Monthly Archives: April 2016

Mythology as professional and sector development

Nice TES FE article Dan. Measured, clear, well written. Some comments that have evolved into a full post:

 Myth 1: not quite clear on why this is represented as a choice between types. I can only speak for my subject, but English GCSE teaches subject knowledge and generic skills – certainly critical analysis, which you say can’t be ‘taught’. What do you mean by ‘taught’ here? If I take it as ‘engaging in sustained and repeated conversation drawing on knowledge to review texts’, much as we did in revision classes just last night, then is a form of teaching not supporting the activity – via questions, by reference back to supportive reference materials containing knowledge? Well, if not teaching, isn’t a learning of how to analyse occurring – especially the more often we have that conversation? Similarly, ‘creativity can’t be taught’. Really? Oh no, I think you use the word ‘instruction’ – well, possibly then. Different to teaching, instruction, isn’t it, since the latter is an imperative verb – an instruction as a form of command. Did George Martin teach the Beatles how to work a studio? Yes and no. He may have instructed them on what to do with a mixing desk, which they may have been able to repeat on some dubious solo albums later down the line (as knowledge). Did he bring a certain skill in his methods as part of the studio conversation – something far more difficult to observe and measure but comparable to inspiration? Certainly. Just why is ‘inspiration’ so often cited as vital to teaching in those ads on TV? Is an Art teacher just an instructor or do they inspire and enable creativity? I’d call the latter ‘teaching’: measurable, transferable, replicable, generalised – mythic – or not.

Myth 2: in English GCSE there are units – separate, it seems, but the overlaps between them are routinely made clear, so there is a constant double-loop of knowledge ‘acquired’ or ‘transmitted’ between units – and how it is applied. Not sure if this equates to ‘blocks’ as you see it here, but your point is definitely sensible and looking back and forth in the present seems a better way to synthesize objectives.

Myth 3: I’m curious what defines personalised learning here? Own pace? Choice of subject or modules? Personalised feedback? Not sure I get it, ‘personally’ speaking. Secondly, are you drawing evidence results from schools? I would say that that’s an uneven and uneasy comparison – after all, pupils undertaking 8- 10 subjects in schools, say, is very different to college students undertaking 3 subjects, where more personalisation can be afforded – and is arguably more necessary and required (Leese, 2010, Bingham and O’Hara, 2007). Indeed, don’t OFSTED approve of mutliple activities taking place in classrooms, rather than one steamrollered practice?

Myth 4: As above, ‘student control over learning’ is ambiguous: do we mean the curriculum content and outcome, or the methods? And as above, it most certainly requires a degree of maturity, which perhaps Hattie has not accounted for when looking at schools studies. I would argue that to change any current paradigm of ‘submission to transmission’ to one more self-determined and Heutagogical in nature (I concede that this itself is arguably a myth and ‘buzz term’) there may need to be more onus placed on student control over learning – obviously not on a dramatic holistic scale, but it is already happening (See FELTAG or the Futurelearn Blended Learning course, for great examples utilising technology). It doesn’t mean students are left in a void; in fact, it’s often virtually the opposite. The methods may be less standardised and more innovative, so may not have an evidence base – yet. It doesn’t make them myths.

You quote the ETF at the end of your article, “Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.” Lovely stuff.

Are we as professionals afforded some opportunity for innovation that allows that to happen – rather than subscribing to or being prescribed with what is tried and tested?

Yes, evidence informed practice, but within the syllabus and classrooms, intervention and agency helps to shape our professional identity, our own teaching autonomy and perhaps even the sector much more. That may certainly be better than FE trying to replicate effect sizes and methods from school contexts where the variables are far different.

Here’s a myth, but one I buy into: school-leaving FE students are at a threshold of adulthood (Salisbury, J., & Jephcote, M. (2008), whether university, apprenticeship or employment, and require a different form of teaching and learning than what operates in schools to make that transition more challenging and more easy (Kirkpatrick and Mulligan 2002; Lawrence (2005). Challenging, so that different educational experiences and expectations are grounded habitually and easier, so that the transition into those transcended ‘real-world’ domains (or university) has less abrasion (Askham, 2008). FE is the bridge and must look less and less like school-based institutional practice, otherwise (I propose) aspirations for those whom school has been an unpleasant journey will atrophy.

This is a much wider and more complex argument than I’ve summarised here, but we know that many FE students are disengaged, peripheral or at risk of becoming NEET. Many want to go beyond what the curriculum teaches them. In order to aspire to this as institutions and promote greater self-efficacy in students, I would argue that some self-determination is possible, negotiated as it is with a college department, but I don’t mean wholesale: just  more akin to coursework options. This can be enabled and fitted to curriculum objectives, so that, for example, a Horticulture or Motor Maintenance student is able to specialise more in an area of their greatest interest with stronger formative assessment and feedback throughout the process, rather than on the basis of summative assessment, which is often what this evidence approached research is based upon.

“To refer to some of these methods as myths may come as a surprise to some – but it shouldn’t. It is widely recognised that nothing is conclusive when it comes to education; something can work for everyone and everything can work for someone.” – Here, Here.


Askham, P. 2008. Context and identity: Exploring adult learners’ experiences of higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education 32, no. 1: 85–97.

Bingham, R. and M. O’Hara. 2007. Widening participation in early years degrees: ‘I realised I could, and would, do this – and I have!’. Journal of Further and Higher Education 31, no. 4: 311–21.

Kirkpatrick, A., and D. Mulligan. 2002. Cultures of learning: Critical reading in the social and applied  sciences. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 25, no. 2: 73–100.

