Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Blended Learning Essentials - a summary of curation

I've known about FutureLearn's Blended Learning Essentials course for some time, but I haven't been able to do them until now.  I heard that they have been very successful and read lots of positive things about them.  Since I completed my Technology Enhanced Learning masters last Summer, I haven't done any other formal learning as such.  So I think I was due to participate and learn something new or reinforce things I may have forgotten along my journey.

The first course 'Getting Started' proved very valuable for me as you can see I have taken a lot of knowledge and practice from it.  The first part of the course ran for 5 weeks from February to March and included a variety of topics from the theory of blended learning, to designing it then delivering with it.  The second part of the course 'Embedding Practice' ran in May for 3 weeks and explored the practical aspects of implementing blended learning.

Originally this post was in two parts to coincide with the courses, however it made sense to do it as one and delay it until I completed the second course.  In this post I present the interests I have curated during the study of each course and summarised my understandings into categories.  This was a good exercise to review what I have acquired during each week and think about how I can use it.

Blended learning

Blended learning is a mix of traditional and digital technologies that are combined together.  Both learners and teachers use their time more effectively to achieve more.  Because of its flexibility, it can also make a positive impact on those learners that are hard to reach.  There are five benefits to blended learning; flexibility, active learning, personalisation, learner control and feedback.

We use computers (websites, software) to input data into them which is the content (information) which then becomes interactive for learners to take control of.  Such as self-completion of activities or embedded videos for example.  The activities we create can also give feedback on your decisions, which is personalisation.  Blended learning is useful for enabling active learning where learners can do things the same time the teacher does - making their own sense of the actions as it happens.

There are three simple ways to use blended learning; problem-based learning encourages active learning, using real world scenarios, social learning and applying knowledge to new situations; social constructivism is learning as a result of social interaction and collaboration with others; constructivism through learners constructing their own knowledge and meaning through experience.

Blended learning allows you to use a variety of open tools and dip in and out of different types of learning strategies and experiences.  Open tools can be organised into categories in the context of learning outcomes; multimedia production, presentation tools, collaborative writing tools, reflective tools, collaboration tools, interactive tools, social tools.  You will still have the traditional teaching aspects but you have the appropriate technology within that to enhance and support it, and capture and present material in different ways.  For example the flipped classroom is useful for flipping the activities to the classroom with the instruction at home.  Communication is highly important as it enables the need to check and confirm thoughts.  It awakens internal processes that only happens when a learner is interacting with people in their environment and cooperation with peers.

I found the vocational pedagogy very interesting that was located in the City & Guilds 'Culture, Coaching and Collaboration'.  There are six outcomes of vocational education which are encouraged to be used as the basis of vocational learning and teaching.  These are identified as routine expertise, resourcefulness, functional literacies, craftsmanship, business-like attitudes, and wider skills for growth.  Alongside this are ten dimensions of decision-making.  Each end of the attributes below represents a different option of delivery for learning and teaching, encouraging some variety in practice.  Digital technology can be used to experiment with these learning and teaching practices.

Facilitative > Role of the teacher > Didactic
Authentic > Nature of activities > Contrived
Practice > Means of knowing > Theory
Questioning > Attitude to knowledge > Certain
Extended > Organisation of time > Bell-bound
Workshop > Organisation of space > Classroom
Group > Approach to tasks > Individual
High > Visibility of processes > Hidden
Virtual > Proximity to teacher > Face-to-face
Self-managed > Role of the learner > Directed

Curriculum design

The traditional method of curriculum design is to identify the learning to be understood and the sequence of activities that need to be undertaken in order to achieve it.  Curriculum design is the same process for blended or wholly online and should always focus on pedagogy.  These days activities need to be more engaging and interactive which needs to involve the student having ownership of the process of it.  If using a student-centred curriculum (contributing to learning materials and creating content), multimedia production and sharing will be essential.

Curriculum design relies on a structure - instructional design allows us to review how each topic will be taught, what sequence, what methods and tools are going to be used and the outcome.  It's an outcome-focussed process that looks what learners are expected to learn and change as a result - what couldn't be done at the beginning to what they can do at the end.  Designing the assessment (formative, for and of learning, summative assessment) first is a good way of defining the learning outcomes.  It's useful to consider whether the assessment is digitally based or not and aligning to the learning outcomes, curriculum content, learner needs, and the pedagogy.

