Mapping formal online learning

This week I attended a BECTA seminar. The venue was the Commonwealth club in London, what an amazing place, it appeared to be a labyrinth of rooms underground – it never ceases to amaze me how many meeting venues there are in London! The focus of the seminar was reporting on the findings to date from a study that BECTA have commissioned being carried out by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University. Cathy Lewin and Nicola Whitton gave an overview of the work, which is trying to identify the nature of formal online learning. Initial work including a literature review of related research looking at learners’ use of technologies. They have undertaken eight very rich case studies across a range of different schools and colleges; each one is adopting a different approach to utlilising technologies to support learning. Their research questions focused around three main themes (flexibility, models and impact). Their findings to date are around five main areas: 

  • Organisational limitations (eg lack of flexibility, workload models, technologies available), 
  • Regulatory limitations (eg procurement, assessment, etc),  
  • What are appropriate models for structuring learning to support autonomy?,  
  • Repacking of content vs. ownership,  
  • Pragmatic drivers (eg space limitations, coursework management, etc.)

The final one reminded me of a recent post from George Siemens, where he questions the predominate mantra ‘pedagogy first’. He goes on to ask the question ‘what is sound pedagogy?’, arguing that ‘pedagogy is not the starting point with technology, context is’. He concludes

Let’s abandon the somewhat silly notion of pedagogy first and recognize that the choice of technology is driven by many contextual factors and therefore context is what we are evaluating and considering when we first start talking about possible technology to use. Then, after we have selected technology, we can start talking about pedagogy. Pedagogy is just not a practical starting point for deciding the technology we should use.

In recent interviews we have carried out with teachers about how they go about design, we found much the same; no one started with some esoteric pedagogical framework – design was messy, creative, iterative, and yes driven by mundane pragmatics. However that didn’t mean that their designs weren’t pedagogically informed, just that it was implicit and infused the whole of the design process. 




The MILO framework
Cathy and Nicola showed how they are using the MILO framework they have developed as a means of visually making sense of the different patterns of technology use across their case studies. The framework consists of four quadrants, each quadrant had two associated factors –learner tools (content, activities) communication (teacher-student, student-student) and assessement (formative, summative) and teacher tools (pedagogic, administration). It’s possible to map on ways in which online and traditional methods are used to support the development and delivery of a course and hence see the degree of overlap. It seems to provide a nice, simple way of visualising different uses of technologies and seeing where the emphasis is  - ie is the focus on using technology for administrative purposes, or for assessment, or to support different forms of communication? It seems to me the framework could be a useful tool in assessing institutions’ levels of ‘preparedness for e-learning’, ie how sophisticated their use of technologies is.  They have produced a briefing paper which gives more details about the framework. If you want to quote this I suggest contacting Cathy or Nicola to get the correct reference details.        

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