Choosing Tech Tools to Support Learning

I did an analysis to see if the introduction of technology could improve a face-to-face intensive program. The program incorporates an active learning approach designed to take full advantage of the wealth of skills and experience that participants and facilitators bring to the program. It is currently offered in a very low tech environment.

Audience segment: Participants are professional leaders, highly educated, and (generally) non digital natives with ready access to technology. A review indicated the program could better engage and promote learning for this audience in three ways:

  1. Create a community that connects learners prior to, during, and after the learning experience;
  2. Enable more active learning that is guided by facilitator expertise; and
  3. Provide an environment where it is safe to share and discuss real-life professional challenges in a confidential manner.

Using Bates’ SECTIONS model, three tools were analyzed for their potential to address these improvements: Twitter, WordPress, and a Learning Management System (LMS).

1.  Community Building

All three tools could contribute to the development of ‘community’ before, during, and/or after the intensive offering:

twitter-logoTwitter – An excellent tool for student collaboration, networking, making course announcements, announcing program changes, research, networking through hashtag chats, and sharing information. Ideal choice for in-person group collaboration, research, and sharing of information during case study exercises, and for sharing information post-program. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills. Seems best suited for supporting learning during the program and networking after.

wordpress-logoWordPress –   With the ability to created a resource hub, invite members, hold discussions, post announcements, and post media, this tool would enable a one-stop shop. Facilitators and participants could begin creating an online space can get to know one another prior to the face-to-face program and subsequently share videos, links, agendas, notifications, and resources. Discussions could also take place prior to, during, and after the program, and the site could remain ‘live’ for as long as participants were interested in contributing to it. WordPress can be password protected, which could provide a level of security, but confidential content could not be shared. The benefit of ‘open content’ this tool provides is not a consideration for this audience. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills. Ideal for all but confidential sharing of personal information or materials.

Cms AbbreviationLMS – This is not a very user-friendly tool for any audience. In fact, two of the most common complaints from the digital native perspective (traditional undergraduate students) is the poor design of the user interface and the lack of flexibility within the environment. In fact, many instructors move outside of the LMS to enhance the learning experience through the use of blogs, virtual meeting spaces, etc. If participants will not take the time to familiarize themselves with the tool, or even worse, become frustrated with it, facilitating communication and building community will not happen. And finally, the learning management system’s unique characteristics will likely not result in much value as senior administrators are unlikely to use it in the future.

» Best option: WordPress blog with limitations (no sharing of confidential information).

2.  Facilitator Guidance

Facilitators play a huge role in guiding participants to resources, assist with problem-solving, and act as mediators during group work. The schedule of an intensive program, however, is jam packed with presentations, speakers, and related events, so there is limited time for one-on-one or group facilitation. Technology could assist tremendously in helping facilitators respond during live group sessions and by answering questions that could be centrally posed in a forum for discussion.

   twitter-logoTwitter – By creating a relevant hashtag, participants could be connected to facilitators and fellow students whenever needed. Facilitators could answer questions, conduct surveys, provide and share resources either live or at the end of a session, host a TwitterChat and act as resources if they are not in the same space as groups conducting work. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, the tool could also inform participants on new ways to gather research.

 wordpress-logoWordPress – With its strength as a resource hub, WordPress could be used to make announcements, gather and post resources, and host discussions. However, Twitter is nimbler for instant communications and resource sharing and accessible according to hashtags. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills.

Cms AbbreviationLMS – Facilitators could post materials prior to the program commencement, open and encourage discussion groups, and respond to group questions. The LMS, however, does not lend itself to the immediacy of social media and requires a higher level of technical savvy to comfortably navigate through.

» Best option: Optimally, Twitter, with WordPress site containing an embedded version of the tool.

