The first blog on the Digital and Online Learning (DOL) component of the Creating New Learning (CNL) initiative set out the purpose and aims of the DOL research and reviewed potential ‘hot topics’ in DOL. Now that the literature scoping and summarisation of key texts has been completed, it seems a good time to reflect on formative themes and findings. This blog will draw together some significant findings in significant developments in DOL innovations and the next Open Space DOL blog will examine some of the fascinations and challenges in conducting research around DOL in Vocational Education and Training (VET).
Where exciting, learner-centred innovation with DOL occurs, this seems to be seems located where multiple, established DOL technologies and strategies are brought together and cross-fertilise building upon the successful aspects of each one. Successful complex DOL embedding such as this requires reflective use of appropriate underpinning pedagogy, robust learning design, timely user feedback and critical evaluation.
Innovation can be seen in VET programmes which use gamification alongside scenario- or problem-based learning, or leverage tools such as Wikis, blogs and learner-created video while engaging experts from a sector to collaborate with, mentor and challenge learners. Collaborative, co-created, situated approaches can be seen in an example of innovative assessment and reflective practice explored in Digital Assessment for the YouTube Generation (Firth & Newberry-Jones, 2019) which documents multiple DOL innovations used on a Dispute Resolution Skills (DRS) module. Enhanced industry contact is achieved through digital links to in-post lawyers who comment on students’ work, throwing in ‘curveballs’ to scenario-based assessments and provide precedents utilised on a just-in-time basis. Links are made with other disciplines through collaboration with a medical school, allowing law and medical students to collaborate online on simulated, problem-based case studies. Links to ‘live’ case management systems enable students and tutors to be familiar with current tasks, practices and teamwork skills from the workplace, so educators learn alongside their students from industry specialists. Links made between current and former learners allow new professionals in industry to mentor and advise students on the skills and practices needed in legal environments.
Key pedagogies emerging for creative use of DOL are rooted in social constructivist and connectivist approaches founded on principles of heutagogy and andragogy, promoting independent, self-directed learning and requiring curiosity, self-efficacy and resilience. Instant access to information systems and ‘big data’ mean that skills now required for successful learning are around data criticality, the ability to find, select, analyse, synthesise, contextualise and transform data rather than in rote learning. Data gathering and manipulation skills must be teamed with affective ‘soft’, interpersonal attributes to achieve the successful communication, collaboration and teamwork required in today’s responsive teams.
A further significant theme is the need for DOL to facilitate emancipation and increase equality of access to needs-based lifelong learning. This can be seen in innovative DOL programmes specifically directed towards learners in areas of social deprivation, technology-poor rural areas or designed to engage what may be called ‘hard to reach learners’ who have disengaged from vocational learning. Leveraging of Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Data and strategies such as mixed media digital storytelling can be powerful tools for reaching out to and engaging wider learner constituencies as documented in a meta-study undertaken by Tomczyk et al (2019).
The final research reports from the Creating New Learning (CNL) project will be published later in 2020 and aim to bring together the themes of pedagogy and teacher skills, VET curriculum, personalised learning and learning environment use, summarising key DOL innovations and development needs and drawing some conclusions on likely future impactful uses of DOL.