Category Archives: Blended Learning

Pre-work – Is it work or isn’t it?


ringbinderPre-work!  There’s no such thing.  Pre-work! – what exactly do we mean by this? Work is either work or it’s not.  And if it’s not ‘work’ what is it?  Is it reading?  If so, reading is something you do therefore it’s work!  Is it watching (a video)?  If so, it’s still doing ergo work.  There’s nothing ‘pre’ about it.  Are you getting the drift?

Of course, to make any sort of sense, it’s got to stand for ‘pre-course work’ but even that’s equally confusing.  Let’s explore.

The reason for this little rant is that my pet-hate of a phrase (as if you have yet guessed) has been rearing its ugly head quite a lot lately.  I’ve read a few blog posts, articles and had conversations with people where these terms are being handed out without any thought about their implications.  It’s always baffled me when people use this term.  I mean, really!  Even when traditional classroom training was the default delivery, we were very often given ‘pre-course work’ to do.  The term indicates that it some sort of activity (usually reading) that needs to be done before attending the course.  Students are usually provided with details of this as part of their joining instructions or booking confirmation.  And what do they do?  Well, the don’t do they?  This pre-course work is often (to be fair not always) forgotten.  Usually, it’s down to their perception that this pre-course work is optional.  After all, if it was necessary, it would be actually part of the course wouldn’t it? Its often provided with no clear guidelines about what they should do with it or how it’s going to be used when they arrive at the classroom.  There’s no real deadline apart from the date of the classroom course and more often than not there’s no tutor support or facilitation.

This all tells the student that if the tutors/facilitators can’t be bothered to put that effort in then why should they?  OK, I might be being a little unfair but it gets my point across.

Now us learning designers know that isn’t the case.  We’ve toiled for hours carefully creating this material and determining its importance in the course design.  I too have thrown my hands up in the air, looked skywards and silently screamed when set work hasn’t been carried out.  So why, if we have determined that this work is a necessary part of the course do we insist on calling it ‘pre-course’?  We’re not helping ourselves here.

In today’s multi-media rich world has opened the opportunities of the course to be more than classroom.  There is a wider adoption of blended solutions where different elements of the course are delivered via a range of different media channels.  Some don’t have a classroom element at all.  Strangely enough, those blended solutions where all elements are delivered remotely using a variety of media options are less likely to have ‘pre-course’ work included as it is easier to see it as part of that (likely) online delivery.

But where we do see these blended solutions having a significant classroom delivery element, any set activities outside of the classroom element are still being referred to as ‘pre-course’ or ‘post-course’.  Is it any wonder then  that we still hear concerns from learning designers that their students are unlikely to carry that work out?  Using the phrase ‘pre-course’ perpetuates the misconception that the classroom is still the only place where the real learning happens.  Anything else is less important.  And, sadly, there are learning designers, trainers and facilitators who still think that themselves.

Over the past 5 years I tried to do my bit to persuade people to think differently about using the term ‘pre-course’ work and to consider using terms such as ‘part 1, part 2 or stage 1, stage 2.  It will also help when we no long consider the bulk of the learning/training to take place in the classroom and concentrate on the course being the content not the classroom.

So, come on folks, no more ‘pre-course work’ – please!

An Olympic Online Opportunity

 

 

 

 

At 12:49 on Wednesday 6 July 2005, I was travelling in Staffordshire to a training venue listening for the imminent announcement of who was going to ‘win’ the Olympic Games for 2012.  Now, I’m not a big sports fanatic but I couldn’t help but join in very excitedly with a big ‘WHOOP WHOOP!’ as Jacque Rogge made the announcement ….. LONDON.

Seven years later and it’s nearly here and Olympic fever has begun.  But along with the kudos comes chaos.  Now we’re hearing about all the disruption the Games are going to create.  It’s already started with Olympic organisers creating an Olympic route network meaning roadworks.

With the disruption to day to day business with journeys to work affected, higher than usual annual leave requests, pressures on transport systems and road networks, the advice given in the ‘preparing your business for the games‘ LOC publication to businesses is:

Millions of additional trips are expected on public transport and the road network in London and the UK … This could potentially disrupt your employees’ journeys, business travel, deliveries/collections, and the operations of suppliers, other contractors and freight.  To keep your businesses running, you should aim to reduce the need to travel and make essential journeys at less busy times or by using different modes or routes.

Over the past few months several delegates on my courses have talked about their organisations being encouraged to allow staff to work from home where they’re not needed to be in the office/building.

Of course, this doesn’t just mean problems for day to day working but also day to day training/learning.  Fortunately, if key people in these organisations are on the ball, they will see there is a way around some of this disruption.  Where live conversations are needed to take place, whether it’s to discuss on ongoing project or as part of a planned training course, we have the technology.  We’ve been communicating via e-mail for years.  The concept of collaborating remotely is not new but we’ve yet to embrace the live online environment.  Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown.  Perhaps it’s bad experiences of them in the past.  But now – and I mean now and not in a few months time as an afterthought – is the time to make the most of the technology at our fingertips and start working (and learning) smarter.  If we start investigating as soon as possible how best to engage our live online participants (audience is too passive a word), we’ll be on the winning team by a long shot.

We certainly do have an Olympic opportunity.

Opening up the walled garden

If you have a little over 1hour and 17 minutes to spare, here is a very interesting debate from late 2009 (but still topical nonetheless) on the whether the VLE (virtual learning environment) is dead and that the PLE (personal learning environment) is the way to go for learning.

Image for YouTube Video The VLE is Dead

Click the link to view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6KnJPeAWog

I’m going to sit firmly on the fence here. It might get a little uncomfortable at times and I can waver a little but for me certain things come to mind before we force a decision.  Perhaps we’ll be throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Do we really know what our VLE can do?
Have we taken enough time to investigate the functionality?
Have we exercised enough creativity in what we could do with it and in it?
Did we forget to ‘be there’ providing that human touch or have we just left our students to their own devices with merely a map to guide them through the maze of content.
Are we going to going to remain within our secret walled garden of the VLE or could we, as Dicken and Mary did in the novel ‘The Secret Garden’, unlock the door enjoy the best of both worlds?

Remember that we can easily create doorways out into the social world and PLEs with the use of links. For instance, one activity within the VLE could be to take a conversation beyond the walled garden and out into a social network where students could share resources more easily, upload photos and videos for comment and discussion and return to the VLE to post a conclusion or analysis of their ‘field trip’. Maybe you’d create a Facebook account for the course or a Twitter account using hashtags for grouping the assignment conversations (after establishing whether your audience can access these of course), the limitations are really only your imagination.

Maybe we need to invest a little more time into these creative ideas and encourage the meeting of these worlds rather than an exclusion of one or the other. It’s not always necessary to make a decision between one or another.

Another case for blending methinks.