Personal reflections on online learning #2

I’ve managed to squeeze in a few more hours on the University of Leeds’  Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started course on The Open University’s Future Learn online platform. So time for some more reflections.

Well, actually less reflections, and more confirmation of some pre-held assumptions.

The video that accompanies unit 1.6 (Digital technology and learners) stresses how technology enhances the flexibility of learning for a learner and cites a learner’s ability to skype his tutor and engage with him via Google Hangouts. He also cites being able to submit assignments via Turnitin, and merely ‘chatting’ with his tutor via Facebook, Edmodo (which I’d not heard of before) or Hangouts.

Professor Laurillard acknowledges the ability of the learner to manage his time with such technologies. But she skirts this in favour of drawing attention to what she calls the “crucial value of the technology” which is that they give him “flexible access for social learning” (emphasis added). Enhancing the sociability of learning is an important – “crucial” even – aspect of blended learning. In the cited instance Prof. Laurillard concludes that the learner “isn’t isolated”.

I touched on this in my first Personal reflections blog and how the Blended Learning Essentials course appeared to place an emphasis on sociability and learner interaction. Clearly, this is designed in, not because it is a nice, fluffy thing to do; rather it is a pedagogic necessity that enhances learners’ achievement.

moodle-laddersConsidering the Communities First workforce as potential users of our Learning Zone moodle many of our potential learners are remote-working, peripatetic and working directly with clients, many of whom have multiple needs and/or difficult personal circumstances. I had already recognised their need to have flexibility in determining when/where it suits them to learn. But I had previously considered the sociability aspect to their online and blended learning on the Learning Zone has an optional extra.

This particular unit on the course suggests it is more a necessity.

Another interesting element in considering what technologies offer in terms of flexibility is the permission to use particular platforms/websites.

The Communities First workforce is primarily employed by Welsh local authorities whose restrictions are frankly Draconian when it comes to allowing which sites their staff can access outside lunch breaks, if at all. The video cites Google Hangouts, Edmodo and Facebook as examples of platforms which enhance the sociability of learning but I would hazard a guess that none are available to the majority of CF workers at, say, 10.30am on a weekday morning.

blue yetiTo illustrate this point, I have had first-hand experience of this with respect to a pilot podcast that I recorded with members of the CF workforce in May.

I had identified several people with whom to evaluate the recording for content, audio quality, length and ease of listening. The mp3 was too large to email and so I placed it in a Dropbox folder and on Soundcloud for people to access to either listen in situ or download to a device of their own choice. Variously, people could not access one or other site via their work PC; had to do so from their own home PCs, requiring them to share with me their personal emails; or could access the sites but had no media player through which to listen to the mp3.

Flexibility isn’t something that is brought about by the the availability of technologies alone. There are external factors that can greatly, even completely, constrain a learner and educator’s efforts to make learning flexible.

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