Lawrence, J. 2005. Reconceptualising attrition and retention: Integrating theoretical, research and student perspectives. Studies in Learning, Evaluation and Development 2, no. 3: 16–33.

Leese, M. 2010. Bridging the gap: Supporting student transitions into higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education 34, no. 2: 239–51.

Salisbury, J., & Jephcote, M. (2008). Initial encounters of an FE kind. Research in Post‐Compulsory Education, 13(2), 149-162.

Unicorn Rainbow Puke by fumalcon is licensed under the Creative Commons – Attribution – Share Alike license.








Filed under education, FE, Learning technologies, Pedagogical practice, Uncategorized

Blended Learning – theory or instructional design?



[Taken from my PhD thesis lit review]

Literature on online learning eulogizes distance education (or distributed learning) as a concrete affordance made available by way of trans-located communities mediated by real-time technologies. Much subject matter explores the potential for the MOOC (Massive Online Open Conference) to connect remote learners operating from globally dislocated places. There are contexts where this has more potential than others, for example in Higher Education, in individuals pursuing informal interests in their own time (, or with geographically remote communities who may have an innate and intrinsic motivation to achieve (as Mitra shows). In the former case here, the MOOC has often become a means of transferring one-to-many lectures online, which may be questionable in terms of impact on low-motivated and low-ability students, or the ability to turn inert and passive discourse into more active practice. Anderson et al criticise the “big distance education models” (9: 2001) as unsuitable for some subjects where active participation is more necessary.

Nevertheless, a MOOC is one of the projects held up for mass online provision for Maths (‘Citizen Maths’, Learning Futures 32: 2014). This is a purely online form, quite distinct from traditional learning. Here, ‘traditional learning’ needs some definition. Because I am concerned with the English GCSE syllabus, traditional learning is used to mean the notion of meeting in a classroom for a specific unit of time for specific learning outcome-based purpose.

Blended learning is promoted as the combination of sporadic physical interpersonal meetings (cited as ‘traditional’) and the opportunities afforded by an online community of practice (whether that is structured learning, access to resources, communication within the group for various purposes). In this sense, the online aspects are not a substitute locus of activity, but augment the face-to-face activity.

Remote access (to an ecology of resources, to a teacher and to a community) may not always resonate with emotional and motivational factors in terms of student difficulties. An alternative is suggested: that of blended learning, explained as “the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches and technologies” (Garrison and Vaughan, 2008, 148: 2008). Driscoll defines blended learning (2002) as

  1.  To combine or mix modes of web-based technology (e.g. live virtual classroom, self-paced instruction, collaborative learning, streaming video, audio, and text) to accomplish an educational goal.
  2. To combine various pedagogical approaches (e.g., constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism) to produce an optimal learning outcome with or without instructional technology.
  3. To combine any form of instructional technology (e.g., videotape, CD-ROM, web-based training, film) with face-to-face instructor-led training.
  4. To mix or combine instructional technology with actual job tasks in order to create a harmonious effect of learning and working

There are various other descriptions of the form and detail of blended learning, as outlined by Oliver and Trigwell (2005), in a discussion of the problems of defining what the varying terms means. For the purpose of deployment in this study, the closest fit is supplied by Valiathan (2002):

  1.  skill-driven learning, which combines self-paced learning with instructor or facilitator support to develop specific knowledge and skills;
  2. attitude-driven learning, which mixes various events and delivery media to develop specific behaviours; and
  1. competency-driven learning, which blends performance support tools with knowledge management resources and mentoring to develop workplace competencies.

The first notion importantly configures a consideration of the teacher presence as supportive to the interaction; the second pays heed to the behaviour, affective and attitudinal factors discussed earlier, and the third fits closely to the context of the FE sector and learner aspiration (vocational and work-based skill sets). Overall, the definition is relevant as it can be aligned to the purpose: promoting a Community of Inquiry, with its constituent domains of teacher presence, but focusing on the contextual sector. Oliver and Trigwell’s report seeks to avoid the conflation of arbitrary terms, such as online learning, or traditional delivery.  Blending affords the opportunity to circumvent difficulties teachers may have in embedding technology holistically, for example in aspirations to flipped learning where content is accessed remotely, so that more meaningful activity (problem-solving, Sayer, 2007) can occur face-to-face. As seen already, students and teachers may not have the requisite skill sets for meaningful online provision, described as rudimentary in a study by the Pamoja Institute (No citation, ref. )

Blending, then, is a way of integrating technologies to be more familiar for students.

Some learning activity at a superficial level (in terms of types of learner activity, producing the right level and type of work, meeting targets and deadlines, presenting work for assessment) may be shifted online without friction. Even a learner checking they are ‘right’, can be met with some basic assurances from a remote teacher or community. These are isolated parts of a student’s experience – what a student needs to do, but not specifically how it is done at a cognitive or prcoedural level. It is also unclear whether those processes of activity are optimal. As is shown in Point 2 above by Driscoll, blending may also include multi-faceted pedagogical approaches, so due consideration needs to be paid to this.

Blending learning may include provision and access to resources from remote points, such as Learning Management Systems or in-house college Virtual Learning Environments like Moodle.

‘Blending’ is not a learning theory, as such, but a strategic instructional design that ensures students have access to an assistive ecology of online resources for a range of activities, combined with face-to-face context modes. Educational Design Research – or design based research – is the development of practical principles for curriculum redesign. Given its supportive nature in readying teacher’s for online learning pedagogical models, blended learning affords a scale towards multimodal literacies and Web 2.0 affordances in both classroom and remote contexts. An issue still remains what emergent pedagogies consist of – and how they ensure inclusion at the rate of support needed by all students.

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Filed under Educational theory, FE, Learning technologies, Mobile Learning, Uncategorized