First, a very happy New Year to you all from all friends of Learning Solutions in Europe and Africa and from me.
This month’s story comes from Israel and is about an attempt to build bridges between a group of students and their college lecturers. In a way the story is not new. We have all heard and read about the disconnects between the conduct of teaching and the ways in which learners communicate and want to learn. Roger Schank is particularly vocal about the broken nature of the education system in the USA; Steve Wheeler (UK) speaks regularly on platforms around the world about the need for teaching methods to catch up with our modern connected world. His work at Plymouth University is breaking new ground: It shows the potential for innovative collaborative learning of young learners who will all too soon be college and university students and the employees of only a decade in the future.
Meanwhile, Eran Gal is tracking the learning journeys of students in a college in Israel through to their post-college lives. Once completed, his project should make for a fascinating study, but that is some way down the line.
Right now he is studying the impact of teaching methods in the first year of particular courses of study and the impact of those methods on behavior in the third year and beyond. The groups Eran is working with are psychology students “whose most hated course is statistics” and students studying micro-economics, “widely seen by teachers and students alike as the most demanding part of the Economics BA degree.”
Based on his findings, Eran is attempting to take perceived successful learning methodologies from the commercial world back into academia. Accepting the limitations of the Kirkpatrick model in today’s eLearning and connected world, Eran seeks to move beyond levels one and two to discover what genuine learning and transfer is occurring and from where in the academic course it comes.
So, what is happening? In line with common practice in the world of work, the college faculty has identified and made public to the students six key performance indicators (KPI) for the courses. Each KPI has an action plan to achieve it. Familiar stuff to those of us in the commercial world? Maybe, but the problem is the nature of the action plans and the kinds of KPI the faculty have set. The KPI are individually driven and theoretically based.
To understand the problems and help students, Eran has been running focus groups. The simple conclusion is that this type of KPI is inappropriate both for the students’ immediate learning (the methodology is alien to their culture) and not relevant to the world the students believe awaits them after their studies.
So what are they looking for? Collaborative methods of study enabled by the social media. The college's student union set up learning groups on Facebook that are blind to the lecturer. Those learning groups are also designed to capture and include students from outside the formal learning system who are not enrolled but who wish to access the content. Early results indicate greater achievement and stronger engagement with the curriculum, born out of a common journey to the end point.
Eran’s challenge now is to find ways of harnessing the two approaches. The college faculty is traditional and perceives itself constrained by established methodologies. The student approach is fuelled by a different culture and different beliefs about the way their world works. Neither is fully aligned to the world of work.
The novelty that Eran Gal has uncovered is a kind of open resources initiative that the student body conceived and drives. 2012 saw the emergence of major global consortia, all rushing to provide open access to academic content. Here in a small college in Israel is an example of the students themselves opening their content to outsiders. At the same time, they are taking responsibility for optimizing their own learning prospects by forging their own learning methodologies.
Maybe 2013 will see a breakthrough in student power as frustration with the broken and antiquated methodologies of traditional institutions increases. Tertiary education and the world of work would do well to look at the amazing work being done around the world in primary schools to take advantage of technology. Meanwhile, Eran Gal’s work may well shed some useful light, enabling a closer tailoring of modern learning methodology to eventual academic success and successful employment beyond.
Eran Gal can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.