New modes of learning and teaching – a starter kit with a European perspective

The development in higher education is provoked by technology changes, a networked world, participation culture, changing employer expectations and globalization of the sector, which has been resulting in growing diversity in learner profiles and pathways through higher education. Several of these challenges are challenges across the educational system in a globalized world, and the conception of the need for flexibility and open learning in education now and in the future is as compelling for schools as for secondary education and higher education. But how do you as a policy-maker, an institution, faculty or an educator get a grasp of what would seem as self-evident changes, challenges, contexts and practices when it comes to new modes of learning and teaching?  In this blogpost I will try to give an introduction to a variety of aspects of and views on the need for more flexibility and open learning across the educational system – at first focusing on higher education and next on schools and secondary education – so that you can get a fundamental understanding of what is going on and start making up your own mind.

The need for new modes of learning and teaching in higher education

The term ‘flexible learning’ is “about enabling choises and responsiveness in the pace, place and mode of learning” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:8). I have touched on flexible learning , flexible pedagogies and the need for a shift to increased flexibility in the modes of learning and teaching in higher education in a previous blogpost, and here flexibility and agility was viewed

…through pedagogical lenses as the ability of people to think, act, live and work differently in complex, uncertain and changeable scenarios. (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:4)

In “Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education” flexible learning and flexible pedagogies are aspects of the visions for the development of higher education in Europe. In the report, the European Commission’s High Level Group on the Modernisation in Higher Education states that

…fully-fledged institutional or national strategies for adopting new modes of learning and teaching are few and far between. (Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education 2014:4)

The High Level Group  behind the report claims that there is a culture of conservatism within European higher education which needs to change, and apart from engaging policy-makers and institutions in developing comprehensive strategies, there are also rapid needs for organizational and infrastructure change:

Our message is clear. While accepting that higher education institutions and, more particularly, teaching staff are the main actors in delivering these pedagogical changes, it is the responsibility of public authorities to create the environment and the incentives for action.  (Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education 2014:11)

While pedagogy and curriculum design are matters for institutions, governments are responsible for defining the policy, legal and funding contexts which impact on the motivation and ability of institutions to integrate new modes across higher education provision. This is why we have sought, where possible, to direct our recommendations to policy-makers, and to urge strategic action to tackle the key challenges we identify: instigating an open culture for change; developing political and institutional leadership; supporting digital skills for teachers and learners; and adapting funding frameworks for targeted investment into new technologies and pedagogies, and quality assurance regimes that apply to onsite and online education. (Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education 2014:6-7)

The High Level Group stresses that tackling these key challenges will involve significant changes in how higher education institutions is organized and operate, as well as a change in culture and mindset, and they present three categories within developments in new modes of learning and teaching:

Differentiation of models of the use of new modes of learning and teaching:

a) Conventional higher education providers offering programmes and courses on campus that make use of online technologies and pedagogies within courses and programmes – better known as blended learning. This also applies to conventional distance education providers.

b) Conventional higher educational providers offering full programmes or short courses online. These courses and programmes can be limited to enrolled students or open to non-enrolled students with or without credits. This model has particular potential for lifelong learning and transitional education.

c) Non-university providers offering courses free of charge or fee charging, with or without credits. (Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education 2014:15)

A change to more flexibility and open learning in higher education is due to meeting the key challenges mentioned above with the following aims:

  • Quality enhancement as a result of shared, high-quality learning materials and more creative and individualized pedagogical approaches.
  • Creating a more diverse higher education system by widening access and facilitating lifelong learning.
  • Increased global visibility by reaching new target groups in an international context.
  • Greater global and local collaboration and cooperation.
  • More personalized learning informed by better data.

The High Level Group’s recommendations for starting up developing strategies for modernizing higher education can be read in full in “Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education”.

The recommendations address challenges on a national and an institutional level, and to enhance the understanding of flexible learning and flexible pedagogies as dimensions of developing higher education they can be supplemented by the recommendations in the report “Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013) in the process of framing visions, aims and concrete solutions on how to modernize higher education.  As such they might have implications for relevance, policy, leadership and practices in future education.

The models of the use of new modes of learning and teaching, the challenges and the aims for higher education in Europe mentioned above can partly be mirrored in another recent report, the “NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition”. This report identifies key trends, challenges and technological developments that are described to have potential impact on global higher education:

horizonreport2015_infographic

The NMC Horizon Report operates with three movement-related categories:

 …long-term trends that typically have already been impacting decision-making, and will continue to be important for more than five years; mid-term trends that will likely continue to be a factor in decision-making for the next three to five years; and short-term trends that are driving edtech adoption now, but will likely remain important for only one to two years, becoming commonplace or fading away in that time. (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada and Freeman 2015:6)

The report and the method behind it has been criticized for “fad-hopping” and for “not [being] based on a deep knowledge of significant technology development”. I think, though, that it is still worthwhile to debate the views of the report in your actual context, while building a social and cultural understanding of the need for new modes of learning and teaching in higher education.

Three ideas of education and learning today

One thing is that a starter kit might be useful for policy-makers and institutions in the form of recommendations, but how do faculty and individual educators meet these new models of education and new modes of learning and teaching, if they have not really ever heard much about them and definitely never have thought that it was any concern of theirs? To me, the first step is to get acquainted with some of the ideas, the concepts, the vocabulary and the pedagogies that have gained influence in an era of increased flexibility and open learning in education, in order to examine them, to build contexts for them via social and cultural understanding, to discuss them, and to take a stance towards the relevance and the implications of them on curriculum design and learning design. And in parallel with that you need to get a grip of digital literacies, if you haven’t got it yet. That is my idea of a starter kit for faculty and educators in discussing and evolving educational development, and here are a few suggestions on how to get down to it.

