How can blended learning help to the integration of ICT in adult education?
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Blended learning can overcome avoidant attitudes to integration of ICT in educational institutions and can be a way to achieve high rates of e-Learning development in lifelong learning.
In the article “Distance Learning and e-Learning in European Policy and Practice: the Vision and the Reality”1 is described the problem of resistance to integrating ICT in institutions. The article claimes that lack of vision in policy planning of e-Learning and distance learning by institutes of higher education has resulted in misusing the term “blended learning” to hide the fact that they only use as little ICT as possible and tend to offer the same teaching as before.
We know of the resistance problem from our own institution, but we have also seen how integration of ICT in blended learning forms slowly changes the attitudes towards e-Learning. We recommend blended learning as a solution in adult education institutions. We have used the ideas and the experience we have gained from this project in the work to integrate ICT in our own institution.
We believe the resistance against E-learning concepts - including ODL (Open and Distance Learning) and distance learning - among teachers and students in adult education, is due to four main factors in the tradition of adult education:
- The curriculum tradition
- The oral tradition
- Lack of confidence in technical solutions to educational matters
- Lack of experience with the media
1. The curriculum tradition
The curriculum teaching tradition is based on linear progression in learning using study programmes, syllabuses, assignments and answers. Learner is expected to work through a certain pre-defined syllabus, to complete certain pre-designed assignments and to pass exams and tests before the institution can accredit the learning, a “just-in-case” curriculum: content is something which is good to know, “just in case" one might need it.
Distance learning is better at supporting a more direct learning need – a “just in time” approach which is not very easily combined with an academic understanding of learning. But curriculum is not changed when an academic institution offers ordinary education as ODL.
2. Oral tradition
Part of our pedagogical tradition is that learning is encouraged by dialogue and discussion. Therefore teachers in training institutions are used to oral and direct communication, a typical “just in time” communication; it is sensitive and open to direct challenges and dialogues that include body-language.
Some teachers doubt that digital communication can be as successful as oral, and they are inexperienced in finding digital ways to teach and challenge the student by other means. They need to guide students with different educational materials. These new challenges call for dramatic changes in both teachers’ and learners’ writing and comprehension competences.
3. Lack of confidence in technical solutions to educational matters
Prior experiences give no confidence to the success of this technology. Computers are not the first “techno-fix” in the world of education. In the early 1970s were introduced the language-labs – ten years later, hardly any were left. Radio and Tele have also been promised to render teachers superfluous when they were introduced onto the market – they have now found their own humble corner in the classroom.
4. Lack of experience with the medium
Developing e-learning and distance learning requires acknowledging the media, and this is rare in educational institutions. Teachers must be encouraged to use the media and to develop ways to integrate ICT pedagogically.
Our practical experiences
Practical experience would seem to indicate that blended learning can bridge the gap between pedagogy and technology. We will focus on how blended learning has bridged a traditional and a new learning approach – including ICT – in our own institution.
Everybody on First Class and study lessons – the first bridge.
Five years ago, we introduced the conference system First Class. Slowly, the teachers and the administration got used to it, and two years later the institution was “paper free”: all information was provided in conferences on First Class. Teachers began using conferences in their classes. Then “study-lectures” were introduced, where students worked on their own with the conferences being the main path of communication between teacher and student. Today, some teachers spend 1-2 hours per day on electronic communication with students.
Open Distance learning – the second bridge.
In 2001, the Ministry of Education began a two-year “Merit Teacher Open University Course”. Merit Teacher training is an education programme where learners pay for a course to become a K-12 teacher.
In August 2004, Odense College of Education (CVU FYN), along with two other colleges (CVU Jelling and Skaarup Statsseminarium), began to use ODL in K-12 students classrooms. Based on a collaborative learning approach, the ODL concept was designed as blended learning: 20% of the lessons as face to face and 80% as distance learning.
We used a didactic model of relations2 to analyze the needs of our ODL teachers. Here is a brief result:
- To be ODL teachers they lacked knowledge of the advanced use of our conference system and insight into the theories of blended learning.
- Teachers have to follow the national curriculum, as in ordinary teaching. The big challenge was to plan courses for the students in a way they have never tried themselves. Content and materials are also quite new and they can still use books and hand-outs, but they have to integrate Internet material or get authors permission to digitalize their materials.
