creativity and insight. They are often forced to bend and circumvent an imposed curriculum to make the learning effective and real. Why teach about supply and demand to business students using Californian almond production when you can explore the impact of disrupted wheat exports from Ukraine? Why explore the English Reformation when a contemporary example of religious disaggregation is happening today in the Orthodox Churches. Ideally, teachers should have the flexibility to compare and contrast established (predetermined resources) with students' own contemporary comparators.

“If you managed to cover the absences of staff successfully last semester, are you maybe just over staffed?” If you managed to move all of your learning in a frantic fortnight with minimal support, well “how hard can it be, and do you really need all of that expensive support?”

There is a danger of being ‘successful’ in responding to a crisis. Senior management often don’t see the pain and sweat, the family disruption, the anxiety, and stress as it is happening. “Look how resilient you have all been in response to Covid-19, just carry on like that.”

Resilience is very in vogue at the moment. There are any number of workshops and seminars to empower you as an individual to recognise your own resilience. Some generously provide a ‘toolkit’. Others provide just a forum to share stories of resilience. I have been a participant in a number of these session in the last 12 months. To coin a Yogi-ism ‘It’s déjà vu all over again’. In the 2000s the same workshops were being run for us a managers using different buzz words, adaptability and self-awareness.

Adaptability requires a certain degree of intellectual flexibility, but above all it requires that an individual feel secure and trusted. Most individuals can be persuaded to try a different approach, provided if it turns out not to work, that they won't be reproached. Most employees will find creative solutions, in collaboration with others, if they feel that their jobs don't depend on them getting it right first time. Employers need to provide safe zones for failure. Employees need to understand their boundaries and self-imposed limitations. How far should you stretch outside of your current experiences, your ‘comfort zone’? This requires one to be self-aware. To know your limits and when it’s ok to step beyond them.

If senior management in tertiary institutions really want to ensure the resilience of their staff they need to empower even the most junior faculty or support person to make mistakes. To encourage them to be adaptable and responsive to changing circumstances. They must also ensure that staff are self-aware, willing to declare their own limitations and their own boundaries. Given the ability to recognise one’s own limits and being creative in adapting practices to stretch them is a practical definition of professional fulfilment.

I can cope with the evolution of language, it is one of the things I love about English. I recognise that running workshops encouraging staff to be adaptable and self-aware might sound a bit 2000s and language may need to be spiced up a bit. It just gets a bit tiresome to have old concepts repackaged and presented as something radically new. Personally I think it better to confront the underlying conditions in which 'resilience' is enabled.

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

 

There are many courses out there that do a great job of teaching manual, dexterity and physical capabilities. From bricklaying, hairdressing, to gas-fitting, there are course that are focussed around manual processes. However, there are huge numbers of graduates from tertiary programmes that cannot perform duties required of employers on day-one simply because they have not learnt how to do something. Their learning may have been told ‘why’, and even ‘what’ is expected, but it has not enabled them to perfect the skills associated with the ‘how’.

It remains remarkable to me that so many course and programme specification documents, replete with (sometimes well-formed) learning outcomes, have NO psychomotor outcomes. There are few courses that could not be improved by including an assessed outcome associated with using a tool or technology.

To prove the point I asked colleagues informally before Christmas whether they could think of a course where there was NO tool or technology use in play. Without further prompting, most agreed that Excel skills, SPSS, CAD tools, even library databases all required a degree of incremental competence but that these had not been in any way ‘taught’, let alone assessed, within their courses. One provocateur suggested that their course required only the ability to write and reflect. It took little effort to unpick this given that writing in this context requires a word-processing package, formatting, style sheets, spell-checking and in-text-citations, all of which are assumed graduates skills. This colleague stood their ground, suggesting that they were not employed to teach those skills; that was someone else’s responsibility.

This may be at the root of the challenge. Thirty years ago (when many of our current educational leadership graduated) your three to seven years spent at University was a valuable time spent in proximity to the sources of privileged knowledge, the esteemed Professor or the library. You had a whole life after graduation to develop the rounded skills associated with being whatever your chosen lifetime employment might be. That is simply no longer the case. The ‘academy’ no longer contains the privilege knowledge. We have democratised the information sources. Even those who embark on a lifelong vocation will find the landscape around them continuously changing.

Access to the LinkedIn Learning resources, and the cornucopia of free web resources, has allowed some institutions to negate whatever obligations for manual, dexterity and physical skills development they might feel towards their students. Some course weave these external resources into the learner’s experience, others totally abdicate responsibility and deem it part of the independent learning required of learners.

