Managing elearning

Today I thought I would summarise what my experience has been on the teaching and management side of elearning.

Many, many years ago one of my colleagues left and my CEO asked me to take over the management of two Learndirect centres which were seriously under-performing.  I braced myself to hate Learndirect and just make the best of it.  But to my surprise I absolutely loved everything about Learndirect.  The back end was fabulous – as a manager I could access weekly reports about starts, completers, what learners and teachers had been up to in terms of stats and progress.  This soon become a favourite Monday morning ritual:  logging in to look at all the previous week’s activity. The learners who were using it liked the courses and online materials.  By working closely with the teachers, we managed to bring two under-performing contracts back on track in no time at all by:

  1. using the data available through the back end to plan for learner completions and prioritise interventions for those who were behind schedule; and
  2. introducing a more blended learning approach.

I could talk all day about the data side (I can never have enough management information), but I think the blended learning approach warrants a bit more explanation.

The majority of learners were studying English or Maths or both.  Some were brushing up on their English as a first language and trying to gain a nationally recognised certificate, while others were learning English as a second language (ESOL).  A minority were studying more vocational courses, but the clear priority – in terms of learner volumes, Learndirect contracts and funding – were the English and Maths.  Learndirect allows for people to turn up at a centre and enrol for a course and then, if they want, never set foot in the centre ever again, and this had previously been encouraged.  Often the centre was empty, and volunteers and teachers had little to do.

When I took over and saw how many learners were not progressing towards their English and Maths courses, the first thing I got the teachers to do was to ring all those people and invite them in.  We discussed their learning goals and their experience of Learndirect with them.  They all liked it, but slowed down when they got stuck and had no-one to ask.  So the teachers put on some themed half-day sessions (e.g. Tuesday mornings for Maths, Wednesday afternoons for ESOL etc) and got people to commit to attend once a week or once a fortnight.  They would come in and work on their courses online, knowing that there was an expert on hand to help them with bits they got stuck on.  This was a great success, and there was a bit of camaraderie since the learners in the group were all in it together, and could even help each other.  It also allowed the teachers to plan brief targeted sessions (e.g. on punctuation) once they knew what people were struggling with.

This experience left me with a very strong conviction that elearning is all very well, but it needs some real-world intervention from human beings, particularly where you have learners with low levels of functional skills and confidence.

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My other experience of back end elearning is in the management training I deliver to apprentices and other work-based learners.  I have been experimenting with Edmodo online VLE for around 7 months.  The reasons I chose Edmodo were purely practical:  the company I work for does not have its own VLE (most colleges I have worked for have used Moodle) and Edmodo was both online and free – my favourite price!   Some colleagues were using it, so I thought it was worth a shot.

In Edmodo I set up closed virtual classrooms for each group, and after each session I upload the materials and powerpoints I have used, along with links to websites I think they might like.  Edmodo looks and functions a bit like Facebook, and I can send a message to a group, create folders of materials for them and it is generally pretty easy to use from their end.  I can award badges if people have done something particularly meritorious such as given a presentation, although I doubt this is appreciated by adult learners!   My learners tend to use it simply to access materials.  No matter how much I try to encourage them to post messages with questions and answers to support each other, or respond to my posts, they don’t get involved.  It’s frustrating as I can see quite a bit of potential for it.  So it’s a bit lonely in there for me because

in VLE no-one can hear you scream!

I will keep experimenting with it – any pointers from more experienced Edmodo users would be appreciated…

Being an elearner #ocTEL

As a lifelong learner I have had some experience of being an elearning end-user and I thought it might be useful to reflect a little on my experiences to date.

My main experience has been as an Open University postgraduate student.  I have just finished the final module of my Masters in Education (Leadership & Management).  Of the three modules required to complete the MA, the last two were delivered entirely online.  A range of delivery techniques was employed including:

  • Online module guide
  • Printed reader
  • PDF reader (no good on a Kindle really)
  • Access to the university library
  • Access to an incredible breadth of online journals
  • Online asynchronous tutor group activities (in small groups of 4 or 5 people)
  • Synchronous online tutor group meetings
  • Submitting assignments through an online portal
  • Receiving feedback on written assignments through the same portal

Overall, I think there couldn’t be a better online learning experience but – and you knew there was a but coming – there were some downsides.  These are partly down to my own idiosyncrasies and learning style preferences, e.g. I don’t enjoy watching videos, and I prefer to read offline printed material rather than online on screen (and thus within reach of wifi i.e. at home). I also found it a very lonely experience as others in my tutor group contributed little to the mandatory collaborative parts of the programme, and few people attended the virtual, synchronous tutor groups.  Having said that, I loved every minute of the whole programme.

Elsewhere I have had access to a tutor group Moodle VLE which I enjoyed contributing to.  If I had taken notes in what I thought was a helpful format during a class, or had a resource at home to share, I uploaded them to Moodle.  Classmates were very grateful!

All in all, my experience as an elearner has been enjoyable, and I have found it easy to use modes of elearning and build them into my preferred learning styles.  I have enjoyed participating and contributing to elearning activities, forums and resources, but have found that others do not reciprocate.  This leaves me feeling a wee bit resentful that I have shared and others have not.

I have come to use many different techniques, devices, software and apps to help me as an elearner including:

  • Laptop (set up as a desktop with a separate keyboard and mouse)
  • Samsung galaxy tablet
  • Kindle
  • ipad
  • Microsoft office software
  • Microsoft OneNote (on laptop, iPad and SkyDrive)
  • Goodreader on ipad
  • Google Scholar
  • Diigo
  • Sony digital recorder to record voice notes
  • Dragon Dictation (to transcribe voice notes)
  • Virtual libraries
  • EBSCO Host and other journal search engines
  • Refworks online bibliography tool
  • Phones – Blackberry or iphone
  • SurveyMonkey

… among many others.  Perhaps at a later date I will blog a little about how I use some of these – particularly the less usual ones such as One Note and Dragon.  Remind me!

In my next blog I will share a little bit about my experience on the other side of the virtual fence:  my experience of elearning as a teacher and a manager.