- They rarely meet the students and have to promote discussions on the net. To support that, the management group wanted the in-service training to be structured in the same way as the ODL course.
The in-service training used a model where the course involved blended learning, as future ODL-teaching was supposed to do.
The first seminar was primarily used for a theoretical and technical introduction as well as for socializing among the teachers. The teacher’s task as distance learners was to create a module for distance learning which they could use as an ODL-teacher. They had to respond to each other and afterwards they would get response from the tutor. The response part of the course was very important because they had to be familiar with the difference between the oral and the written medium.
Our experience from working with Merit Teacher Training and the ODL -teacher in-service course is that learners need very precise instructions and assignments. In the other hand, they are very active when sharing information and cooperation in common tasks. It is easy to make discussions in a group based on assignments, but it is difficult to create the same discussions in the main conferences, which we believe is due to a lack of mutual confidence.
Our vision for the future
We believe that blended learning will be an increasing part of the studies we will provide over the next years, even though many problems need to be solved and many skills acquired before face–to-face interaction can be totally replaced
The curriculum problem
New ways of working with the digital medium create problems when it comes to following a curriculum developed in an oral tradition. ODL requires a new type of curriculum based on problem-solving teaching approaches or based in “just in time” training modules. In both methods, objectives must be clear to the learner, which is very rare in the field of education. Academic training is traditionally based on a slow introduction to specific abstract ideas and working methods, so the objectives of the course of study are not clear for the student from the start. Neither are the working methods. So far, we do not know how to deal with these problems on the Internet. In our best practice studies we have found that some content is easier to handle in a digitalized way than others.
The oral tradition
The key word here is training, which is needed both among students and teachers. The required literacy level is much higher in ODL than in traditional education; you need great understanding and writing skills to respond in an appropriate way. Internet offers new ways of communication that reduce the amount of material needed to be read. In some cases, this is correct and can be in some cases time-saving and, in others, time-consuming.
Lack of confidence in technical solutions to educational matters
The main problem about developing ODL has been that those who knew the technology didn’t know about learning theory and didactics. Therefore, they were not able to develop sufficient E-learning concepts. And those who knew about the pedagogical and didactic issues didn’t know about the technology. By experiences in both fields and interaction between the two groups, this problem will slowly be overcome. Blended learning is a way to introduce teachers to the new medium and their new potential. Through experiments is it possible to investigate to what extent these medium can replace or support more traditional ways of education.
Lack of experience with the medium
Production of teaching material for ODL is a new challenge for E-book authors, publishers and teachers alike. We have legal aspects concerning intellectual properties, we have technical aspects, and we have data collections problems – especially when it comes to photos, videos and sound. Digital media are expensive to produce, and reuse is crucial if we expect some kind of return on investment. Standardization is obviously the only answer, but this does not correspond to the academic tradition of freedom and emancipation. We have to think of learning objects as sources which can be used in different ways, without having tied up the teacher in specific concepts.
With this experience, the institution has now learned that teachers and students without ICT-skills should be encouraged to take courses and use ICT in their everyday lives. It is highly valuable to show them how other teachers have integrated ICT and to give them assignments where they integrate ICT.
ICT opens up new possibilities in didactic thinking. While classroom teaching is a kind of mass-education designed for the average student, ICT opens up for real differentiation in content and working methods. Educational events can be organized in ways that appeal to individual needs and learning styles. For all this blended learning is a good way to get started.
Therefore, decision-makers in educational institutions need to know more about the possibilities, required investment, training and changes in the administration.
Also teachers need experience in ICT to be able to reflect on the possibilities in a didactical context, and also in how to challenge the student via the Internet, how to respond to individuals and groups and how to facilitate Internet discussions. Students need help in learning how to work with the medium, how to communicate, how to cooperate with their peers.
This text is an abridged version of the original article “Clashes and compromises between Technology and Pedagogy in adult education - the reality and the vision”, that is available in English in PDF format.
Writers have worked with Grundtvig 1 project “I am L3” from Oct. 2002 to Oct. 2005 that focused on introducing Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in Adult Education.
(1) Policy Paper of the European ODL Liaison Committee approved by the Member Networks. Released 17 November 2004
(2) “Getting Started in ODL”, manual from “I am L3”, Grundtvig 1 project