Trends and Roles Reflection: Trends – Self directed learning in the digital age

Trends coming to the world of adult education are all seeming to centre around technology and the need for post-secondary education to adapt the varying needs of learners.  In fact in the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition outlines the need for innovative and flexible learning environments as one of two key long term trends that their panel of experts agree on, and that technological advancements can potentially support those drivers of change (p. 1)

Most of my work in education is related to helping those who have gained most of their experience and knowledge in the workplace navigate a formal credentialing system that is:

a) based primarily on an assumption of formal training in the full scope of a trade, and

b) the reality that trades certification includes  a large must-pass multiple choice exam with no opportunity for the learner to express their knowledge and skills in other ways.

As there has been no readily accessible formal upgrading, we have been looking at the opportunity to use online and blended learning to address a group with a wide variety of individual needs when it comes to scope of training content.

This poses an interesting challenge. We are seeing  a transition to using online and blended learning environments to support training in the trades, but much of the material we have to draw from has been developed for traditional teacher-led training models, so therefore the temptation to build an online version of the face to face class room and lesson plan is prevalent. This is bound to fail, as we have to look at the online learning environment as an entirely new space and therefore build our content and teaching strategies around it.

One of the greatest challenges with online learning environments is building a link between a vast amount of available information (from a wide variety of sometimes inaccurate sources) and learners operating in a very much self-directed space. Traditional vocational education and instructional design flows around the respective roles of the learner and teacher, and a finite pool of information being used for content. In an increasingly changing world, we are able to put learning resources in the hands of the learner directly, or in many cases the learners are discovering their own resources. How do we make that environment an effective tool that doesn’t overwhelm, and create an effective environment that nurtures the learner experience without much intervention, or the need for the teacher to be accessible 24/7?

For me, this means a great deal of research, experimentation and analysis. I have always been a strong believer and supporter of taking a competency-based approach to the trades, as the industry always comes back to the premise that being able to perform on the job is more critical and valued  higher than having the certification, but I also an excited that there is a paradigm shift flowing through the education system today. That, as well as changes in educational technology, will bring us closer to a place where the two don’t have to be viewed as mutually exclusive.


NMC Horizon Report – 2015 Higher Education Edition

Education in the Digital Age

A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners

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