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Innovating e-Learning 2007 - Lifelong Learning Takes Centre Stage

Ros Smith
Last modified 15 Jun, 2007
Published 15 Jun, 2007
On Day 3 of the conference, Innovating e-Learning 2007 moved on to its second theme – Supporting Lifelong Learning.

Keynote presenter, Professor Robin Mason, opened by examining the nature of lifelong learning.

‘What exactly is lifelong learning? Wikipedia suggests that it is an attitude; that one can and should be open to new ideas, decisions, skills or behaviours.’ Robin Mason

Robin initially focused on the role of e-portfolios, raising the concern that learners would lack the skills, motivation and dedication to maintain these throughout their lives, without the intervention of employers and educators. Her second focus was on Web 2.0 technologies, seeing important potential gains for lifelong learning in ‘the rise of the amateur and a culture of DIY’.

Robin’s supporting paper was provided in print and in audio, leading to vigorous debate about the role and value of these two formats. This in itself revealed the importance of providing different routes to information, since users – like learners – varied in their preferences and circumstances. Issues of accessibility were central to this debate. The inclusive nature of lifelong learning requires course designers to consider the hidden dangers, as well as the benefits in using technology in learning. Around 8 million adults in the UK have some disability impairment, so surely provision for the sensory impaired is an important focus for the future? asked one delegate, and others quickly added different examples of learners who benefit from the assistive affordances of technology, while others reminded of the potential for inaccessibility.

Session 6 reflected on how a culture of e-portfolio building can be established from early years onwards. Issues raised in this session included, predictably, those of IPR and storage and ownership, but also the tendency in many HE institutions to set up separate modular routes to PDP. For presenter, Elizabeth Hartnell-Young, University of Nottingham, however, e-portfolio building raised issues of audience and gender, since knowledge of the potential assessment of an e-portfolio may impact on the choices made by the learner, while perceptions of e-portfolios may also be affected by gender and cultural differences.

The conference workshop in Second Life became available to all delegates on Day 3 as a video on YouTube, aptly illustrating the disruptive nature of technology hinted at in Professor Gráinne Conole’s presentation in Session 7 on the learners’ perspectives on technology.

Reflecting the pace of change in a constantly changing world, technology has already metamorphosed from a supplementary source of information to an interactive, collective experience – a shift Gráinne has termed ‘From I to C in ICT’. Recent reports published under the JISC learner experiences of e-learning theme [http:www.jisc.ac.uk/elp_learneroutcomes] indicate just how far the boundaries have shifted, revealing learners to be using leisure and learning technologies in integrative, personalised and often sophisticated ways, as they proactively share, collaborate and create knowledge.

As a result, the issue of staff development was never far from delegates’ minds:

‘Learners are comfortable with the world of Web 2.0, but teachers do not yet have the understanding or skills to help them engage critically with these new ways of knowing.’ Helen Beetham, Research Consultant, JISC

An equal concern for many was the potential loss of critical ability, as learner empowerment through technology gradually erodes the sphere of influence of institutions and professional educators:

‘One of the greatest challenges will be finding learning applications and approaches that will help to support more, not less, critical and analytical thinking.’ Sara de Freitas, Director of Research at the Serious Games Institute at Coventry University

However, Session 8 gave learners a chance to show what technology had meant to their experience of learning. Emma Purnell, Jenny Woodhams and other students at the University of Wolverhampton, in the company of e-portfolio teacher, Julie Hughes, explored the value of blogging in developing learners’ sense of identity, discussing and illustrating through their own blogs how this activity had helped them tackle challenging aspects of their learning. Their positive experiences of a new technology denied the suggestion that ‘you don’t have to use it just because it’s there.’

Discussions related to work-based learning, employer engagement and supporting progression in lifelong learning were equally well supported in Sessions 9 and 10, with examples in Session 10 drawn from the JISC regional pilot projects. None of the issues discussed had quick or simple solutions, but gains for effective lifelong learning were nonetheless considerable:

‘As we mention in the paper, working across a number of partners can make the decision-making processes slower and more cumbersome, which is obviously a problem when you're working in a rapidly changing environment. However, I think it also brings benefits in terms of seeing how other institutions respond to similar challenges, understanding differences, and looking for a shared understanding of issues.’ Sarah Davies, Programme Manager, JISC

But even this was not all. Down in the social area, delegates were invited to bring their own coffee and talk about …nothing very much at all. And indefatigably, they did just that.

 

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