Summer is traditionally the time where educators take stock of the last academic year and look ahead to the start of the new term. With a requirement to be ‘reflective practitioners’ we have much to reflect upon in 2011: the education sector (with FE in particular) has been hit hard by the global economic downturn and the dictum of ‘More for Less’ has never been so appropriate.
In our institution, with an imperative to save money, one natural (but perhaps counter-intuitive) solution is to cut the hours of courses, which effectively means that learners will spend fewer hours in classrooms and the hours that they do spend there will be focussed mainly on the use of the facilities that our institution have available; bricklayers will be laying bricks, media students will be making films, catering students will be cooking – in short this means that students will be learning by ‘doing’.
This is obviously A Good Thing: in vocational education there has always been an emphasis on learning the tools of one’s trade and that is why our learners come an FE college as they are perhaps less inclined to take a more ‘academic’ route and Ofsted are always keen to praise establishments where there is an emphasis on ‘active learners’.
However many vocational disciplines have underlying theories and concepts: a student making a documentary film needs to know and understand the codes and conventions of the documentary form – learners need to make the vital link between what we do and why we do it. Unfortunately under the current model the teaching of these theories are most at risk of being neglected; there will be less time available to undertake teacher-lead classroom activities.
I think this is where ILT/e-Learning will fill the gap. If staff are engaged with the e-learning tools at their disposal and manage their courses and resources with care, there are distinct opportunities for learners to learn independently and collaboratively with minimal input from teaching staff. This is an opportunity to employ blended learning in it’s most consistent form, employing synchronous learning in workshops in asynchronus learning through the MLE.
These are interesting times in FE sector but let’s hope they don’t become too interesting.