Category Archives: learning

Encouraging informal learning

So how do we encourage students to learn outside the formal structures and processes we put in place across our institutions?

Informal learning in my opinion is learning that happens outside the “control” of the institution, but is part of the learning towards a qualification that a learner will undertake. This learning may happen within the institution, but will also happen outside at home, at work or in a coffee shop. This definition of informal learning differs from non-formal learning in that the activity of learning is still tied to the institution and the qualification, but is not a proscribed or set activity as set down by a practitioner or an academic.

So can you design informal learning?

No!

There we go that was easy wasn’t it.

You see when you design informal learning, you formalise it and as a result it becomes formal learning.

So if you can’t design informal learning, then how do you design informal learning?

It’s not about designing informal learning, it’s about institutions facilitating and encouraging informal learning. If this happens then, with encouragement from practitioners (rather than setting activities) we should see more learners learning informally.

So how should institutions encourage informal learning?

Well the key really is to think about what actually facilitates and encourages informal learning.

It’s a combination of factors and can include design of learning spaces and the learning activities undertaken by the learners.

Creating the right contexts and environments for informal learning, will ensure that the concept of learn anywhere and anytime is encouraged and enhanced.

Don’t forget the coffee, well of course that could be tea, soft drinks, even cakes and chocolate. Having refreshments can aid the learning process, but also encourages people to be within an informal learning space.

So where is it written that learning has to be uncomfortable?

After I put some sofas into the libraries when I worked in a college, I was asked a few times why do I have sofas in the library when the library is a learning environment?

I would ask then, where is it written down that learning has to be uncomfortable? Where is the rulebook that states learners should sit at desks on hard chairs? Is it not possible for a learner to learn whilst sitting on a sofa? Why can’t a learning environment be enticing, comfortable and even a little bit social?

Sometimes you want to take learners out of their comfort zone, but I am not sure that means making them sit on hard benches! Providing spaces that learners like to be in, ones they will spend time in, combined with other factors could encourage informal learning. If all other factors were implemented, why would you spoil it all, by having an uncomfortable environment?

With dependency on the internet and connectivity for learning these days, it is critical when wanting to encourage learning to have ubiquitous, fast and dependable wifi. Any spaces will need to have the capacity for multiple connections, many learners will have two or more devices that use wifi.

Dropped connections, insufficient bandwidth can result in learners going elsewhere or doing something other than learning.

Another factor that often gets ignored is the impact building construction can have on 3G and 4G signals. If learners are using their own connections, then building construction should be considered in respect to that issue.

When creating spaces that will encourage informal learning, then it needs to provide different furniture for different activities.

Sofas for calm individual reflective thinking, tables and chairs for small group work. Quiet secluded places for focused work. Use appropriate furniture for small groups discussion.

As well as the physical aspects of the space, it is also useful to
think about the temperature, the lighting and ambient noise.
Use furniture, walls and plants to create quiet and less quiet spaces for example. Having the same kind of lighting across a space may be efficient, but using different kinds of lighting for different spaces can both encourage different kinds of activities.

As well as physical spaces, it is also useful when encouraging informal learning, to provide access to virtual collaborative spaces. This could be the vLE, but other options are available such as Slack, WhatsApp or even a Facebook group. It’s not just about providing access (through the firewall) but also about providing guidance and best practice so that learners have a better understanding of the benefits (and limitations) of these virtual collaborative tools. It would also make sense to check that the organisation has a sensible Social Media policy that reflects the use of social media tools for learning.

Think about any non-formal activity and ensure that student has access to appropriate resources (digital and non-digital). Is access to those resources mobile friendly? Will they work on the kinds of devices those learners are using when learning?

One thing to ensure is you have an appropriate Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy to facilitate informal learning.

So how are you creating spaces for and facilitating informal learning?

This blog post is inspired by a blog post on informal learning, that I wrote in 2010, and a cookery book activity from the ALT Winter Conference 2016.

Top Ten Blog Posts 2016

Over the last 12 months I have written 43 blog posts, in 2015 I wrote 24 blog posts. In 2014 I wrote 11 and in 2013 I wrote 64 blog posts and over a hundred in 2012. In 2011 I thought 150 was a quiet year!

Dropping four places to tenth, is my post VideoScribe HD – iPad App of the Week. I talked about this app in July 2013 and was impressed with the power and versatility of the app for creating animated presentations, one problem, is that the app isn’t available any more for the iPad!

My ninth most popular post was entitled Ten ways to use Pokemon Go for Learning, was not as the link bait title suggested a post about how to use the current fad of the week in relation to teaching and learning! It was more me wondering why the edtech community gets so excited about consumer technologies and thinks that this will have a real impact on teaching and learning.

