Nearly two hundred practitioners found out how to ‘make it work’ at a conference in October 2005 organised by ALT and the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA). Practitioners, designers of learning materials, technology developers and researchers drawn from further and higher education, adult and community education and the private sector met in central London to discuss e-learning transformation.
Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, sent a message of support. "I am very encouraged by the fact that so many organisations are willing to share their knowledge and experience in this innovative way", he said. "E-learning, a workforce that is confident in using it, and institutions that know how to manage it, are central to our plans for continuously improving the quality of provision across all phases of the education system."
ALT and LSDA had invited proposals for inputs from organisations with successful e-learning implementations which they wished to share: the conference organisers made it clear that this was an opportunity to celebrate much progress which often goes unseen and unshared unless appropriate mechanisms are in place. The focus of the event was a series of workshops led by practitioners and designed for other practitioners – not e-learning experts. It was for sceptics as well as for those who were already convinced about the worth of e-learning. The intention was to discuss the outcomes of twenty development projects, which had aimed to transform an area of work and involved e-learning as a tool or a focus.
Over the past ten years hundreds of education providers and thousands of staff have been involved in action-based e-learning development activities. Examples of centrally funded projects include those managed by various sector organisations:
- LSDA (QUILT projects in England and Wales, NLN innovative ICT projects, Q projects and NLN transformation projects)
- NIACE (TrEACL and CACL projects in adult and community learning)
- JISC (the MLEs for lifelong learning projects)
- as well as the many projects run with EU funding, or with the support of a local LSC, the DfES, or one of the UK funding councils.
In addition, many colleges and adult education providers have successfully implemented e-learning as part of their normal internal development. The message is that e-learning can be made to work; by concentrating staff time and other resources within a project management approach, organisations CAN implement e-learning successfully. Evidence from longitudinal impact studies indicates that such projects have significant benefits for learners and institutional performance - the impact continues beyond their conclusion.
Thus the core of the event was demonstration and discussion workshops led by practitioners from further education and adult and community learning. Presenters were urged not to bore their audiences with presentation slides, and all of them seized this opportunity to engage in a real discussion rather than tell their project histories.
The workshops covered a wide range of themes including:
- whole-college implementation;
- staff and organisational development;
- inter-college collaboration;
- work-based learning;
- adult and community learning;
- initial assessment;
- the development and deployment of e-learning materials;
- key success factors – how to transform teaching and learning with e-learning and technology;
- how to overcome barriers to embedding e-learning.
Presenters were encouraged to give their sessions a business, as well as, a curriculum focus. They were asked to look especially at how to establish criteria for success based on real measures of impact. This included the impact on learners (for example, achievement: retention and the learner experience), on institutions (for example, improved efficiency or effectiveness), and crucially on related levels of staff skills and their capacity to deliver through e-learning.
The event gave an opportunity for delegates to learn at first hand about successful e-learning implementation from colleagues who had achieved successes, and for workshop leaders to describe and share insights and experiences. The result was a broad overview of what is happening now in e-learning in the lifelong learning sector.
Over lunch colleagues had opportunities to network and to attend two further opt-in sessions, on assistive technology (from TechDis) and the JISC study of wireless and mobile learning (from the University of Wolverhampton and OU’s Institute of Educational Technology). There were also plenty of opportunities to try out the new LSDA web site devoted to effective examples of ‘e-learning in action’.
Twenty workshop sessions were offered (each running twice to give delegates the maximum opportunity to learn and to network) to represent a rich sample of progressive e-learning development in post-16 education and training. Delegates left the event full of inspiration and a collection of useful material on DVD produced by local projects and national developments.
The closing keynote speech was from Michael Stevenson, DfES Director of Technology. Michael provided an authoritative view of the direction of the e-learning strategy and noted the central role for the professional development activities of LSDA and ALT. His input provided an apposite conclusion to a day that had showed the effective operational outcomes of coherent e-learning approaches. In a recent posting on the DfES web site http://www.dfes.gov.uk/technology/dsp_reflections.shtml Michael reflected on his consultations with sector and industry stakeholders and noted "some interesting themes... From the Department’s point of view, the discussion process has been extremely valuable. It has allowed us to hear views from different sectors and how their various perspectives impact on our plans. It has also been encouraging to hear the enthusiasm and ambition for the new way of working, which we hope will lead to an improved, e-enabled future... the participants enjoyed the process too... They wanted us to continue to ‘blow away the silos’ across the sector. Moving forward, we need an ‘open-plan partnership’ with stakeholders that encourages communication and collaboration."
The workshops were as follows.
- The Retail Academy (MyKnowledgeMap Ltd)
- On-line Initial Assessment (The Oldham College)
- A Teacher Training Subject Gateway (South Birmingham College)
- Embedding e-Learning Pedagogy in Initial Teacher Training (Tameside College)
- seeNet (South East Essex College)
- The Perceptions of Teachers on the Development of Online learning in a Further Education College (Stephenson College)
- London Online E-learning ESOL Collaborative Project – an innovative approach to training for online
- interactive materials production (Tower Hamlets College)
- blueIRIS (Blackpool Council and the blueIRIS project team)
- Transformation – Making it Happen (Lancashire Learning Partnership/ ILT Network)
- Mobile Technology in Teaching and Learning (Salisbury College)
- Adding a richer blend to Health and Social Care Courses (Bournemouth & Poole College)
- The ‘Young People Speak Out’ blended learning course and the ‘Hip Hop, Digital Sounds and Creative Writing’ course (The Sheffield College)
- BlendEd (The BlendEd consortium)
- Community Grid for Learning – CGfL (Workers Educational Association, North West Region)
- East Midlands Adult Community and Family e-Learning community and the development of regional learning platforms (Derbyshire Adult and Community Education Service)
- Transforming Learning and Teaching: a collaborative approach (Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College)
- E-Learning Teacher Training Transformation Project (The College of West Anglia)
- Central London ACL Consortium (The Working Men’s College)
- Using a project management method to define and deliver e-learning development (City & Islington College
- englisch-deutsche Vergleichsstudie zu Werbemitteln (Thanet College).
A publication based upon the workshops will be available shortly from ALT.
Development Adviser, LSDA