Deployment of e-learning after Prepa…ready or not ?
There is a certain attractiveness of using elearning for students in the first year of a Grande Ecole programme. The subjects to be studied are rather basic and the content in these subjects is either readily available to be used or easy to produce. Schools have often invested heavily in contracts with providers like Crossknowledge, Intellexis, Action Online and others to build collections of online learning resources that in many cases are under utilized. So why not start off with elearning?
Well, to start, it’s not the subject matter that is in question – but rather the learner.
Successful use of self-study based elearning content requires appropriate learner readiness. If the learner is not ready or believes him/herself unable to navigate the world of elearning – the investment in resources and design will be wasted.
- Managing cognitive load
- Managing complex learning tasks
- Managing learning time
- Measuring and fixing learning goals
- Learning expectations and perception of elearning
- Self-efficacy and internal locus of control
These are just a few of the factors that impact the success of elearning. Before we « design in » elearning as a core component of a programme, as responsible educators, we need to make sure that the learner is (and perceives him/herself to be) ready.
Building « elearning ready learners » takes time. Learners fresh out of a preparatory class need to be assisted in developing the appropriate technical skills (digital literacy) and learning skills (goal definition, learning assessment, time management, ..) required to make elearning a viable option. And again, that takes time. Sure – you can throw students into the pool (or « piscine ») and count on them rapidly developing the critical skills..but not without risk.
What to do
- To start, integrate elearning gradually as learners mature. Going « full bore » when students arrive out of prepa is dangerous. They need gradual exposure to elearning and coaching to develop the skills they need.
- Help learners assess their level of learning skills. The more the learner knows what he/she is capable of doing, the better. Simple Self-Directed Learning assessments like the SDLRS (Guglielmino) can be used to help the learner and the faculty understand the challenges ahead.
- Make sure the benefits of the elearning approach are evident. Gathering people online to chat when they are in the same room or on the same campus may make little sense for the learner in early stages. In what ways is the elearning option a « first best » solution? Make sure you promote the elearning as beneficial for the learner. But again, make sure the core skills are in place. Yes – elearning will offer the learner more flexibility – but is the learner able to manage their own time, fix their own goals? What may seem like a benefit to you may actually be a burden to learners who perceive themselves as « not ready ».
- Accompany learners in development of key learning skills. The Staged Self-Directed Learning Model by Grow gives clear guidelines on how educators need to act in the 4 stages of learner development. Students coming from prepa are probably in Stage 2 of the model. Grow suggests
Because part of the function of a Stage 2 teacher is to prepare students to become more self-directing, it is important at this stage to begin training students in such basic skills as goal setting. Use praise, but with an eye to phasing out praise (extrinsic motivation) and phasing in encouragement (which builds intrinsic motivation) (Dinkmeyer & Losoncy, 1980). Build confidence while building skills. Help students begin to recognize their different personality types, life-goals, and styles of learning. Set high standards and motivate students to achieve them.
- Accompany the learner as elearning is introduced. Have trained staff or « learning coaches » able to assist learners with both technical and cognitive development. Provide QUICK feedback online – the learner should not feel alone. One tactic can be to deploy « drop-in tutoring » sessions in libraries/cafeterias during late afternoon or evening hours. Schedule particular subjects for particular days of the week and hire PhD students or other tutors to be available to answer questions. Add online questions via skype along with high contact face-to-face assistance.
- Encourage peer assistance. Peers can also be rewarded to help during the drop-in tutoring sessions. Reward tutors via online badges or « service awards » during commencement. Make sure learning communities (online and offline) are active.
- Build transition structures. Guglielmino suggests numerous « transition structures » in her article that can be put into place to facilitate the development of the learner.
Another barrier, even when faculty are ready to try new approaches, is student expectations. When they have been spoon-fed and prepared for tests on specific material, they may resist taking more responsibility for their learning and sometimes dealing with assignments that have no one right answer but provide better preparation for the lifelong learning and adaptation that will be required of everyone. Just as learning facilitators need assistance in adjusting to new approaches that will foster self-directed learning, students need information and transition structures to help them understand both the reasons for the new approaches and their roles in the new paradigm.
Don’t rush it
Overall, my advice is simple. Don’t rush. Asking learners to be « self-directed » when they are not will create learner frustration. Gradually introduce elearning and develop self-directed learning skills. Avoid throwing students into the « piscine » when they believe they can’t swim. Build their confidence, build their skills and THEN open their eyes to the power of elearning.