You are here: Home / Portfolio / Timeline / Conference / Beyond the Classroom

Beyond the Classroom

I presented 'Building Learning for the Future from Lessons in the Past' at this one-day colloquium organised by the Humanities Computing Unit, University of Oxford. In the programme it said – "In this interactive multimedia presentation, the speaker will debate with the audience some of the strengths and weaknesses of traditional classroom-based learning and how new teaching approaches must cater for learners' needs. The cognitive and communicative aspects of multimedia and Internet technologies and their place in learning are not to act as 'teacher-replacements' but may affect the pedagogy, curriculum, and scope of education."
When May 01, 1996
Where Oxford

This was the script for my talk:

1 Introduction

ULTRALAB is a learning technology research centre based at Anglia Polytechnic University (APU). APU is a new university in the UK with a vocational, polytechnic tradition of higher education in partnership with industrial and commercial organisations in the East Anglia region.

ULTRALAB develops learning software for all age groups and both formal and informal learning contexts. It works as an ideas factory, CD-ROM developer and active partner in international projects.

ULTRALAB’s capacity to articulate ideas based on a decade and a half of experience has created a demand for consultancy helping major clients such as Apple Computer, British Telecom, the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Finnish company Teleste OY to plan and put into practice future learning environments.

2 Problems in teaching

Classrooms have not changed much in this century. A photograph of a rows of desks facing the front with the lecturer speaking to an attentive audience can be difficult to place in one decade or another. Of course this is simple to manage for the teacher. The assumption is that the students will follow the lesson at the same pace, those who are capable may be bored and those who are not may struggle. Not all teaching and learning is like this.

The organisational requirements of traditional teaching methods have led to the simplest ideas of learning progression being imposed on learners in their school years. The traditional method demands that one learns and is measured against others who were born in the same year in spite of a diversity of competence, knowledge and learning styles - not only between individuals, but also for one individual across different subjects disciplines. In some contexts the diversity is too great to be accommodated by selection or streaming of learners. Research shows that in mathematìics, sixteen year old students often show a range of competence varying from say that of a ten year old to that of a twenty year old. This problem can be even greater for mixed-experience groups of young adults with varying backgrounds from the world of work.

But this is not new. Ever since the middle ages, learners have had problems with their learning environment, as Adam Martindale remarked on his own education: "My hindrances were many: as first, many teachers, five in fewer years; secondly, none of these the best; thirdly a tedious method then and there used; fourthly, dullards in the same class with me, having power to confine me to their pace!"

At the same time, technology change continues and leads to a regularly updated curriculum in many fields, but particularly in technological disciplines. The needs of society mean new skills have to be tackled and new disciplines introduced.

The curriculum also becomes richer and multifaceted, many disciplines jostling for the teacher/tutor and learner’s attention. Increasingly, managing the learner’s curriculum to be responsive becomes an administrative as well as pedagogic task and support is necessary for even the most experienced and capable teacher.

3 Open learning?

To resolve these problems, open and flexible learning methods based on sets of competencies have been proposed. ‘Open’ learning can mean one of two things: open entry to learning opportunities, without formal qualification, which is designed to encourage those who would not otherwise join courses; or open access to learning allowing learners to choose where, when, how and in what order and at what pace they study. Flexible learning involves some combination of these dimensions of choice, but too many degrees of freedom can be difficult to manage. In addition, due to a changing world of work in society, we expect learners to consider life-long learning as their goal.

4 Strength in numbers

It is useful to appreciate how supportive the traditional forms of teaching have been for learners: they would know where to learn - in a classroom; they would know when - according to a timetable; they would know how - often by instruction from an enthusiast; they would know about key points in the year - examinations, holidays, transitions to new courses; and they would certainly know that it would all stop at some point in the future and that they could then get on with real life and earn money. Most importantly they had friends and colleagues going through the same processes at each point of their learning career - if a learner was unsure about when, what, where or how then they could simply follow their peers. Their peers also provide a 'norm' against which the learner can measure their competence.

