Technology-enabled learning should prepare students for the workplace
Technology-enabled learning is a major buzz term at the moment, with everyone from public to private, and schools to higher education institutions, trying to get in on the action. But, for this new frontier of learning to produce the desired results, there must be a clear strategy about what needs to be accomplished and how, experts say. It is not enough to merely drop some technology into the classroom and take it from there.
"The best approaches to technology-enabled learning recognise that learning, like all development, involves complex, social beings engaged in complex intellectual, social and psychological processes that happen in a fluid space," says Dr Najma Agherdien, Instructional Designer at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest and most accredited private higher education institution, and home to brands at the forefront of digitally-enabled teaching, such as Rosebank College, Varsity College, Vega School of Brand Leadership and Design School Southern Africa.
"It is also true that what and how people learn influences what they are able to do with what they learn," she says.
Agherdien says online learning at higher education institutions should be deliberately structured to promote the skills needed in the world of work.
"Key to success in the workplace is the ability to consider problems and scenarios and select the appropriate knowledge needed to resolve the issue. It is also vital that graduates in the workplace know how to, and are able to, access knowledge they do not already possess. This means they need to know how to find sources and then to evaluate the relevance of those sources for the situation that needs resolving," she says.
IIE Senior Instructional Designer Hermien Geldenhuys says the workplace-ready approach is what guided the design of content on IIELearn, The Independent Institute of Education's learning management system. In addition, IIE campuses such as Rosebank College are now required to provide far more in terms of on-campus WiFi, recognising that not all students are able to easily access the systems at home.
"The learning experience on our IIELearn system is structured not to transmit content only, but to let students grapple with the content in its real world application. This is achieved by focusing, in the first instance, on the objectives and themes of content and then posing questions which have no simple yes or no answer.
"Students are then given resources to explore and to formulate answers to these questions. Students are also given opportunities for further reading and exploration, guided by activities in which they are able to collaborate with peers and collectively find solutions to the problems being tackled. The final process includes opportunities to reflect on their learning to ensure they draw connections between what they have learned. Formal assessment in the traditional academic sense follows."
Geldenhuys says the workplace of today demands problem-solvers and critical thinkers who are able to deal with ever-shifting challenges, and that The IIE's particular model is not only effective in terms of the learning itself, but also in rendering workplace skills second nature, so the mechanics of resolving a task does not take focus away from the actual task that needs resolving.
"Students respond positively as soon as they overcome some of the initial anxiety that comes with not simply being spoon-fed," adds Agherdien.
"Our students say that this approach has made them feel empowered and able to better focus on technical content."
She says tracked and graded activities are used throughout to ensure students and lecturers build evidence of the learning and development and are able to intervene where learning does not appear to have been effective.
"These include opportunities to collaboratively solve problems, participate in discussions and to reflect on a student's learning. In many instances, students are required to create their own artefacts. For example, instead of giving students a rubric, they are required to create a rubric of their own.
"Each module also includes an element which references both the working world and the values and principles associated with citizenship, which are both key underpins of the educational model espoused generally at The Independent Institute of Education."
Geldenhuys says by refusing to use IIELearn simply to "tech up" content or as a repository of PDFs, The IIE is able to ensure that when it claims its graduates are work-ready, they really are.
"Not just from what they know about their field of study, but because of how they can use what they know in the real working world," she says.
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