ONE OF the under-utilised strengths of elearning is its ability to personalise learning.
How daring is this: to take into account, at every level of education and training, the knowledge, skills and understanding every individual brings to their learning? That is, to recognise that the learner brings with them what they have already learnt – from their culture, their family, their experience and previous schooling /training.
Educationists have been advocating personalised learning for some time. They often use a children’s story to illustrate their point: Fish is Fish.
The point being made here is not that fish have to remain fish, but that fish, when thinking of a world they can’t experience, envision this in terms of their own understanding. They imagine people and cows like fish. It’s their ‘natural’ frame of reference that they fall back on when embracing new information.
The notion is that we cannot treat a learner as an empty vessel. Previous knowledge can help or hinder their understanding. They bring their own preconceptions, which in some cases may be incorrect or ill-formed. It’s a teacher’s responsibility to deal with these precepts, and make them apparent and challenge them, to bring the student to a new level of understanding.
This is why generic training does not work, in any context.
For some reason, elearning attracts generic training. It’s kind of easy to do: grab some print resources, reformat them, put them up online without attention to the individual person who will be using them, and let them work through it without support or focus. This same lockstep process can, of course, occur in a classroom, where despite different levels of understanding, the student is expected to work through all the material irrespective of their understanding, because the competency or curriculum demands that she does, and she has to seen doing it despite the fact she may have done it many times before.
Personalised training on the other hand is tailored for the individual learner. This is not to suggest that there are different standards set for each person to attain (eg. competency). Rather, it suggests that the learning pathway to arrive at the same point is different for each learner. It also does not mean individualised learning, that is, learning alone. Personalised learning does not negate collaboration and team work: indeed, it is strengthened by it.
So let’s return to elearning. How does elearning advance personalised learning?
There are many scenarios we could put forward to elaborate this. Here are a couple:
- Higher education: A traditional face-to-face lecture to a large group of students is recorded, and then podcast. The podcast has advantages in that difficult sections of the lecture can be repeated – in effect slowed down – so that more effective notes can be taken. A forum can be set up on the side of the podcast so that students wanting to question aspects of the lecture can do so – and the lecturer or tutor can answer or prompt answers by referring to further reading and website links. This can be augmented by online tutorials (using Adobe Connect or Elluminate), sessions again recorded, and breakout rooms established for small groups of students to discuss amongst themselves relevant research topics that the tutor has set. The recordings can be replayed, thus allowing for subtle and deep understandings to be made. This provides a much more complex learning interaction, and therefore more scope for personalised learning.
- Training: Writing / journalism. A blog (WordPress) is set up to enable a space for each student. The whole class and the trainer can view all student work. The “Comments” section is used for the trainer and other students to feedback on the student’s work. This can be done virtually in real time. The student can modify their story as a consequence. They also learn from the comments the trainer makes on other students’ work. The blog is in the ‘public’ domain, so students experience the pressure and discipline of public writing. The learning is highly personalised because of the immediacy of the feedback.