5 Support for open learning

If learners are to cope with flexible, life-long learning to meet ∫their own and society’s needs, they require support for the many decisions and uncertainties that arise. This implies greater awareness of their own learning process, responsibility for planning learning & setting targets, self assessment & testing and reflection on progress. The teacher or tutor is also faced with a new style of working which involves facilitating learning rather than delivering knowledge. The components in such a learning environment include rich sets of learning activities graded to match the desired competency levels and categorised by topic; suggested pathways for working through the materials together with guidance on how to set targets; tests to identify starting points and to measure progress; advice to learners on how to maintain portfolios of evidence from their activities to prepare for formal assessment; support for self-reflection on learning styles and competency to present a profile of current progress.

Depending on the degree of flexibility, these components can be offered by direct guidance from the teacher or tutor or can depend on the learner completely. Traditionally paperwork, audio and video and mixed media study packs are used to deliver many of these components. Computers can help organise flexible learning by interactively offering much of the simpler guidance directly in context with some learning activities - in particular those tackling underpinning knowledge presented through multimedia techniques.

6 Multimedia materials

Multimedia is the integration of digital media such as text, sound, graphics, animation, and video. Interactive control and novel, meaningful combinations of these media make multimedia materials highly appropriate for presentation of learning materials. For example, digital video can include not only video and sound tracks but also multiple text tracks permitting sub-titling, alternative languages, keyword labelling and data to be linked to a movie.

Interactivity lets learners choose pace and route through material, take risks without penalty and in the case of simulations show the consequences of decisions made by the learner. Ready repetition of key details, in the control of the learner, can help comprehension and omission of familiar material can avoid boredom. Interactive control by the learner can increase motivation, empower the learner and lead to greater autonomy.

7 Multimedia is natural

To many adults, multimedia seems demanding, sophisticated, expensive and even frivolous. To young learners it is no more than the expected, since their real environment includes all the ‘media’ and it’s no surprise to them when television or animated games appear on a computer screen. Multimedia also benefits learners by offering redundancy in the presentation of information: text may be presented alongside picture and overlaid with sound, each part telling the same story and reinforcing each other.

This strongly communicative approach helps learners make sense of challenging material and offers choice and support to the learner who is not skilled in reading text or who finds listening difficult. Where text alone can only create context by extensive description, multimedia can quickly establish the circumstances of learning which help learners understand meaning by filling the metaphorical ‘white space’ between the words and letters.

We have special words for people who have impairments of speech, writing, vision or hearing; we have special words for computers with all these attributes. Its likely that we will see computers without these capabilities as disabled in the very near future.

Competence with text has been the major defining factor in learning, which makes a very narrow pathway for learners to achieve success. Multimedia offers a broader path allowing competence with speech, listening and visual interpretations to stand alongside writing and reading. Multimedia may redefine literacy.

8 Multimedia and affect

Well designed interactive multimedia also offers learners delight, influencing them to enjoy the learning experience - their 'affective' mode. Although to many, delight may not seem an appropriate factor in the serious business of learning, it is clearly effective in helping learning take place. Delight in this sense is motivating and memorable: in the philosophy of W. Edwards Deming, inventor of the notion of quality in business management, it is not adequate to simply satisfy customers (learners in this case) it is necessary to delight them, with the consequence that delighted customers become your best sales representatives and in the case of learning, perhaps engender a learning culture. Alongside the concept of delight in learning is the element of surprise. Computer software can offer random elements which surprise the learner, avoid repetition and maintain interest & motivation.

9 Selecting multimedia

There is a considerable amount of multimedia materials available to choose from - many are 'multimediocre', offering surface 'gloss' but little depth or learning. Materials which do not offer some degree of progression and continuity are to be avoided - students should be able to work at their level of competence and avoid repetition of material already known. Materials that can be used immediately but also adapted by the tutor (or learner) are more likely to be adopted than those which impose inflexible pedagogy or alienate those involved.

There are many technical criteria related to media and design quality such as the use of appropriate colour, contrast, layout and human computer interface. More important is that the materials offer learners ownership and control over the learning environment - self-paced learning means that the software does not take over, but responds effectively to students expressed need. Three models of involvement can be identified - narrative, interactive, participative. Television offers narrative modes where the learner simply watches and responds. Most multimedia products permit interactive modes of use, but not so many are designed for the learner to be in participative mode where the learner is actively involved in reconstruction or representation of knowledge: learning by doing.