In 2016 I managed to record two podcasts for the blog and one of these was e-Learning Stuff Podcast #091: Conversing about copyright and is the eighth most popular blog post. Myself, Jane Secker and Chris Morrison conversed about the current topics and issues in copyright in higher education.

Dropping three places to seventh 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip. This was a post from July 2011, that looked at the different comic tools out there on the web, which can be used to create comic strips that can then be embedded into the VLE. It included information on the many free online services such as Strip Creator and Toonlet out there. It is quite a long post and goes into some detail about the tools you can use and how comics can be used within the VLE.

Classroom

Dropping one place to six was Comic Life – iPad App of the Week Though I have been using Comic Life on the Mac for a few years now I realised I hadn’t written much about the iPad app that I had bought back when the iPad was released. It’s a great app for creating comics and works really well with the touch interface and iPad camera.

CC BY 2.0 JD Hancock https://flic.kr/p/732b7n
CC BY 2.0 JD Hancock https://flic.kr/p/732b7n

Written for the 2015 ALT Winter Conference, my blog post on time and priorities, I don’t have a dog #altc climbs two places to number five. This was a discussion piece and looks at the over used excuse for not doing something, which is not having the time to do it. The real reason though, more often then not, is that the person concerned does not see it as a priority.

Dropping two places to fourth place was Frame Magic – iPhone App of the Week, don’t know why this one is so popular!

In third place is a post from this year and one I really think had quite an impact, which was Mapping the learning and teaching. Mapping is an useful exercise to think about practice and though any such map may not be accurate or complete, it does allow you to consider and think about actions and training required to change behaviours or how spaces and tools are used. I took the concepts used in mapping visitor and residents behaviour and looked at how it could be used for teaching and learning. This post has been used for workshops in some universities and colleges, and I was also invited to speak about it at an LSE NetworkED event in November.

After climbing three places last year, this year Can I legally download a movie trailer? climbed another place to be my second most popular blog post of 2016. One of the many copyright articles that I posted some years back, this one was in 2008, I am still a little behind in much of what is happening within copyright and education, one of things I do need to update myself on, as things have changed.

Once again, for the fourth year running, the number one post for 2016 was the The iPad Pedagogy Wheel. I re-posted the iPad Pedagogy Wheel as I was getting asked a fair bit, “how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?”.

It’s a really simple nice graphic that explores the different apps available and where they fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy. What I like about it is that you can start where you like, if you have an iPad app you like you can see how it fits into the pedagogy. Or you can work out which iPads apps fit into a pedagogical problem.

So there we have it, the top ten posts of 2016, of which three were from 2016!

So which of my posts was your favourite?

It’s an extra, but does it need to be?

keyboardbw

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One challenge that is often faced when embedding learning technologies is that a lot of teaching staff see digital technology as something extra to do in their teaching. It’s a bolt-on, something extra to be done on top of the teaching and assessment workload.

Part of this has to be down to the way in which staff are introduced to or trained in the use of learning technologies. Staff attend a training session, or read an e-mail about some kind of new service or tool, or a new functionality and then are asked (usually politely and nicely) to start using as part of their work. The obvious reaction is that staff will see this as an extra.

Another part is down to the technocentric approach that is often used when talking about learning technologies, the training is focused on the technical approach to tools and services, this is how you use it and this is how it works.

At a simple level, even just uploading presentations to the VLE is an extra piece of work. Using a lecture capture system requires more effort than just the lecture. Using padlet to capture feedback requires more time than not capturing feedback.

This negative reaction to learning technologies, then extends to the use of other kinds of technolog, that can even save time, or isn’t recognised when the potential benefits are longer term.

So what can be done?

I don’t think there is an extra with the “this is an extra” model of staff development, it will certainly inspire and help those who want to engage with technology and those who can see the potential long term benefits. However in order to engage those staff for whom it is an “extra” this different approaches need to be considered and used.

There isn’t anything wrong about the technocentric approach, despite what the “pedagogy first” brigade may tell you, however the focus needs to be on the potential of the technology, what it can do, what is can provide and what the benefits are. The technical processes can be covered as well, but put the focus on what the benefits are for the member if the staff and importantly the learners.

Another method is to focus on the processes and workflows that staff have and see how technology can improve, enhance and smooth out those processes.

Finally what about the affordances that new technologies can bring, the potential not to just change what we do, but allow us to do things we had never considered.

So what strategies do you use to engage staff who see embedding technology as an extra?

It’s challenging…

…but planning helps!

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One of the challenges of embedding digital tech into teaching and learning is making the assumption that teachers are aware of and are able to utilise the digital tools available to them and understand which tools work best for different situations and scenarios.