The instructional design process D(define)ADDIE model demonstrates the value of the iterative design – test – redesign – implement-evaluate cycle. It helps you focus on the importance of considering inclusivity, accessibility, flexibility and usability when planning for implementation.  Define is the link to curriculum design and identifies what is going to be delivered.  Analysis looks at the audience (learners’ needs, expectations and requirements) and how they will or are likely to react to the learning process.  Design takes the information obtained and allows you to create and deliver the learning in a form that is engaging and interactive.  This includes the course sequence, learning outcomes, activities and assessment.  Develop enables you to make your learning design a reality such as the resources, learning activities, and tests.  Implement is about putting your learning design into action ensuring it I accessible, inclusive and usable.  Evaluate allows you to assess whether the learning design was effective or not in meeting the learning outcomes.  Overall instructional design is an iterative process that questions what and who is it all for and did it work and what can be done to make it better in future.  It also ensures that you make the best of the digital technology.

Digital technology

When using digital technology, it should be used to add value to existing teaching practices.  It should enable you to move from one space to another seamlessly due to the open nature of the online learning tools.  A main purpose of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is that learners will engage in more learning time because they are actively involved in the tasks producing and interacting with content, which leads to technology-supported independent learning.  Digital technology can make a significant impact where there is a clear need to make improvements - pedagogical challenges and problems.  However, we need to think about the people we are going to use digital technology with so that we don't exclude anyone.

Synchronous occurs in real time, not just discussions but creating something as well.  Asynchronous is not in real time where people join in at different times - which provides a benefit in thinking before contributing.

The main benefits to digital technology are; time and place - enables education to offer greater flexibility.  Online resources and activities allow learners to learn at home, at work or when travelling, as well as in their designated place of learning; pace of learning - the learner accesses and uses the digital resources under their control; variety of learning modes - learners can do individual, group work or blend their own digital, physical and social learning; content focus - learners encouraged to follow their own online searches to relevance; differentiation - diverse learner needs can be met through assistive technologies and open educational resources to meet learner’s needs; the educator’s use of time - distribute time in different ways to deliver whole class, small group, individual support, across face-to-face and online learning.  It's much easier to get around a computer than it is a textbook.  With a computer you're connected and can search and change things.  Computers save and record work and progress, plus you can access things as much as you need and at your own speed.  Digital technology does or helps to produce evidence of learning.

Learner data

When a learner interacts with a digital system, tool or resource, they leave a digital footprint.  There are opportunities to collect data on individuals or groups which can be used in various ways to improve the learner experience.  This is also referred to as ‘big data or learning analytics’ which enables educators to collect, analyse and report large datasets to identify any patterns and trends of their learners.  Therefore this data can be used to inform a learners own progress, learner activity, behaviour and preferences on how they learn and interact with digital content.  Data analytics should not only be used to capture what student have done or are doing, but it has scope to inform and improve online learning design, online learning interactions, assessment needs and digital marketing of online courses and provisions.
Data collected for improving learning outcomes can derive from performance on tests and learners’ online engagement in discussions, questions, or even comments in focus groups and surveys.  The key questions to ask are; what data to collect, what implications there are for collecting data, and how to interpret and use the data.  I made this comment at the recent MoodleMoot; "Perhaps focus on promoting learning analytic tools to learners to encourage managing their own learning = independent learning."

Culture change with digital technology

I found this interesting and reassuring to know as it reminds me of what I experienced and lead on in my previous role at a further education college.   To enable and manage culture change with digital technology in an organisation, the following pointers are useful to consider.

  • Assess whether blended learning is where it should be - challenge the current culture that exists
  • Specify that senior management need to be involved by modelling (at the beginning), setting the direction and supportive otherwise it will depend on the motivated enthusiasts to lead it all
  • Listen to issues that teaching staff have and work through it with them to build confidence
  • Discuss good practice with curriculum staff but allow time for leaders to model the use of it.  Failure of this will stymie the culture change process
  • Planning and delivering staff development needs to aimed at leaders not just curriculum staff - develop enthusiasm
  • Harness the enthusiasm and create an environment for learning where progress can happen
  • Create an environment that is not just about technology and the latest gadget but about making learning more effective
  • Enable the environment to be encouraging, rewarding and risk taking - something I was in the process of
  • Include early adopters and keep them a focus in the process.  Get the early majority and the late majority will join.  But always expect people that won't want to engage
  • Identifying the reluctant and guiding them back to the direction (imperative) set by leaders and innovators
  • Ask the reluctant 'how could we make this easier for you?', 'what in this could save you time?', 'where will you get the time back?'
  • Invest time to sit and show people the impact and possibilities of blended learning and digital technology.  Ask what they want and what they are comfortable with (learners too)
  • Explain how digital tools and resources can be helpful to their practices.  Ask how they are going to make an impact in their curriculum and pedagogy
  • Explain blended learning as you can't force people to use digital technology without understanding the pedagogy for it
  • Raising confidence with digital technology in the classroom can alleviate many issues of engaging in innovation
  • Get managers to make digital technology part of a conversation.  How are teams and individuals using it in their practices?
  • Ask learners what is working well and not well for them
  • Plan and run workshops, presentations, one to ones, formal and informal meetings, coffee mornings, twilight sessions for people to talk and share about their good practices
  • Be proactive and follow up how people are getting on with using digital technology - they might hit a problem and be put off.  Work with them on a solution - problem-based sessions might be useful
  • Identify and celebrate successes and promote them.  Others will see the benefits and be inspired to try in their practice and share with others in their department
  • Accept that changing culture won't happen quickly or over night - little wins can be a key to bigger wins