One reason for this lack of attention paid to the acquisition of psychomotor skills is because it is thought harder to assess someone’s psychomotor skill set that it is to test their knowledge, and by extension their intellectual or cognitive skills. If I can’t meaningfully assess it, I’ll just avoid teaching it. It is also a function of the ‘curse of knowledge’, given that faculty have acquired their psychomotor skills in a particular technology or tool over an extended period of time and they have failed to either document that learning or indeed to reflect on it.

There are some well designed courses out there. I hope you designed or teach on one. But there is still a significant deficit in the in-course provision of support for the acquisition of psychomotor skills associated with tools and technologies in a range of disciplines. We need to design courses across ALL disciplines that are rooted in the skills that graduates require to handle the uncertain information, technology, and socio-cultural environments they face. This means designing courses first around psychomotor skills, interpersonal and affective skills, then meta-cognitive and cognitive skills. Then, and only then, should we worry about the factual knowledge element. We need programme and course designers to be designing with different priorities if we want to make learning appropriate for the contemporary learner.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

2021 may have proven to be only slightly less challenging than 2020. If only because some disruption and tumult were expected. All sectors of education continued to make adjustments to their practices, embed new processes and look to long-term solutions. FLANZ is also developing to handle future challenges. ...continue reading "FLANZ President’s Review of 2021"

Te Pūkenga (https://tepūkenga.ac.nz), the centralised vocational tertiary organisation in New Zealand created in the last two years, represents an exciting opportunity to create a new way of conceiving of the learner experience.

A learning experience based on learner choice, learner contexts and personalised journeys.

 

Close up fingers holding map pinDuring a recent joint ODLAA webinar,  Dr Som Naidu  provocatively suggested there were no institutions truly embracing the concept of true flexibility for learners. As President of FLANZ, I think about this all the time. What is the possibility that Te Pūkenga can do something unique?

To design and support learning across all vocational disciplines is a challenge. Some learning must be experienced, witnessed in person, and evidenced through demonstration. While much of this traditionally conceived of as in-person learning can in fact be asynchronous, captured on video and dialogue facilitated alongside, some learning requires tactile demonstration and immediate feedback. There may be some learning can be ‘single-mode’, experience, just on-campus with nothing to take home or reflect on away from the campus, although I struggle to imagine what disciplines fall into that category. Some learning might be done entirely outside of a social context, with no interaction with others, other than the authoritative voice incorporated into a text.

Current models of learning are increasingly less satisfying to contemporary generations who navigate across dynamic and fluid knowledge platforms and devices as part of their daily lives.

There is no shortage of ‘content’. Most learning is infused across a learner’s life, thoughts invading their waking hours and possibly their dreams. Designing learning journeys that are adaptable to each individual’s context is challenging for those organisations who traditionally operate on manufacturing paradigms. This is true whether the model was the individual academic as solo artisan or the large design team following an industrial process. At best, both create an imagined ‘best scenario’, an optimal pathway, at worse they generate a single restricted route through their courseware. Their conception of ‘the right way to learn'.

However, just as the world of broadcasting has changed dramatically in the last 30 years from one-way communication to a world of multiple diverse channels, citizen journalism, and expert blogging (and vlogging), so finally vocational education, at least in New Zealand, has an opportunity to change the way it creates, shares and supports learners.

There is less need for the single authoritative voice and instead there is a clear need for learners to develop autonomous learning practices, judgement and discernment, the ability to evaluate the quality and usefulness of any learning artefact.

Learning should be co-created with learners, never delivered to them as a finished product. A good place for Te Pūkenga to start would be to ask, “how do I deliver the learning experience to the learner in their own context”. That doesn’t mean turning everything into Distance Learning. Rather, it requires curriculum, programme and course designers to think about the learners’ context and design learning (materials and support) that allow them to create their own personalised, or differentiated, learning pathway.

This means Te Pūkenga might be wise to focus on establishing solid programme and course designs and navigational aids rather than on learning content. I advocate a designing around situated learning principles and then curating a range of existing learning materials, drawn from individual practitioners, professional bodies and educational providers. Te Pūkenga could choose to structure its ako strategy as being as open as possible. Encouraging learners, given a map with key milestones (assessments) and  access to curated artefacts alongside that map. Generating original learning resources then becomes only necessary when there are identifiable gaps.

