12 October 2007
Looking Back, Moving Forward
image: Dave Girling
Well, our LearnScope journey has come to an end, but is the real journey just beginning? Let's take a moment to look back to see where we have been and how what we have learned might help us move forward.
The aim of this LearnScope program was for managers of RTOs across NSW and, in this case a Northern Territorian, to gain an understanding of e-Learning, emerging trends and specific management issues relating to e-learning. To achieve this, individuals were to form a learning community sharing a 10 week facilitated face-to-face and online journey through a range of activities and discussions around e-Learning.
We started off on 3 August with a face-to-face induction. Almost a full quorum, lots of enthusiasm and a great opportunity for us to meet each other, to put faces to names. And perhaps to sort out whether this was a journey each of us wanted to take. There was an introduction to the communication tools we would be using - the blog, the wiki and Adobe Acrobat Connect, our virtual conferencing software. Robyn Jay, NSW LearnScope Manager, played a major role outlining the different support available through NSW LearnScope and introducing participants to its wiki and blog maintained by both Robyn and Alex Hayes.
The emails started, the wiki was established and the blog was ready to go! And so, the online meetings began.
For our first session we took the time to have a look at implementation strategies with Clint Smith. Clint introduced us to the outstanding Framework resource - Designing e-Learning which covers strategies, design and assessment.
Sadly we experienced the woes of many an online learner - technology not doing what we wanted it to do! Clint's ppt took on a life of its own and we had Jeremy and Marguerite struggling to join us over dial-up connections. We did find the time however, to have a closer look at blogging and wikis so that reflection and collaboration could begin. And thank goodness for recordings so those not able to participate could do so in their own time.
Next came Michael Coghlan who discussed emerging trends and issues in our second session. Networking and connecting are definitely on the radar, but not at the expense of some of what we already know. We discussed the need for options to be available and the delivery blended to maximise learning. And what about those firewalls! Should we be censoring sites or helping students to learn how to protect themselves?
For our third session, we had the privilege of having Nigel Paine joining us to explore leadership and e-learning, followed by an afternoon session with Jo Kay who introduced us to Second Life. Wow - what a buzz that day was! Jo took us into a whole new world for us to learn and play - mind boggling - and Nigel made it all sound so easy. Both great presentations.
Mobile Technologies was a special agenda item provided for us by Alex Hayes, who just never stops! Alex talked to us about the evolution of mobile technologies and drew together the stories of how mobile technologies are being used from practitioners from all over the world. Now SMS and mobiles really are the domain of the 'Net Gen', our younger students, and fast becoming that of more mature students. Go on, how many of us (grandparents included) text our children and grandchildren frequently! Even the ATO has cottoned on to using SMS with one participant sharing how they got an SMS reminding them that their tax was due by the end of this month - can you believe that!
Mary Schooneveldt reminded us of learner needs and the barriers to learning online in our sixth session. Certainly e-learning is breaking down many of the barriers that prevented participation previously for many different groups of learners, and because of e-learning I am able to continue to be a member of the workforce and still be available as a f/time carer in my home.
Our last session was with Vicki Marchant who discussed with us the skills, issues and considerations related to staffing for e-learning. Some great discussion brought together many of the things we have discussed over the weeks with a focus on the providers!
All these sessions are recorded and available at on our Wiki Program.
So, did we achieve our aim?
Certainly the feedback from our last session where we took the time to reflect together, suggested that much was gained with exposure to a range of tools and strategies and possibilities being the most significant learning for most. Jeremy noted that he had "gained a whole new vocabulary; each word connected to a concept. I've managed to penetrate the surface." Knowing where to find resources was another gain! For most it has been a starting point and all agreed that forming friendships online and developing networks is important.
But, it is hard to meet everyone's expectations. Some wanted more on the 'tools' themselves, and others wanted to be even more strategic. From my perspective, and from some feedback received, the discussion and interaction between meetings was not achieved. Disappointing for those who wanted to engage more and explore some topics a little deeper. I will admit to moments of despair but from experience I know that silence doesn't mean learning isn't happening. It could just be that much richer if there was more time to share ideas, to challenge perspectives, to interact!!
Managers have a lot of priorities and their own learning often slips to last place as they deal with the day-to-day unexpected events, so certainly I understood the issue of 'time'. It is most unlikely also, that a new group will embark on discussion and open reflection until an amount of 'trust' is developed. This takes time. So, the lack of interaction between meetings was not all that unexpected. If this was an enrolled course however, activities would have been developed to complete tasks together, perhaps as buddies or teams, and the expectations would have been different. Reflection and collaboration would most definitely have been expected but I am confident that this will happen.
Of course technology was a frustration to many. For dial-up connections it made participation almost impossible - a definite barrier! Also, there was a feeling of losing the 'connection to the faces' from the induction day. Suggestions such as posting pictures, using webcams, or time to share work experiences could have overcome this. More time to actually talk and discuss during the online meetings might have helped. All great tips.
I was delighted to hear that incidental learning has taken place. While our focus was not the tools, my strategy was to use some 'tools' that I felt might be useful in the workplace, to expose participants to them. Remember, to have the time to learn you need to make life easier for yourself - reduce that email, navigate sites of interest better. RSS will do that so if you haven't had time yet, it is never too late.
Our wiki was not very collaborative. Most contributions were by me. This wiki will remain however, and can continue to have a life if you allow it to do so. YOU can contribute to it, use it as a resource and keep building it. It is a starting point at least.
And so, the next stage of the journey is just beginning. It is now over to you as a Manager of e-Learning to keep moving forward on the road ahead - Good Luck!.