In the area of pedagogy, didactics and curriculum design, the 21st century has brought a change of focus from education towards learning, from consumption of information to participatory learning and from institutions towards networks. On these grounds, I think it is relevant to get acquainted with three ideas of education and learning today that direct and influence discussions on new modes of learning and teaching:

  • the idea of open education
  • the idea of personal learning in a networked world
  • the idea of learning as participation in communities of practice while you are getting the grip of how to modulate your participation in a landscape of communities.

The three ideas are introduced in the three videos below and they all relate to the three concepts mentioned above: learning, participatory culture and networks, although they also differ in their conception of pedagogies and their understanding of what constitutes them:

David Wiley: “Open Education 101” (2014)

Stephen Downes: “New learning, new society” (2015)

Etienne Wenger: “Learning in and across landscapes of practice” (2013)

Wiley, Downes and Wenger all contextualize their ideas in the shift in learning modes from Learning 1.0 to Learning 2.0 and Learning 3.0 – a development I have touched on in a previous blogpost, “The Art and Meaning of Collaborative and Peer Learning”:

Learning Modes Grid

The model is to be found on Steve Wheelers blog “Learning with ‘e’s”.

Besides changes in pedagogies, this shift means changes in definitions of learning spaces, in the roles of educators and students, and in tasks, materials, medias and modes of collaboration and cooperation engaged in studies and learning.  And while in dialogue with the three ideas of education and learning today and in the future, you may also want to consider how to improve your own and your students’ digital literacies. I have introduced digital literacies in an earlier blogpost, but go on examining The Open University’s “Digital and Information Literacy Framework”.  Look at the way they implement digital literacies in their curriculum, check their learning materials, watch their examples from modules. And start practicing.

The state of technology in Scandinavian schools and the new purpose of schooling

While new modes of learning and teaching in higher education are inspired, influenced and inflicted by the movement of opening up education to a degree where the idea of openness has become mainstream and social learning is part of the vocabulary, the situation in schools is more complex. While one trend is calling for creativity and innovation along the lines of the wished for development in higher education, another very strong tendency still seems to move toward a narrowing down the purpose of schooling to testing and standardization. This tendency can be observed in the report “2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Scandinavian Schools” (covering schools and secondary education) where trends, challenges and technologies are examined and chosen for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning and creative inquiry:

 scandinavian-horizon-big-chart

In a webinar by Swedish “Skolverket” the report is presented and commented in Swedish. Watch it here. Skip it, if Swedish isn’t one of your languages, and go on reading below.

The New Media Consortium operates with three movement-related categories just as in the previously mentioned “NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition”. Especially two interrelated challenges are important at the moment, I think, and they are even marked as solvable challenges in the report: Integrating Technology in Teacher Education and Navigating Digital Competence:

Integrating Technology in Teacher Education.…As teachers begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital competence skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital competence as a norm. Furthermore, although Danish teachers are performing exceptionally well with IT in student activities, the technologies are still widely used for outdated modes of traditionally type of teaching. (2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Scandinavian Schools 2015:7)

Navigating Digital Competence. The challenge is that learning digital competence is different from applying digital tools in specific subjects, such as language and science. However, in many discussions, these topics are often confused.…The confusion between the two ideas often hinders the creation of cohesive policy and teacher education curriculum. (2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Scandinavian Schools 2015:7)

The comments to both challenges point to, that there doesn’t seem to be an awareness of the differences between skills and tools, which has been a lot in focus in developing IT-activities in at least Denmark, and developing digital literacies and digital citizenship. It seems that the report actually implicitly connects learning digital competences with what I call developing digital literacies and digital citizenship. So I will suggest that you consider and discuss what it might be to develop and use digital competence skills across the curriculum in schools and teacher education. See how the report “Digital literacy across the curriculum” defines digital literacy, look at my discussion of the definition in an earlier blogpost, and get ideas from the report’s examples of working with digital literacies and digital citizenship including networking, creativity, critical thinking and social and cultural understanding. This would be a starting point for me, be it schools or teacher education.

And check out the “DigiLit Leicester” project and their list of resources to get inspired.

So in parallel with getting a grip of digital literacies, if you haven’t got it yet, it seems just as important for to me, that – like educators and policy-makers in higher education – teachers, schools and policy-makers start building contexts for the ideas, the concepts, the vocabulary and the pedagogies that characterize the new modes of learning and teaching. And here I think teachers and schools can gain from the theories, the research, the experiences and the discussions in higher education around the globe to create a social and cultural understanding of the need and creed to change. Discuss with the views of people like Wiley, Downes and Wenger.

That is my idea of a starter kit for teachers and educators in discussing and evolving educational development.

The “DigiLit Leicester” project was brought to my attention by the OER Research Hub on their blog oerresearchub.wordpress.com

This blogpost has been edited on 13. November 2015 to replace David Wiley’s well-known TEDTalk “Open Education and the Future” (2010) with a webcast presenting David Wiley’s up-to-date version on what open means in education: “Open Education 101”. – On 4. December 2015 this blogpost has been edited again to remove a dead link to Pasi Sahlberg’s presen-tation on the Open Education Europa 2014 Conference on “Education in the Digital Era”. 

Further reading:

Hague, Cassie and Sarah Payton (2010): Digital literacy across the curriculum, Futurlab

High Level Group (2014): Report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education, European Commission

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015): NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition, The New Media Consortium

Johnson L., Adams Becker, S., and Hall, C. (2015): 2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Scandinavian Schools: A Horizon Project Regional Report, The New Media Consortium

Ryan, A., & Tilbury, D. (2013): Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas, The Higher Education Academy

Wenger, E. (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198), Springer London

Wheeler, Steve (2012): Next generation learning

Elna Mortensen

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New modes of learning and teaching – a starter kit with a European perspective

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