Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Finding Quality



 
In my last blog I detailed the changes that could be made in moving from Didactic teaching to Guided Social Learning.  Note that the last step appeared to have moved beyond guided social learning into the realms of personal learning environments but even here, the lifelong learner often needs ‘triggers’ to encourage new knowledge seeking, albeit on their own terms, so the learning is still guided. And, as I have said before, if a company wishes to keep the 80% of learning not undertaken formally in class or online, targeted on company business it needs to guide the learning. 

A bank of external and internal knowledge, often in the form of mini-courses will guide self-determined learners along the path most desired by the company.  Done well these mini-courses will contribute to the company’s blended learning provision but investment in a knowledge management system will reap great reward, motivating and encouraging innovation; contributing to the company’s competitive advantage.  Believe me the investment is worth it!

Often this information is presented in a sort of informal course or as part of the rapidly growing knowledge base in Open Educational Resources (OER).  And again there is CPD material (Continual Professional Development) from the various professional institutes; some still hold this within an intranet but more and more this is joining the OER community.  Another source for such material may be a course blended from online and in-class teaching and still more from compliance training.

The use of formally structured learning is not restricted to business; it’s more general use is not unusual even in later life with many examples of people taking degrees after retirement age.  Other areas of learning also come in to play as triggers; online materials being amongst them.  I often search for more formally structured knowledge (free of charge, if possible!) to provide a framework of understanding for a new area of knowledge, triggered perhaps by a comment on a forum.  I seek the basics in a new subject so that I can build more detailed knowledge on a firm foundation – it saves time getting the knowledge into order – there is a mass of information out there.   

Collectively, I know these knowledge packages as Courseware, since at least one definition describes courseware as, “'content', that is as a package of materials to support learning, and sometimes it may be a self-sufficient learning resource” (http://wiki.international-cv.net/index.php?title=Epprobate_definitions_and_resources).  As epprobate works in the Quality Assurance of Courseware and this is where I am going with this, it is the definition I would like to stick with!

I need to know that the information I am reading/learning from, is of the best quality and I am sure that many producers of online learning strive to make their learning of as high a quality as possible but how will they know that they have got it right?

A common method is to test the courseware in a pilot trial, using a defined segment of the intended audience and using specific areas of judgement but how would I know that this had taken place successfully?  An instructional designer friend recently related how courseware production was often under tight time schedules with little resource for quality testing – “a brief click-through” was all that was allowed upon completion, presumably to make sure that everything worked. But as a learner I still wouldn’t know that even this had been done and as an independent learner I do find it difficult to decide which material is best.

If Guided Social Learning is a good way forward from the point of view of motivation, innovation, self-development, knowledge application, lifelong learning and competitive advantage – both of the individual and of the company; then the self-directed learners that undertake such learning must be able to trust the quality of the courseware that they will use.  I firmly believe that quality marks will lead the way in establishing the quality of courseware for anyone that wishes to use it – formally or informally.  They will also lead to a general improvement in quality just as ISO 9000 and other quality standards have done for manufacturing.

There are quite a few quality marks available for online learning but I haven’t yet seen much evidence of their use;  epprobate (mentioned above) particularly looks at courseware and works internationally to build quality in this arena, so they are very interesting to me and we are chatting about quality and courseware.  Their site is at http://www.epprobate.com/

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