Learning artefacts from which Te Pūkenga constructs its pathways should also be created as Open Educational Resources (OER). This is because the development of these learning opportunities have already been funded off the back of individual taxation and it is immoral to ask individuals to pay for them twice. There is also a strong argument for learners to be enabled to update resources, to rcontextualise them, make them suitabe for their social and cultural context, and for the next generation of learners that follow them, subject to the same quality assurance processes.

These OER learning resources require a quality framework, based on peer review, and a suitable taxonomy to ensure individual artefacts are recoverable and reusable. Learning designers who commission OER, or identify existing OER, need to do so within strict guidelines. We cannot just assume that everyone’s PowerPoints are useful out of context, but the ideal situation would be to establish key concepts and supply learners with alternatives, from visual, auditory and written interpretations and explanations. These artefacts also clearly need a curated content management system, such as one based on OpenEQUELLA.

As with any strategy, it needs to differentiate between learners’ capabilities. At lower levels of the national qualifications framework where students may require more structure, pathways may be more limited. Limited but not restricted. The system clearly needs progression built in. The focus remains on empowering the learner to take ownership of their learner journey. Part of Te Pūkenga’s stated goal is to empower learners to become competent and confident digital citizens and lifelong learners. We don’t do that by giving them a neat little bundle of a course with all the answers included. At higher levels of learning, degree level and above, part of being a contemporary learner is being able to discern the validity of sources and interrogate them.

I also conceive this system of curated OER, sitting alongside the ‘course map’, a customised version of the Mahara ePortfolio with a range of support ‘plugins’ being available. Centralised OER resources, a single course map, with minimal milestones (beyond formal assessment), and options for different levels of in-person or virtual, synchronous or asynchronous, support should be part of the strategy. Across the entire national vocational space, Te Pūkenga should then focus on supporting individuals, their whānau (community), and/or professional context where appropriate.

Empowering learners to construct their own journey has to be the foundational principle.

As Dr Som Naidu suggested, to create such an institution requires a mind shift among current leadership. In Te Pūkenga that means everyone who works within any of its subsidiary organisations needs to let go of how things are currently constructed. It requires national quality assurance agencies, in this case NZQA, to think differently. It requires educational vision and leadership, and a seismic shift in the educational paradigm. It represents a revolution in practice, not an evolution.

 

This blog also appears on LinkedIn 15 November 2021
Photo by GeoJango Maps on Unsplash

Ten years ago, in 2011, I wrote a blog entitled ‘there’s no such things as blended learning’, which essentially suggested that all learning experiences are blended to some extent, making the term irrelevant.

Since then, the boundaries between contexts, technologies and experiences have become even more blurred. Yet rather than discarding the blended terminology, there is simply a profusion of new terms, hybrid and hyflex, being the current vogue. Oh, and ‘flipped’, which is presented to the ill-informed as something new and radical. The problem is these terms are driven by us, as institutions, to define the nature of our course offering, rather than being conceptualised as the learner experiences them.

I am comfortable using the term ‘blend’, alongside ‘mix’, ‘selection’, ‘options’ and many synonyms when talking about courseware designed for a specific delivery context. The context of the learner is key. Any contemporary learner journey is going to involve a ‘smorgasbord’ of learning material, voices to be exposed to, individuals to share reflections with, and physical, social and cultural contexts in which learning is occurring. I can't imagine a context in which a learner only learns through one communication mode, be it a lecture or workshop.

Learning can, and should, be as ‘flexible’ as possible. Informed by the principles of Universal Design for Learning, learning should be malleable enough by the learner to suit their evolving needs and context. Learners should be able to discard elements of the learning journey, take shortcuts rather than revisit existing learning if they choose. Equally, they should be able to explore around the edges of the path designed for them; to go ‘off-piste’ if you like.

Good learning design and good teaching encourage the learner to re-contextualise newly gained knowledge and experience in the light of previous learning. Given that each individual’s context is unique, it is essential that learners should blend their own learning experience. Learners should be enabled to make-meaning for themselves. Good teachers know this.

In practice, the terms blended, hybrid and hyflex, are really being used by institutions to define the nature of their ‘product’, rather than the nature of the learning experience. Institutions choose to package what they sell under different labels, it’s a marketing pitch, “now with added webinars” or “now with extra VLE resources available”. Some senior managers have assumed the opportunities for off-campus communication engagement in the internet era represent a new alternative pedagogy. In reality, the ‘alternative’ pedagogies have always been there. There have always been skilled faculty who reached beyond the lecture or seminar room and engaged learners in their own context. Designing courses that are suitable for open navigation is counter-intuitive for most institutions. The focus has been on designing a learning pathway, not pathways. It’s easier for institutions that way.

