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According to Schwartz(2008), 'Teaching is a dynamic transaction between mind, materials, outcomes and goals. Teachers teach; learners learn - all within the context of a complex cognitive and socio-cultural environment that is evolving faster than at any other time in the history of education'. Schwartz(2008) states that one of the reasons for this is the impact of technological advances on the education system. The students of today live in a highly technological world. They are surrounded by gadgets and bombarded by information. They use technology for recreation, communication and information. We as educators have a duty to embrace technology and use it to benefit all stakeholders involved. But how can we ensure that technology is not used just because we think it should but as something that enriches the experience of the learner. How do we balance the use of technology and the needs of the learner? As Pedagogy Strategy(2005)states 'Making technologies available does not of itself result in changed teaching methods or in the level of learning outcomes. Effective use of ICT in education requires appropriate pedagogies.' We have to ensure that the use of technology has meaning and purpose.
There is a plethora of research on the concept of blended learning . Blended learning, according to Rodgers(2009), is 'executing a learning strategy that integrates multiple delivery modalities (both synchronous and asynchronous) and, in doing so, creating the best possible learning solution for your target audience'. Blended learning requires the learner to be at the centre of the process and ensuring that it is the right environment for the right learner. In business blended learning can be seen as the right combination at the lowest costs, this applied to education would be the right combination at the greatest learning outcome. Dzakiria et.al (2006) quoting Driscoll's work, sees blended learning as combining web-based technology to produced an 'optimal learning outcome'. In business you have to know your market, in education it is crucial that you know your learner and a one size fits all philosophy does not work. Dzakiria et.al.(2006) argues that we need to see the students as the primary educational client, their perspectives and experiences, and the learning support mechanism for effective learning outcomes. It is essential that pupils own their learning, that they lead their learning and they are at the centre of the process.
Technological advances has resulted in the use of blended learning strategies in business, universities and schools. The potential of the use of blended learning for e-assessment is mindblowing. JISC INFONET(****) states that 'assessment is one of the most significant areas of an educational system. It defines what students take to be important, how they spend much of their academic time and in many ways how they value themselves.' Assessment is crucial to the learner as long as it has a clear and defined purpose. The use of e-assessment can use the central philosophy of blended learning and give the learner control over their learning and assist their learning. E-assessment has advantages , JISC INFONET(****) states that it allows instant feedback, allows time for revision, staff get immediate feedback and this can be linked to other online materials. Although there are concerns over the use of E-assessment. E-assessment itself may save time but the time it takes to initially set up such an assessment cannot be underestimated. ***** can extended
The development of personal learning environments (PLEs) has opened up the potential of the learning not just being the centre of the learning process but leading the learning themselves. The potential, especially for school aged pupils could be great. Imagine an PLE which gives a record of a child online from the moment they walk into education to the time they leave at 16 or 18. What if that record continues to university ? What if that continues constantly as we embark on 'lifelong learning'? This will in turn have a tremendous effect on teaching and learning. Becta (2007) suggests that PLE's 'offers a portal to the world, through which learners can explore and create according to their own interests and directions, interacting at all times with their friends and community.' Harmelen(2006) suggests that the development of PLE's is motivated by the needs of the lifelong learner and for a system that provides a standard interface, a response from the fact that the learner's e-system needs to be under the control of the learner and the needs of the learner themselves. Taraghi et. al. (2010) talks of using the MashUp principle which 'will allow learners to build their own learning environment'. The potential of PLEs in education is revolutionary. Downs(2009), states that 'future learning environment which becomes not an institutional or corporate application, but also a learning center, where content is reused and remixed according to the student's own needs and interests. It becomes, indeed, not a single application, but a collection of interoperating applications - an environment rather than a system'. Research is being undertaken to look at how PLE's will address a learners learning and the effect and implications on teaching. But Taraghi et. al. (2010) points out that traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS) are not flexible enough to provide an effective PLE system. Taraghi et. al. (2010) points out that, 'even current research cannot point out what a highly personalised learning environment should look like in detail'. Using a PLE to address lifelong learning would require looking at the big picture not one specific element of a learner's learning. In the past developments have been centred on specific stages in education but now we need to ensure the learner's needs are addressed throughout their learning journey. Atwell (2007) states, 'if not continuous, learning is now seen as multi episodic, with individuals spending occasional periods of formal education and training throughout their working life.' PLE's will have to address both the ideas of continuous learning and the periods of informal learning that a learner encounters. Formal learning itself , according to Atwell(2007) accounts for only 20 per cent of a learner's learning. In the past educational technology has paid little or no attention to informal learning a PLE could address this issue. PLE's could be used for anyone who wants to organise their own learning. Taraghi et.al. (2010) defines seven crucial aspects for the shift from LMS to PLE:
The role of the learner
Educational and organisational culture
PLE's could bring together the vast amount of different technology that a learner uses under one umbrella. Making it distinct and personalised to that learner, involve the technologies they like to use and address their specific learning styles. The learner could decide their preferences to how they study, present information etc. The learner can decide on their own content and study the areas they decide to help with their learning. The learner could in essence develop a learning environment that addresses their specific needs at their current stage in education. Milligan quoted in BECTA(2007) believes PLE's 'would give the learner greater control over their learning experience(managing their resources, the work they have produced, the activities they participate in) and would constitute their own personal learning environment, which they could use to interact with institutional systems to access content, assessment, libraries and the like'.
Atwell (2007) states that PLE's 'are not an application but rather a new approach to the use of new technologies for learning. There remain many issues to be resolved. But, at the end of the day, the argument for the use of Personal Learning environments in not technical but rather is philosophical, ethic and pedagogic.'
This wealth of evidence of learning would result in a e-portfolio which could potentially chart a learner from the moment they enter the education system. There could potential be a wealth of tangible evidence which could be used as evidence for qualifications or as an example of what a potential employee may be capable of. Cohn and Hibbitts(2004) suggest that an e-portfolio 'stimulates our students to engage in reflective thinking'. What is evident is the idea that we have to be careful that e-portfolios are closely linked to the ideas of PLE's. If we are making personal learning environments which are unique to the learner, we do not want to then create an e-portfolio which is one size fits all, it also has to be personalised to the learner, incorporate the learners learning styles and preferences. Learning and assessment are intertwined, hence if we talk about producing a PLE then the idea of an e-portfolio must form a crucial element of such an environment. Gulbahar and Tinmaz(2006) suggests that the idea of an e-portfolio keeps students focused on the learning process rather than the end product. They suggest that 'By the use of e-portfolios, students have the chance to reflect upon their learning and teachers have the opportunity to provide detailed feedback on students' work.' Research undertaken by Gulbarhar and Tinemaz(2006) suggested that using an e-portfolio was favoured by all the students in their study. They concluded that i gave the students a 'great chance for self improvement' and it also 'demonstrated a learning centres model for teacher candidates.' The students also gained more knowledge and associated it with real life context.