Materials should also support the learner in making sense of their progress and revealing explicitly the curriculum covered and the alternative levels to be adopted. Working with others can develop a sense of competence in a competitive way - more often welcome when learners are working independently of the teacher. Some of these ideas are well expressed in popular and successful computer games which keep people involved for long periods of time.

10 Developing multimedia

Multimedia development is becoming increasingly straightforward technically, but nevertheless requires a multidisciplinary team of authors to create high quality materials. Typically, programmers, graphic designers, animators, subject specialists and learning experts are involved. Video materials can involve film crews, actors and scriptwriters. A major aspect of developing multimedia is the design of interactivity and hypermedia links - authors are familiar with linear narrative, but creating non-linear pathways can be challenging.

Key design elements include careful consideration of the learning requirement and what knowledge is to be presented. Designing accurate self-assessment on the computer is necessary to allow students to progress independently and with confidence, but this is not easy except for testing factual recall. More complex competencies best depend on students assessing their own performance in simulation situations where the intended outcome is understood and the consequences of students decisions are shown by the software. Artificial intelligence techniques for tutoring complex student performance are not well developed: human assessors are very successful in identifying partially correct but adequate responses, but the computer cannot readily support this important aspect of learning.

The development process is iterative and although capable of some automation, is a craft rather than a manufacturing process: user testing is critical for success. Analysis of design failure provides the basis for creative development.

CD-ROM is highly cost effective for distribution of multimedia learning materials, costing less than 50c per disk to reproduce in quantity, yet storing 650 Mb of data. Retail prices for CD-ROM materials usually reflect the more significant development costs as well as production costs.

11 Internet

The Internet offers large quantities of information from countless educational institutions and, increasingly, commercial organisations across the world. Most importantly, it also offers human communication between individuals and groups and opportunities for very small enterprises to publish on a very large scale at low cost.

Currently the Internet is offering new opportunities for learning, managing learning and coordinating the learning environment at all levels. Teachers and learners are naturally collaborative individuals who benefit from the possibilities for debate, constructive criticism, access to information and sharing of resources. Internet connections can support these functions across a wide community of education and training, permitting self-help groups to develop and sustain knowledge transfer. This community building can be local, national and international widening access to education and training. Crucially, 'identity' is needed for individuals to enhance participation and reasonably cheap connection time to encourage risk-taking with this new environment. Organisation infrastructure, leadership and information services must be provided to augment basic communication and this can solve problems for both authorities and the education community by maintaining awareness of technology and curriculum change and by helping to put policy into practice. In the medium term, Internet may replace CD-ROM as a delivery mechanism for multimedia resources, but there is still a place for CD-ROM until broadband, inexpensive network infrastructure is in place.

12 Conclusions

We should provide learning opportunities which are and continue to be more responsive to individuals and to technological, curricular and societal change. In order to achieve this, learning resources must be organised, learner competencies identified and guidance for both teachers/tutors and learners developed, to support open and flexible learning. Multimedia computers have a major role to play both in presenting knowledge, organising learning, communicating guidance and as tools for learners which change our definition of literacy. Participative Internet tools facilitate the natural capacity for humans to collaborate and to react rapidly to technological and societal change, which in part is promoted by Internet itself. Our opportunity is to help learners access knowledge, teachers develop professionally and all to excel in building learning for the future, but without forgetting the lessons of the past.

(Words: 2590 )

Filed under:

Lewis Carroll describes a fictional map that had:

"the scale of a mile to the mile."

A character notes some practical difficulties with such a map and states that:

"we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."
— Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Lewis Carroll, 1893

Timeline instructions

- Drag in the timeline to move it left and right

- Double-click in the overview to centre there

- Click on an event to see a summary

- Click on the summary's title to read more


Timeline key:

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. education & The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. employment

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. project

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. professional

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. conference

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. publication

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. teaching

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'.selected for the PhD