eLearning is not just computers…

The thing that demotivates me most about my job in elearning is when I go to show teachers how to use technology in the classroom I get this response.

This is good but I don’t have time for this stuff

Now, i’m not saying that all teachers have this stance but there is a train of thought in some areas of the education sector from a number of teachers that eLearning is doing the same thing just using computers and websites.  They never did it 5, 10 or 15 years ago and they were fine so why do we need it now.

Isn’t teaching the art of passing knowledge on to the next generation? As each cohort of students goes out into the workplace, technology has shifted.  I remember being at college in the early 90’s and having to find something to do to fill in my day and I decided that I’d do the RSA typing exams.  I didn’t think it was that important at the time but in todays world its vital that i can touch type so that my productivity is kept high.  A lot of todays students are already coming to college being able to touch type because they have grown up with technology.

The statement “the youth of today are all tech savvy” is a myth but there are many more students who are than there were 5,10 or 15 years ago. So why do teachers expect that the methods that they used back then are still as relevant and the best way to teach?

Looking at eLearning as just computers is like looking at a 3 star Michelin meal and just saying its potatoes and beef, its how you use it that makes the difference. In my mind ‘eLearning’ is not being able to use a whiteboard properly or even putting your powerpoint resources on the VLE, it is being able to leverage technology to enhance the experience for your students.  This in turn lets your students develop other skills such as critical thinking without being hand-held by the teacher at every step.

Budgets are being squeezed in the FE sector every year and teachers work is getting harder and harder as class sizes expand.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was something that the teacher could use the make their life easier?  This is where elearning comes in.

I’m working on a project at the moment which aims to automate the teaching and feedback of classes which in turn releases the teacher to work on more interesting things than just marking papers.  In this case we’re using moodle, which is my VLE of choice, to create lessons where the teacher can start a cohort of students on a learning journey.  It pulls in videos from youtube, activities from sites like Khan Academy, and polls using things like poll anywhere all into a single package which walks the student through a concept or task.  It checks the students progress at points through the lesson and gives feedback automatically based on their answers.  If they need more help it sends them to other areas. For a teacher it takes about an hour to create this lesson as they will already have most of the content and concepts to deliver the teaching anyway.  But then look at how this has enhanced the teacher.  In a class of 30 students the teacher can give this one activity out and all 30 students are doing it without having to ask questions of the teacher every 5 minutes. This lets them concentrate on the 2 or 3 students who are really struggling with the ideas and not diminishing the teaching for the rest of the group.  Lets even let them do this activity at home where the teacher isn’t available and then when they are in class they can concentrate on putting the concept into practice.

This is where elearning can transform teaching.  Lets take the mundane learning out of the classroom so that when the students are with their peers they can put what they have learned to the test and run sessions where they can discuss and enjoy the transfer of knowledge.

As a byproduct of this, as your students leave college and move into industry, you as the teacher have already made the use of technology an everyday thing so when they encounter it in the real world they are ready to do their jobs without worrying about the world moving on.





A journey from LMS to PLN

I’ve been working for the college for almost 18 years and for the past 9 of those I’ve been the LMS developer and administrator.  I’ve taken Moodle from being a web application that a few teachers used to being a mainstay of the college network.  In September 2016 every full-time course at the college had a moodle counterpart that teachers could use.

At the same time, the learning management tools have moved on.  I touched on this last year about how moodle needed to change to almost become the landing page for learning rather than the behemoth of LMS applications.  Yesterday I was delivering training on how to use the VLE to accept student submissions and personalise their learning journey through a topic.  This got me reflecting on my own journey through trying to learn something and wondering if I would use such a large application in my studies.

About 6 years ago i first heard the term Personal Learning Networks (PLN) and it seemed as though it wasn’t sure what it meant but that it was definite that it didn’t mean a single application like Moodle or Blackboard.

So, back to yesterday and i’m sat in a classroom with 15 other members of staff and i’m working my way through explaining how to create a moodle lesson when one of the teachers asks me how to provide help to a student who still doesn’t get the concept. This made me think how I would go about getting more information on something I was struggling with.  Probably the first thing I would do would be search around on youtube to see if there are any videos which expand on the concept.  Then i’d probably ask on twitter if anyone could answer my question.  This got me back to thinking about the PLN. For me a PLN is not the same thing all the time.  I enjoy learning about how people learn so I like to read blogs from people such as Hannah Tyreman and Scott Hibberson to get ideas about how to get myself focused to learn things.  But I also use applications such as twitter to find out information and ask questions of my peers around software development; I use technical forums and youtube videos to get in depth tutorials and guides on how to do achieve my learning goals. In fact the only website that could be classed as a LMS that I use frequently is Lynda.com to watch full courses on things I am interested in learning, but I still go back to the other applications to ask around the edges of the content.

It is apparent to me that the age of the large LMS is coming to an end and the best application to use to learn is that thing that helps you the most when you need it.  We can all add quizzes and lessons to Moodle until the end of time but if you as a student want to ask a question in that moment, then twitter or Facebook is going to give you the answer a lot better than pre-planned content that doesn’t provide the solution there and then.  This does bring up the question of how do you know what you learn on the internet is correct?  Well this is a whole other issue and during the last few months of 2016 when the buzzword was Fake News it is something that we need to educate ourselves on.

So for me, the answer to What is a Personal Learning Network is

Anything that helps you to learn how you want to learn and when you want to learn.

Away from the Monolith

For the past 10 years the mainstay of eLearning has been the Virtual Learning Environment.  A student goes to a class and logs onto the VLE to answer the quizzes or do their homework.  As time has moved on, the VLE has added features in that let you add video and audio to bring it upto date, but its big advantage has always been that it can ‘do anything’  Moodle, one of the most popular VLE platforms has dozens of plugins which let you add things such as drag and drop questions, wiki pages, set up forums and use live chat on your courses.  Want to have a load of pictures, you can use the picture gallery.

About six months ago, i watched a presentation by Lewis Carr about the future of the VLE and he made some interesting points about its current state.  This reminded me of another presentation a number of years ago at a conference which said that all learning would in the future be personal, there would be no need to create content for the class and it could all be crowdsourced – The end of the college system as we knew it.  Well thankfully this hasn’t come to pass.  Colleges are still needed and we still use the VLE as the main point of call for eLearning.  But as Lewis pointed out, the VLE needs to change to survive the next few years.

Here are our college, we have brought Google Apps for Education into the mix and use both Moodle and Google Classroom (GC) as our VLEs.  What we have found is that they have both got their uses but also their drawbacks.  If you have never used GC before, the easiest way to explain it is facebook for education.  It works as a stream of content so that, in general, each peace of content slides the next piece down.  Sure you can get your students to submit work on it, but it is more of a hub than a full blown VLE.  want to add something to your class, just drag the link from a browser and it creates an announcement that is sent out to all your students.  Of course the downside is that GC is designed to be used there an then.  This is the main difference that teachers have commented upon.

Moodle on the other hand, if you have the time and the will, you can create all your content for the year and then make it available at the time you wish for your students.  The problem is it does do everything most of what you need but none of what it does is the best of what is available.

I think there is a place for both approaches although the large monolith of the VLE has to adapt to still be of use during the next 5 year.  Over the next few weeks i’m going to be discussing how we can use the VLE as a hub for teaching and take the best of what is out there and combine the advantages of Moodle or GC to help both students and staff deliver a truly rich eLearning experience.