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Interview with Sarah Knight about the e-Learning and Pedagogy strand

Christina Smart & Sarah Holyfield
Last modified 10 Oct, 2005
Published 04 May, 2005
We talked to Sarah Knight (SK) the programme manager for the e-Learning and Pedagogy strand of the e-Learning Programme about the strand aims and what has been achieved so far.

Sarah Holyfield: Could you tell us about why the e-Learning Programme has a strand on e-Learning and Pedagogy?

Sarah Knight: In 2003 the JISC committee for Learning and Teaching began to consider the outcomes of the MLEs programme. It became clear that one of the barriers to take up of the programme outcomes was a lack of awareness about the opportunities technology offers learning and teaching, and how practitioners can benefit from these developments. The e-Learning and Pedagogy strand attempts to further our understanding around what constitutes effective practice with e-learning for both practitioners and learners. e-Learning can cover a spectrum of activities from supporting learning, to blended learning (the combination of traditional and e-learning practices), to learning that is delivered entirely online. Whatever the technology, however, learning is the vital element.

SH: How does the e-Learning and Pedagogy work relate to the other strands?

SK: The overall aim of the e-Learning Programme is to improve the quality of e-learning, tackling the technology, the teaching practice and advising organisations. The Pedagogy strand is ensuring that the views of practitioners and learners are considered, particularly during the development of the technology. Ultimately we need to improve the quality of the learners’ experience.

SH: In what ways do the strands work together?

SK: The Programme strands work together in various ways. Firstly, the Pedagogy strand is evaluating how practitioners across the post-16 sector are using e-learning tools in a variety of contexts. The LAMS evaluation study undertook a detailed pre-training survey of practitioners’ views of e-Learning. Hopefully the results of these evaluations will feed back to those people developing tools and toolkits in the Distributed e-Learning and Technical Frameworks strands. The methodology used in the LAMS evaluation will provide the basis for two new projects evaluating other commonly used tools that practitioners use to design learning activities, such as VLEs, mind-mapping software, interactive whiteboards and Word templates. This methodology will also be used to evaluate the Distributed e-Learning Tools for Teachers as they become available.

Secondly, the Pedagogy strand is providing information on the process that practitioners go through when designing or planning learning activities. The e-Learning Models Desk Study mapped the stages of the design process, and that could be translated into workflows that software developers could use. The case studies also provide useful examples of e-learning practice for both practitioners and developers.

The third way in which the e-Learning and Pedagogy strand will work with the technical development strands is through a new study on ‘Elicitation of Practice Models’. This study will look at what both practitioners and learners do in practice, this work will be very relevant to software developers.

SH: What problem is the Programme a response to?

SK: Technology is now all around us. For students coming into further and higher education from schools, technology is a key part of their world. It is important when learners arrive at college or university that the way they learn reflects and enhances their own experiences and preferences, otherwise it will be irrelevant to them. We want to better meet the needs of learners by encouraging practitioners to use technology in a ‘pedagogically sound, learner centred and accessible’ way. The strand aims to produce practice advice and guidance for practitioners giving examples of how to use e-learning more effectively. The ‘Effective Practice with e-Learning’ guide is the first step towards achieving this.

SH: What would you say are the barriers that might stop you achieving those aims?

SK: To be effective the advice from the studies we’ve funded needs to get to both the practitioners and their senior managers. The concern is that the message may reach the practitioners, but they may have little time to implement new and innovative ways of teaching.

On the other hand the DfES and HEFCE e-learning strategies that have recently been released, will be important drivers in selling the importance of e-Learning to senior managers.

SH: What would you say have been the achievements so far?

SK: A huge amount of work has been undertaken in a short space of time, with lots of interesting and useful findings. The support of the Experts Group has been valuable in reviewing the outcomes of the strand to date. The ‘Effective Practice with e-Learning’ Guide is a summary of that work and gives practitioners practical advice and guidance on how to plan and evaluate their e-learning practice effectively. The community has been very enthusiastic about the guide and we’ve had bulk orders from people running staff development programmes and teacher training.

SH: Where do you think e-Learning might be in 5 years time?

SK: If the question is ‘How will people be learning in five years’ time?’ I would say learners will need to develop skills and acquire knowledge that will equip them for life in the 21st century. So by 2010 the majority of learners will see the computer as a gateway to learning and an essential tool for information gathering and communicating. Of course this will have an impact on classroom teaching practice, where the teacher is no longer the source of all knowledge. The teaching role will have become a role that is more about ‘managing the learning’ of others.

Active learning will be more widespread with learners becoming experts in finding, absorbing and recalling information. And they will be using the internet and mobile devices to find information that is relevant to them and their interests. Just as the introduction of the printing press in c1450 changed the face of learning, the new digital age will change the face of learning in the next few years. Learner-centred learning, in environments that allow much greater flexibility for learners to work in ways that suit them, is unstoppable.


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