Sunday, January 27, 2008

Personalised learning and teaching

Despite current ‘e-learning’ trends towards the more ‘personalised learning’ experience, the concept of ‘p-learning’ is still far from reaching maturity.
The rapid development of technology and exponential growth in the use of the Internet and its Web 2.0 and mobile developments make new and different structures and educational organisations and settings a possibility. Web 2.0 technology can according to Graham Attwell facilitate the transformation from an education model that is structured in courses and controlled by the institution using a ‘broadcasting’ model in an enclosed environment, to a model that is adaptive to learners’ needs and gives ownership to individuals, while using an aggregation and networking model in a personalised open learning environment that is a fluid extension of the wider informal personal space. The personal online networks that people build up throughout their lives provide expertise and knowledge in addition to the guidance that local tutors provide. The learner is at the centre of the learning experience, rather than the tutor and the institution, and is instrumental in determining the content of the learning experience

In the more creative e-learning development that is taking place today, the developer is the mediator between the tutor who writes the educational material and the student who interacts with it. Indeed, it is the developer who recreates the tutor’s educational material into a versatile, interactive and experiential digital package for the student. The tutor brings with them their own individual and unique flair for education and it is the developer’s job to harness this energy and translate it into an online experience. However, what tends to be forgotten in the surge towards ‘personalised learning’ is this idea of ‘personalised teaching’ and the notion that every tutor has their own personal approach and needs when it comes to the design and development of online educational material.

In my experience, the tutor attitudes to e-delivery have ranged from a content heavy approach, to constructivist activities which rely upon learner autonomy and collaboration. Different subjects require a variety of learning activities and the teaching styles of tutors are as wide ranging as the learning preferences of students. The task of the learning technologist is to mould the material into effective and engaging tasks with which both tutor and learners are able to interact.

There is a symbiotic interaction between subject specialists, developers and learners, and my research questions the current development towards a technology and institutionally driven personalised environment. To ensure that in the move from e-learning to p-learning all stakeholders are valued an extensive negotiation process with all involved is required to make sure that not only the learners feel that the environment is designed to meet their needs, but also the tutors. I know that quite a number of designers are working on developing software that will integrate tutor materials, communication tools and Web2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis. The learner will be able to use these easily, but in all of this development it should not be forgotten how to harness the creative potential and the subject knowledge of tutors!