Gaining that understanding and confidence isn’t easy and often requires a paradigm shift in approaches to using technology and the digital tools and services available. Just because a member of staff has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

When I was teaching at City of Bristol College, one of the main reasons I started using and embraced technology was to aid planning my curriculum and lesson planning. The way it actually started was using technology to save time. By using, initially, a word processing package and then a DTP package, I would write and design assignment briefs, handouts and workbooks. The reason for using technology in this way was so I could reuse them the following year. Making them digital meant I could edit and update them if needed.

I also started using a presentation package (Freelance Graphics) to create presentations. There were no digital projectors back then, so these were printed onto acetates in black and white and shown via an OHP. This for me was much better than hand writing onto acetates, again for updating and changing.

Though I did write basic schemes of work for the curriculum at that time, it started to make sense to me to start creating a more detailed scheme of work.

When I noticed the web in the late 1990s I realised that hyperlinks could mean I could create a digital (though back then we called it electronic) scheme of work with live links to the digital resources I had created. It didn’t take much to then add lesson plans to the scheme of work with live links to the presentations, handouts and other resources.

A final step was to start adding extra resources and links, in order to allow for a learner to go to the web site and differentiate their learning journey.

I didn’t initially use digital technologies to plan, but what those digital technologies allowed me to do more effectively was to both plan better, but also link everything together. The process also allowed me to easily and quickly adjust resources and plans as and when required.

It got to the stage where I would plan a whole year in advance and have everything ready for all my lessons and courses.

When I spoke about this to people (outside my college) the response I usually got was I plan the night before and there is no way I could plan more than a week ahead. Their explanation was that they couldn’t know how a lesson would go in advance and therefore couldn’t plan more than one lesson in ahead. At the time I did struggle with a response, but now reflecting on this, I realised that I had in fact planned flexibility into my plans. Combined with links to all the resources and additional stuff, it wouldn’t matter if we didn’t cover everything in a lesson, or if the lesson was cancelled (snow closure for example). It was also later that I recognised as a teacher that though I had a responsibility for my curriculum, it wasn’t my job to teach the whole of the curriculum, it was responsibility to ensure my students learnt the curriculum. Some of this would be through teaching, but some could be through reading, or other learning activities. Some would be formal and some would be informal. Resources could be digital, but they could also be analogue.

Of course back then we didn’t have a VLE, so I “created” a VLE, well it was a website with some additional tools (such as a discussion forum). As I had used digital tools for planning and content creation, it wasn’t a huge job to transfer everything to the website. I do remember buying Adobe Acrobat so I could create PDFs more easily, especially I was using a bizarre range of software to create stuff.

A VLE today makes the whole process of planning much easier and I have written before about this in my series, 100 ways to use a VLE.

100 ways to use a VLE – #25 Scheme of Work

100 ways to use a VLE – #26 Lesson Plans

The main conclusion I came to was that planning was really critical to the success of my curriculum and my teaching. Also technology made the whole planning process easier and quicker.

So what tools are you using to plan your curriculum and your lessons?

Image Credit: Lesson Plans by hurricanemaine CC BY 2.0

It’s still not easy…

Classroom

…but confidence helps!

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One of the challenges of embedding digital tech into teaching and learning is making the assumption that teachers are confident in their use of technology. Gaining that confidence is not easy and often isn’t helped if they have previously used technology and it didn’t work. There have been many times I have heard teachers say that they don’t like using technology as the last time they used it and it didn’t work. They lack the confidence in the tools to work.

The way I used to approach that was by asking what they did when it snowed and the building was closed, the campus had failed to work. Someone had used a permanent marker on the whiteboard, it was unusable. There was a room change and we had to move the students, from a seminar room to a lecture theatre. In all these physical scenarios, a good teacher has the confidence to adjust and adapt what they are going to do. With a snow closure, the scheme of work needs to be adapted to allow the learners to catch up. Losing the whiteboard doesn’t mean the lesson has failed, maybe a different medium, such as paper, could be used. Again a confident teacher can adapt what they are going to do. They are also very likely to use the whiteboard again, once it has been cleaned. Similar story with the room change, adapt the activity for the learners.

onlineattendance

I have found that often with technology, that with teachers lacking confidence, this means going into a session with a limited idea of how that technology can be used. If it doen’t work as expected, then it is seen as failure.

Having the confidence to easily adapt and use tools effectively, usually comes with experience, but I also believe that there is more to it than that. Gaining that confidence isn’t easy and often requires a paradigm shift in approaches to using technology and the digital tools and services available. Just because a member of staff has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they confidently know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

Confidence usually comes from experimentation, trial and error and practice. It can be difficult to create a culture where experimentation and innovation is expected, encouraged and applauded. A culture where failure is seen as part of the learning process and is also part of the process of innovation.

So what strategies do you use to build digital confidence?