3.   Confidential Environment

Guaranteeing that confidential information is kept within the confines of the program is one of the most important considerations for this audience. While it may not appear to be a true pedagogical factor, if participants are unwilling to contribute because of confidentiality concerns, the foundational assumption of the program will be compromised. Therefore, any tech tool used to share confidential information must be highly secure.

twitter-logo Twitter – As a microblogging site, Twitter’s main advantage is to provide users with the ability to openly share information. While there is an option for private messaging amongst users, confidentiality, even with messaging, cannot be guaranteed. It would provide a high level of transferrable skills to an industry whose practitioners widely utilize the tool. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills (many in higher education use Twitter).

wordpress-logoWordPress – Even with a password, WordPress is not a secure environment. Much information can be shared, but not all that is critical to learning can be. It would provide a high level of transferrable skills to an audience whose practices are moving more and more towards this tool. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills.

Cms AbbreviationLMS –  A university LMS provides the highest level of information security in all of the tools that that I analyzed. However, it is also the least user-friendly, and far less nimble than WordPress.

» Best option: LMS, because of the high level of security it provides, virtually assures  a confidential environment.*

*The security benefit is likely outweighed by the challenges for use by this audience segment (account creation and access, learning to navigate a system that few will use again, few likely transferrable skills).

Conclusion

No one tool meets all three identified weaknesses in the current program. However, in combination, they could largely address two of the three revision needs. Twitter would be most useful for the face-to-face experience and to encourage information sharing post-program; WordPress would enable facilitators and participants to jointly build a community of learning that begins prior to the programs continues beyond; and an LMS could provide a secure online solution to sharing confidential information (although its challenges may outweigh the benefits).

References:

Bates, A.W. (2015). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Vancouver, BC:  Tony Bates Associates Ltd. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/

Social Media and Adult Learning

Definitions
Adult Learners. Non-traditional students pursuing post-secondary study or training, but who do not meet the definition of a “traditional” college student.

Social Media (SM).  A range of online tools and web based applications that enable online social interaction and the creation and sharing of user generated content. SM enables people to connect and/or collaborate through computer-facilitated communication and creation.

Best Educational Use
Once learning management systems (LMS) were introduced in the post-secondary environment,  instructors began to introduce online collaborative SM tools. SM applications can be optimally used to support learning by promoting online interaction and communication. They provide:

  • free or low cost profile space,
  • facilities for uploading content such as hyperlinks, videos, photos, etc.
  • messaging options, and
  • the ability to make connections with peers and enhance collaborative opportunities.

SM applications are best used to support learning by engaging students in informal learning opportunities.

Learning Outcomes Supported
1.   New technologies can foster communication, engagement and self-direction in learners.

2.  The development of media and information literacy skills are necessary outcomes with the utilization of SM for educational purposes.

Learner Needs
Positive Aspects. One of the strongest advantages of incorporating SM applications in the learning environment is the opportunity they provide to support student learning. They enable students to:

  • Communicate with learners they may not otherwise be able to;
  • Share ideas and develop a large repository of information created by a group of students;
  • Communicate directly and immediately with peers;
  • Engage in informal learning by posting or answering questions or soliciting help;
  • Develop critical and reflexive thinking skills and media and information literacy skills;
  • Provide and receive peer feedback;
  • Maintain relationships with larger groups of peers online than in a face-to-face setting.

Negative Effects. While SM applications do provide new opportunities, they can also create challenges for many learners.  Challenges in an adult learning context include:

  • The transition to a digital classroom may be difficult for non-natives of technology; adult learners may not be technologically savvy enough to use these sites;
  • Community-building on SM sites may extend beyond the instructor’s control and push the limits of quality and credibility;
  • SM applications can be time consuming and produce compulsive tendencies to check in and respond;
  • If time-consuming, SM applications reduce learning/teaching efficiencies.

References:
Adult Learners and Their Use of Social Networking Sites ,Yuanqiong (Kathy) Wang and Jessica Arfaa (2013). Towson University, Dept. of Computer & Information Sciences, Towson, MD 21252.

Vilhelmina Vaičiūnienė and Viktorija Mažeikienė (2012) Social Media in Adult Education: Insights Gained from Grundtvig Learning Partnership Project “Institutional Strategies Targeting the Uptake of Social Networking in Adult Education (ISTUS)”, Technologijos Social Technologies 2012, , 2(2), p. 473–482.