#ocTEL 1.2 Reflections on Learning Technologies

May 8, 2014

Week 1, and I have already found #ocTEL quite challenging!

This is a good thing, as this is the reason for my taking the course. It begins with the Week 1 Webinar (on Strategies for Learning Technology), which I would recommend for anyone in learning technology or instructional design. Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou (University of Bath) and James Little (University of Leeds) gave an elegant account of developing and implementing strategy, while also signposting the way to more discovery for learners. It was a bit of a masterclass in using a webinar format to inform and spark further exploration. However, I digress, when I should be getting back to the start.

To start: my current role is very much in developing eLearning content – multimedia, quizzes and assessments – for didactic courses (we are “teaching”, as opposed to guiding/encouraging exploration, which seemed to be the approach focus for the webinar). This is important to point out, as this is where I am coming from when I watched the Week 1 webinar.

My Contribution to Current eLearning Strategy

Currently, I work on two projects, developing interactive eLearning content (developed as courses composed of individual modules; each module is based on a presentation, notes and some in-house research). The audience is composed of junior doctors/surgeons who are seeking to improve their understanding of the theories, concepts and development of surgical interventions.  While we can explain surgical steps, they really learn to perform those steps in the hospitals or clinics where they are working and learning. However, what we provide helps them to understand why certain steps might be taken, what could go wrong (and what to do if something does go wrong), so that better knowledge will (we hope) lead to greater confidence when they begin undertaking these tasks in real life.

I developed the current strategy we are using (this also answers the question on impact of my practice – as it is what I do). I did not do it alone, and could not have done it alone. There was input from me (as an instructional designer, with experience in multimedia and developing assessment) in terms of the type of resources we could provide. This was guided by more senior members of the company I work for, who had great insight into the needs of the audience and what was realistic in terms of managing a project. Once we had put together some ideas (described in more detail below), we took it to some senior surgeons, who helped to further refine it.

Is the Main Focus Learning Technology?

This is where it gets a little controversial. Most people I work with would answer “Yes” to this question (as the learning technology demarcates us from the huge number of videos, articles and other online resources available). For me, the answer is “No”. We are using multimedia development tools to better engage learners – who are, by default, working hard and tired. The purpose is not to “provide multimedia content” but to enhance their professional development by helping to improve not only their knowledge but to deepen their understanding. We work with very experienced Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), who are rich in wisdom, but poor in time. We are trying to connect the audience to the SME. For me, the main focus is the learner, and making the most of the time they can afford (at the time they can afford to spend it). Time is at a premium: for learners and SMEs, today’s schedule is tomorrow’s adjustment. Therefore, preparing content in advance for SMEs to review and edit means they can still reach this audience. For the audience, they will get opinions from surgeons who are at the top of their game, and the head of their field.

Multimedia content, as a strategy, was initially sparked by the person who employed me. The intention then – as now – was to provide something more engaging, that was assessed and accredited (so adding value to taking these courses). They were looking for something quite involved. This is where I come in.

My role was to define the type of content we could use to better engage these doctors – using not just video (by seeing a video, and hearing an explanation of what is going on), and not just reading about it. The idea was to let them better conceptualise what happens during an operation – perhaps (not always) even beyond what can be seen (using animations, diagrams, images) and get them to really think about it (using questions, quizzes and assessment).  A deeper understanding prepares them not only for the tasks they perform, and what to do if anything goes wrong, but also (I hope) to help them think further about the possibilities of the concepts, steps etc they are learning about.

I am quite proud of what we have achieved so far. But the world keeps turning: standing still means you will surely be passed. This is something that crossed my mind as I watched the Week 1 Webinar. While I couldn’t see changes to the specifics of what we are currently doing, I did start thinking about how we might expand the offering. I’m starting to answer the next question. So time for some Bold font and a carriage return.

How often is it reviewed and is it flexible enough to adapt as things change?

The content we develop is updated every 2 years, and we change the content according to any major changes in industry, academia or clinical practice. However, to date, the overall strategy remains the same. This is primarily because we are still working through it (developing courses). The intention is to go on from developing multimedia courses to providing spaces for communities of practice to develop, helping learners connect to each other (but this is a place we have not arrived at yet).

The Week 1 Webinar got me thinking more deeply about this expansion.

  • How can we start providing activities and opportunities for those beyond this career level?
  • Those who may have some experience and want to explore different issues in more detail?
  • Perhaps helping people from different places connect to build knowledge with each other?

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Finally, if you were to provide input to a new version, what, if any, changes would you make to it?

This for me has been the key learning point and key action I can take from the webinar. As I mentioned already, we develop didactic multimedia content; but one of its aims is to get people thinking further.

The strategy now should look to how we take these small sparks (of thinking further) and create something of a fire with them (sorry for the mangled metaphor). Hopefully, those managers, senior surgeons and I can work together again to define ways in which we can:

  • Empower learners to follow their interests but also find new ways of learning and managing their learning
  • Encourage greater conversation between learners so they can find like-minded travellers
  • Enhance collaborative opportunities to allow them space to act upon these

What I learned from the Week 1 Webinar is that this is not a case of: Provide bookmarking services, forums and wikis. The next step is not to provide technology, but to determine (along with the other main stakeholders) where it is our learners should be going and how they want to get there, so that we can provide the right learning technology to help them get there.


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