What has changed since 2011 is the range of communication technologies available for learners to choose, or not choose, to interact with content, experiences and each other. Courseware in my view can, and should, be designed with open navigation, open pathways, so a learner can choose how they want to arrive at a preconceived set of outcomes. We can provide an optimal route to success for the less adventurous, but choice empowers. Essentially, learners can differentiate their journey from others based on their context and personal needs. Hey, why don’t we use the term ‘differentiated learning’… although that sounds familiar. Wonder if anyone has used that term before? Forgive my sarcasm, but I do wonder whether we need to find new language to describe the aspirations for our courseware as it is experienced by learners.

If we acknowledge that everything is to some extent blended, then what term would encourage courses to be designed to enable learning journeys suitable for personalisation by the learner. Differentiated learning is the best I’ve got.

Photo credit: Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

I have a problem with the use of the term ‘self-directed learning’. Or more precisely, the misuse of the term, certainly as it relates to formal programmes of study as defined by United Kingdom (QAA) and New Zealand qualifications authorities (NZQA), and others. The casual use of vernacular language to define specific concepts is a constant problem for me. I would prefer if we would use the term ‘independent learning’, which is more accurate.

In my worldview, self-directed learning has a specific definition. Based on the work of Malcolm Knowles , self-directed learning requires the learner to have the freedom to decide what outcomes they intended and the resources and the path they will travel to gain the learning. Knowles’s own definition was that “In its broadest meaning self-directed learning describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes” (Knowles, 1975, p. 18). My emphasis.

There is an important distinction to be made here between formal, non-formal, informal, and incidental learning. Formal, non-formal and informal learning all have intentionality, the learner intends to learn something. That distinguishes it from incidental learning, which is gained ‘accidentally’, without the learner intending to learn anything. Formal and non-formal learning can be distinguished from informal learning because both forms have some structure, some curriculum, and some prescribed learning goals (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2012).

It's important to make this distinction because so much of the commentary on the web, and even in the academic literature, journals, books and YouTube or LinkedIn videos conflate these concepts.

Clearly, any programme or course that has a defined curriculum, which accounts for most of the learning that takes place in schools, colleges, polytechnics, and universities, has learning goals, or outcomes, prescribed. This makes it literally impossible for the student to be ‘self-directed’. Self-directed is, by definition, learning where the individual decides for themselves what their curriculum is going to be and what the outcome of their learning will be. Self-directed learning cannot be non-formal or formal learning because both forms have curriculum already prescribed.

I would advocate that there are three modalities of learning applicable to contemporary formal (and non-formal) education. These three are taught, guided, and independent learning. Taught modality requires relatively close proximity to the instructor. Using Vygotskyian language, ‘taught’ constitutes the in inner space within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) close to the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). ‘Guided’ still requires close attention to the voice of the MKE but can be experienced at a distance, spatially and temporally, but is still closely following a predetermined path. ‘Independent’ study may deviate to varied degrees from the voice of the MKE, encouraging students to explore their own learning context, real-world experiences or identifying multiple voices from which to learn, but all within a prescribed learning journey with predetermined outcomes in mind.

We can encourage students to explore specific learning resources and activities more independently of the tutor’s gaze and away from other students. This is independent study. This is likely still to be guided by the teacher with an agreed set of outcomes in mind, it is just not taught learning.

We would serve the learning community better if we talk about self-directed learning only in the context of informal learning. Self-directed learning requires the individual to decide for themselves the outcomes they want to achieve. When we are talking about learners doing their own thing in the context of formal and non-formal programmes of study, we should describe that as 'independent study' or 'independent learning '.

I would like to see national qualifications authorities to adopt these distinctions. ‘Taught’ implies face-to-face real-time encounters between learners and teachers. ‘Guided’ is more suitable for time-displaced and distance learning, but still requires students to follow the lead by the voice of the MKO. Independent learning is still restricted by the agreed outcomes but allows the student to move away from the voice of the teacher and to make autonomous decisions as to best achieve the prescribed outcomes. There is no place for self-directed learning in formal and non-formal education.

