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Not that I’m counting, you understand…

We’re now over 4 weeks into the new academic year and the change in the educational landscape has been marked in such a short space of time. The use of our VLE/MLE has recorded its highest number of individual users since we’ve been using Moodle and this is – in part – due to integrating the ULCC’s Personal Learning Plan plug-in. We’ve been running with this system for the past 12 months and – as ever – there were concerns about how the system would cope rolling over from one academic year to the next. Thankfully the plug-in has coped and there has been a smooth transition despite the changes made to the format of our eILPs.

The keenest change we’ve all experienced has been the reduction in course hours – there is evidence here that the use of ILT has increased steadily and that course materials are finding a home in Moodle and that where staff would provide personal support in the past, students are now being directed towards the VLE.

The challenge now is to find time for staff to develop their own skills and really push the technology at their disposal – unfortunately this skills development time is non-existent and, as we all know,  creating truly interactive and engaging online materials takes a lot of time and effort. It makes you wonder if the balance will ever be restored.

Information & Learning Technology - SummerSummer 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.