Jisc Effective Practice With e-Learning – good practice guide

The Jisc Effective Practice With e-Learning (good practice in designing for learning guide) makes for an interesting read. It is an attempt to distill down the findings from research into e-learning since 2003 when the Jisc e-Learning and Pedagogy research strand began.

The document seeks to provide a framework for colleagues to “reflect upon the value of e-learning” which it does well providing we maintain a critical eye as there are, I believe, some omissions and wrong emphasis in certain parts.

Firstly, I applaud the approach of putting the focus firmly on learning and the designing of planned learning experiences, not the technology itself. The language of ‘designing for learning’ with terms such as intended learning outcomes brings a greater degree of focus to the planning of an appropriate student learning experience.

However, I believe that the flaw in the document is that it approaches e-learning as something separate from good teaching and learning practice. The ‘starting point for the document is the question “What is e-learning?”, I would argue a better question would be “What supports effective learning?” and then address this from both the student and teachers ‘teacher’ (used advisedly to encompass the role of the tutor, coach, mentor, etc) perspective.

More recently, the phrase ‘learning ecology’ is being used to describe an holistic approach that sees the technology as an enabler, that is as a means of connecting and making links between information and people. We must also not forget the use of technology as a tool to support cognitive processes (modeling, etc) and as means for greater expressive and communicative power. These points are not new to the Ultralab way of thinking.

The diagram above forms part of the documents conclusions and in this there is, in my opinion, two areas that are not given sufficient attention.

First is the lack of an explicit recognition of the role of the facilitator/lecturer/teacher in the learning process itself. This is not just as the ‘instructional designer’, but as the mediator of learning. It is not sufficient to plan a programme of learning without an ongoing interaction with the learners and there is much evidence of the importance of the relationship building between the and the learner. At the heart of the HE learning experience should be the development of a critically reflective learner. Without the modeling of aspects that contribute to this such as critical reflection, challenging of assumptions, testing of ideas, discussion of analysis, etc.

An excellent discussion of some of these issues is given by Brockbank and McGill ([1998] Facilitating Reflective Learning in Higher Education, OUP) and we could also look to Laurillards
conversational model ([1993] Rethinking University Teaching) as well as other texts.

The Hefce model shows “Effective practice” as an outcome of factors that contribute to the “Learning activity”, but does not show the actions of the ‘teacher’ as part of the model. This I think is a serious omission as the values, beliefs, and teaching and learning philosophy of those teachers will heavily influence the learning experience.

Secondly I think that there is a lack of emphasis on assessment in the model presented although it was mentioned often in the document I do not think it was addressed in sufficient depth. It is a fact that the assessment process must be well thought out if it is not to end up being the tail that wags the teaching and learning dog! Unless this is addressed in terms of both the products for assessment and the purpose of the assessment, then e-learning or any other form of learning. For example, is it appropriate to have the bulk of assessment by the essay or examination, or should we be thinking about the opportunities offered by approaches such as e-portfolios and Patchwork Texts?.

So why is there not a strong emphasis on this in the Jisc report? Could it be that there is still a view that the technology really is the answer to everything and that if we get the infrastructure and processes right, then deep learning will follow as a matter of course?

It could be argued that the role of the facilitator and the need for formative and other forms of assessment is implicit throughout the report. I do not think that this is enough though as the changes that are identified as being required by the Hefce Strategy for e-Learning are a paradigm shift for HE towards an agenda of learner personalisation and choice, access through workplace learning, and making the rhetoric of life-long learning a reality.

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