Disclaimer: this post represents a personal view and in no way represents the views of any institution with which I am, or have been, associated.

Knowles, M. (1975). Self-directed Learning: A guide for learners and teachers. Association Press.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2012). International standard classification of education: ISCED 2011. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Documents/isced-2011-en.pdf

Photo by Mika Matin on Unsplash

 

We need to continue to move away from seeing tertiary education as the imparting knowledge and see it rather as developing the skill of all students to be able to decide which learning pathways best suits their context, prior experience and aspirations. One of the consistent messages I try and instil in others' practice is the importance of the social context in which the student inhabits.

In November 2018 I contributed to an EDEN online webinar talking about 'Innovative Education' as part of the 2018 European Distance Learning Week. Here is my presentation, entitled "Designing Pathways: which way to innovation?"

I thought I would share some cross-platform videos which reflect whatever is on my mind professionally each morning.  Shot in portrait for IGTV and then annotated for YouTube,  they represent unscripted notes on some aspect of learning design or educational enhancement.

This one explores the value of an individual approach to personalizing reflection for academic practitioners. I urge faculty to make reflective journal notes immediately following any teaching event. This is invaluable, as is watching and listening back to your work. Combined with an SGID or in-class evaluation process you will find that any end-of-module evaluation of your teaching effectiveness should hold no surprises.

Back in the late northern hemisphere summer of 2013 I drafted a background paper on the differences between Educational Data Mining, Academic Analytics and Learning Analytics. Entitled 'Adaptive Learning and Learning Analytics: a new design paradigm', It was intended to 'get everyone on the same page' as many people at my University, from very different roles, responsibilities and perspectives, had something to say about 'analytics'. Unfortunately for me I then had nearly a years absence through ill-health and I came back to an equally obfuscated landscape of debate and deliberation. So I opted to finish the paper.

I don't claim to be an expert on learning analytics, but I do know something about learning design, about teaching on-line and about adapting learning delivery and contexts to suit different individual needs. The paper outlines some of the social implications of big data collection. It looks to find useful definitions for the various fields of enquiry concerned with collecting and making something useful with learner data to enrich the learning process. It then suggest some of the challenges that such data collection involves (decontextualisation and privacy) and the opportunity it represents (self-directed learning and the SOLE Model). Finally it explores the impact of learning analytics on learning design and suggests why we need to re-examine the granularity of our learning designs.

I conclude;

Learning Analytics Cover"The influences on the learner that lay beyond the control of the learning provider, employer or indeed the individual themselves, are extremely diverse. Behaviours in social media may not be reflected in work contexts, and patterns of learning in one discipline or field of experience may not be effective in another. The only possible solution to the fragmentation and intricacy of our identities is to have more, and more interconnected, data and that poses a significant problem.

Privacy issues are likely to provide a natural break on the innovation of learning analytics. Individuals may not feel that there is sufficient value to them personally to reveal significant information about themselves to data collectors outside the immediate learning experience and that information may simply be inadequate to make effective adaptive decisions. Indeed, the value of the personal data associated with the learning analytics platforms emerging may soon see a two tier pricing arrangement whereby a student pays a lower fee if they engage fully in the data gathering process, providing the learning provider with social and personal data, as well as their learning activity, and higher fees for those that wish to opt-out of the ‘data immersion’.

However sophisticated the learning analytics platforms, algorithms and user interfaces become in the next few years, it is the fundamentals of the learning design process which will ensure that learning providers do not need to ‘re-tool’ every 12 months as technology advances and that the optimum benefit for the learner is achieved. Much of the current commercial effort, informed by ‘big data’ and ‘every-click-counts’ models of Internet application development, is largely devoid of any educational understanding. There are rich veins of academic traditional and practice in anthropology, sociology and psychology, in particular, that can usefully inform enquiries into discourse analysis, social network analysis, motivation, empathy and sentiment study, predictive modelling and visualisation and engagement and adaptive uses of semantic content (Siemens, 2012). It is the scholarship and research informed learning design itself, grounded in meaningful pedagogical and andragogical theories of learning that will ensure that technology solutions deliver significant and sustainable benefits.

To consciously misparaphrase American satirist Tom Lehrer, learning analytics and adaptive learning platforms are “like sewers, you only get out of them, what you put into them’."

Download the paper here, at AcademiaEdu or ResearchGate

Siemens, G. (2012). Learning analytics: envisioning a research discipline and a domain of practice. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 4–8). New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/2330601.2330605

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