The above guidelines embolden what I did for my masters dissertation where I presented the argument of how a further education college's eLearning strategy lacked direction and articulation of pedagogical change in a digital age by not having underpinning pedagogy running through it.

The following are other key factors to consider when making a culture change with digital technology; leadership, vision and strategy, developing staff buy-in, using champions, reward and recognition for staff, working with students and other stakeholders, using evidence to support change, providing a supportive environment, developing skills and providing a robust technology landscape.

To achieve effective change the following stakeholders are useful to bring together to collaborate; teachers and trainers (design, develop and test new digital pedagogies and technologies); teaching support staff (online learner support); learning technology specialists (support innovation and digital awareness); media and technical specialists (quality resources and tools); library staff (source online resources, tools and services); IT staff (technology purchases and infrastructure requirements); marketing staff (promote online and blended learning courses); leaders and managers (support and champion change); students (develop change and provide feedback).

eLearning resources

  • Course map - very useful for laying out the sequence and activities of an online course.
  • Quick poll - asked my attitude towards blended learning if I was convinced of it or now and how much I use it in my practices.  Good to start off that reflective thinking and how I may approach the course material to come.
  • Crib sheets (how to's') - available to download at the end of a topic or module
  • Video case study crib sheet - can be used for Improve International and 5m Publishing H5P Moodle activities
  • Typeform - a new digital technology to try out.  Whilst not free it is a good way for learners to be questioned/surveyed and responses are saved.
  • Typeform reflection questions asking my attitude towards blended learning and how often I use it in my practices.
  • FutureLearn course design could be implemented into our Moodle courses.  Activities structured around the course map, transcripts can be put under the video along with crib sheets.
  • Linking back to correct/incorrect answers from a quiz to content/resources in Moodle
  • Matching pedagogy to digital technology exercise - selected approaches from above and decided from the example activities which was most appropriate to implement.
  • The VLE should be used for interactive activities and learner-generated content.
  • OERs can be used for student experience, digital literacy, recognition, marketing and external relations, efficiency.
  • Storytelling techniques can be used as a process of trying to get them to treat the course as a quest so they're actually discovering new facts as they go through.  It becomes an adventure for learners rather than a sequence of activities.  Moodle lends itself very well to digital storytelling as it allows the use of rich media like animation, video, podcasting, as well as the written narrative
  • Using a basic structure like Moodle you can use it to build a storyline of the course including where learner control is and a clear end point where they can clearly demonstrate what they've learned.
  • Communicate with learners a day before a new week so they know what is coming up and can be prepared and have the right frame of mind for it
  • Blended Learning Essentials Moodle Hub - good for pre-made Moodle activities
  • Different types of learning in action through; acquisition (reading, watching, listening); inquiry (investigate and compare); discussion (exchanging ideas with each other); practice (putting concepts into practice in an exercise with feedback); collaboration (participating and exchanging); production (producing something)
  • Moodle Workshop for peer review as a form of active learning - review at least 2 other learners’ drafts, score them in terms of the criteria, and provide constructive comments
  • Jorum, Khan Academy, Merlot, The Excellence Gateway and OpenLearn - good for OERs

Taking it forward

Talk about excellent timing!  In my organisation we are at the start of reviewing it's strategy for evolving it's blended and distance learning courses.  This is an excellent time as the knowledge I have just acquired and refreshed on will be very useful to feed forward in the conversations I will be participating in.  The blended learning, curriculum design and digital technology knowledge will be useful to shape a strategic vision and purpose of what we want to achieve.  A well-thought foundation will be discussed and agreed in which we can build upon.  Learner data and eLearning resources will be considered in the learning design process, when deciding on the best and appropriate ways to deliver the digital content.  The culture change with digital technology is useful for engaging and supporting change in the organisation.  It was a firm reminder of the work I was carrying out in my previous job in further education.

I have also been using some of this material in other conversations and learning designs I am working on.  This will be a solid post to refer to from time to time when I need to go to the core of blended learning design.