For those of you old enough, you will remember the time when the government gave out significant amounts of money for schools to purchase and implement a learning platform. At the time is was one of those tools that felt like it was a solution looking for a problem when being applied to main stream education. In the past they had been applied in Further and Higher Education with some success and was being promoted as the ‘next big thing’ that would save education. However like many things that have been ‘parachuted’ into education it was over-promised, teachers could not see the benefits and in many cases lacked content that could get things going or were very complicated to use.
As part of the efforts to get the technology adopted they were sold a great tool for leaders to use to communicate with staff and store content such as schemes of work where they could be accessed by staff from anywhere. including home. Add to this the ability to communicate with parents and provide them with information about their child. If we look at the implementation and developing the use of learning platforms we can see a line of progression moving from left to right
Step 1 – Replacing existing business systems such as email and notices/newsletters
Step 2 – providing access to the same resources outside the schools that they have in school /extended access
Step 3 – Replicating pedagogical practice (Doing the same things we currently do but through the platform – Push learning)
Step 4 – Introducing Web 2.0 tools to create collaboration and flexibility but we still are still using the same approaches
Step 5 – Constructivist learning where the platform is practice is developing to enable alternative approaches to be used rather than simply push learning.
In the early development steps 1 and 2 are in many cases the major drivers because until recently it was a quick win for those who promote products to show how these can impact on schools. But in the current climate of Ofsted inspections this really doesn’t hit the spot if the focus is on learning and leadership but it is often a necessary part of the journey.
Step 3 is where things start to get interesting because the focus moves away from administration and access and goes towards learning. But the question has to be asked does the organisation of resources that would once sit on the school network and placing them onto a learning platform have the impact we are looking for? I would suggest the answer is sort of. It allows access from places other than the school and allows students to look at the same lesson materials that they saw in class but without access to the main resource which is the teacher. The other aspect of this stage I feel is that unless you have a computer in front of you, what value does it bring to those working in schools because not everyone has this facility available and that is the question that many staff will ask.
It’s not until staff are ready to start thinking about how they want students to learn that they will start to really think about the way the platform could have an impact. As we move away from the teacher-led didactic teaching to more student focussed approaches where supporting the learner to understand and apply knowledge rather that simply the passing of this from generation to generation. The platform then starts to become a tool that provides support for learners by not only providing a location for the resources that they have used in lessons but can become a place where the knowledge can be found or located and additional or alternative explanations shared, tools are available for students to ask questions of both their tutor and their peers all of which can available 24/7 rather than simply 8.30 – 3.00. With the right set up students can share resources with each other and their tutor, review and be reviewed, modify, improve and finally submit but this all needs to right set of tools and possibly not one single tool. This is where steps 4 and 5 start to come to life and the platform starts to add real value to learning.
As I said earlier in the page, it has been all to easy to run for the safe and easy option of using the platform for management and not for learning, sometimes this is driven by the fact that teaching knowledge remains in the control of the teacher in the classroom through a single approach, once the focus moves to thinking about how best to teach something will we see a learning platform really come into its own to support these new approaches. We need to think about the learning we want, how we want to deliver it and only then will the platform provide us with solutions rather being part of the problem.