Monday, January 30, 2012

Authentic eLearning and 4MAT

Now that I'm feeling a little more well-informed about authentic eLearning, opportunities to throw it into the conversation seem to be popping up all over the place in my workplace. The first time this happened (about a week ago) I found I was struggling to succinctly articulate what authentic learning is, and yet today a fellow eDesign course participant and I very confidently advised a colleague of ours that authentic learning was an approach better suited to her online delivery plans than experiential learning. We were able to clearly articulate how it might work in the context she was describing, and she liked the sound of it. So for me this was a signal moment in my (authentic) learning journey and it reminded me that often we don't realise how much we have learned until the knowledge springs forth unsolicited!

That joyous realisation is somewhat tempered by the news that the university I work in is giving strong consideration to the adoption of the 4MAT model of curriculum design, to be promoted across the board to all staff, and that as a learning designer I must become knowledgeable and competent in its promotion and application. As I await confirmation of this development, and subsequent 4MAT training, I am already wondering at how the various learning approaches I currently espouse, use or am learning about, will fit (if at all) into this one-size fits all model?

I don't know enough about 4MAT yet to reassure myself on this, and my early self-guided efforts in  finding out more have been resoundingly discouraged before I have done the training(!). Nevertheless I cannot tie down my own spirit of inquiry and I can already see it is going to be a huge challenge to my professional wherewithal to reach a place where I can comfortably and confidently integrate this model into my current advisory role.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Confessions of a linear learner

For professional development purposes I am working my way through a four week online workshop on designing authentic eLearning courses. Aside from the knowledge and expertise gained, I see great value in being a learner again, and being reminded of both the joys and the frustrations of it.

Although we are technically only half way through the course at this point, one of the most powerful learning "moments" has already occurred for me - I have learnt that I am a hopelessly linear learner. In a sense I knew that about myself, and saw it as just a learning preference, but wasn't truly aware of how restrictive and limiting it can be.

What do I mean by linear? I like to know the beginning and end of a process, and all of the steps laid out in between, before I start doing anything. I try to work out at the outset exactly what is required, how it is to be done, and when it is to be done by. I like to be clear on the style, format, length etc. to be sure I do it exactly right. And on top of all that, I like to know what the "rules" are in any given learning situation - and by rules I mean that unspoken understanding of how things are "commonly" done, what is "typically" expected, and so forth. I need to know the right way.

And so I reached a point early on in this course, where I was trying to work all of these things out in relation to a blogging task. Just when when I thought I had it straight in my mind that we were to blog about X, I saw something else in the course that said we were to blog about Y, and something else again said we were to blog about Z. My linear learning cells activated the anxiety alarm and I no longer knew what I was to do, or how I was to do it, and if I didn't know that, how could I possibly do well? My conative processes were withering and sliding into the background.

Immediately I remembered the same sense of (di)stress I had when I attempted a MOOC on Connectivism - that style of learning felt too chaotic for me - and I will be so brave as to confess that I thought "this will never take hold in universities because most learners need more direction, instruction, and clarity of purpose." A gross generalisation, I know, but that's what I thought. I didn't realise that the thought should more correctly have been, "this will never work for me because I need more direction, instruction, and clarity of purpose."

But even that thought is flawed - never say never! This time around I did not just throw in the towel, but rather I expressed my anxiety and confusion to the course convenor. Here comes another confession - because I am such a linear learner, and because I didn't yet fully understand the nature and form of authentic learning tasks, I assumed that the design of this course was a little flawed, because the instructions weren't clear. [I didn't tell the course convenor this bit, but she'll know as soon as she reads this!] But by the end of our conversation, I fully understood the why's of her course design, the essence of  authentic learning and its openness and flexibility, the intended nature of the task, and the challenge to my way of learning it was going to represent. The fact that there is no right way leaves it up to me to decide how I approach it, how I complete it, and what I learn from it. Now I know what I have to do, and how I am going to do it.

The big revelation for me is that even though the only "rule" in this situation is that there are no rules other than those I set myself, just knowing that seems to have satisfied my learning needs, and it seems I am not as linear as I thought! The next big confession will need to be that authentic learning is not what I thought it was - but that's for another post.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Where there's a will, there's learning

Having read Andrew Churches' article titled Bloom's Digital Taxonomy my first reaction was "Wow! What a great resource for giving teaching staff ideas on how to use a huge range of online and offline technologies at all of Bloom's cognitive levels." As a learning designer I often feel more squirrel than human, constantly foraging for examples of sound and effective online learning activities, and tucking what I find into my cheeks (so to speak). So Churches' document seemed like a gold mine of ideas complete with pedagogical justifications, and rubrics.

After my excitement died down a little, a sobering thought popped into my head: "For all the fantastic ideas I collect, the elusive prize remains the secret to willing student participation." A re-reading of Churches' introduction to Bloom and his domains of learning, hoping to find there some kernel to add to my stash, caused me to reflect that the only thing missing in his article was some attention to the conative domain - the will, desire, drive, level of effort, mental energy, intention, striving, and self-determination to perform at the best level. That sent me scurrying off, bushy tail twitching with mild irritation, to Google "conative domain" to be sure I knew what I was talking (thinking) about, and found Tom Reeves' paper on Technology and the Conative Learning Domain in Undergraduate Education.

After a quick scan of Reeves' paper I felt somewhat vindicated in my criticism of Churches since Reeves laments that teaching in higher education institutions is primarily focussed on solely the cognitive domain, and even then mostly on the lower half.

While I am yet to do a deeper reading of Reeves' paper, two golden acorns did peep out at me: his reference to five essential strategies for increasing student engagement; and his attention to the development of valid and reliable assessments for authentic learning tasks that encompass all four of the learning domains. Good fodder indeed, for future blogs.

So although I ultimately feel that this makes Churches' article more of a silver than a gold mine, it is still a resource I am extremely pleased to have become acquainted with - my cheeks are bulging so far I'm in danger of choking on a rubric or two.