The digital domain is increasingly becoming used in learning provision. The emergence of MOOCs is a global phenomenon, online learning management systems are used in classroom settings, and blended forms of learning are practiced in work-based learning.
Not only is the digital domain being used more and more in intended learning trajectories, people use the digital domain as an enormous learning resource as well. Everybody searches online to learn how to fix a tyre, find pancake recipes, learn about a country he or she wishes to visit, learn about Malcolm Knowles or find information on the history of the European Union (ok, not everybody does this).
So, digital learning impacts how adult education is organised by learning providers, but also how adults learn.
Impact on learning providers
Digital learning is not something new. Adult learning providers have traditionally offered different kinds of distance learning opportunities; initially with the intention to reach out to non-traditional learners (for instance the Open Universities).
Further incorporating the digital domain in their learning offer has consequences for adult learning providers. For them to organise effective online learning environments and use online learning tools, a number of issues are important to take into consideration, such as:
- The instructional design and engagement of learners
- Target groups and outreach strategies
- The institutional strategy, policies and the funding opportunities
- Change from ‘providers’ to ‘content developers’
- Timing of courses and institutional flexibility
- Human resources personnel having the right sets of skills and competences
- Infrastructure and resources that relate to IT systems
- Communication with learners and the tone of voice
- Assessment of learning outcomes
- Quality assurance
- Privacy and (possibly) the use of ‘big data’ to enhance study results
Each issue presents considerable challenges that should be addressed at the level of learners, providers and policy makers.
Impact on the way adults learn
People work online, communicate online, engage online. All in all, they live online. It comes as no surprise then, that they also learn online. In the digital domain, when compared to how learning takes place in other domains, some interesting shifts are noticeable in relation to learning:
- The role of learners is changing; they increasingly take the role of organisers
- The learning itself is more related to instruction (how to) instead of obtaining knowledge (understanding how things work)
- Content is available at all times (for instance through mobile devices) and so memorising information in less important.
As a result of these shifts, a number of uncertainties can be flagged:
- Are adults equipped to be critical learners in the digital domain?
- In what way can adults be supported in making a lifelong use of digital learning content?
- How do we make sure no-one is left behind in the digital divide and that all people have access online learning resources?
Each question here also raises issues that can be discussed by learners, providers (content developers) and policy makers.
Our own thematic learning environment
In this first blog on learning environments, taking the question on the impact of the digital domain on adult learning as reference, I discussed the broadness of the theme: how providers organise learning and how every environment could be used as learning environment.
As the issues raised affect all of us (both as professionals and learners), I invite you to reflect on them and start discussions with your peers on how you see learning environments, so that this thematic website turns into a learning environment in its own right!
Simon Broek has been involved in several European research projects on education, labour market issues and insurance business. He advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and European Agencies on issues related to education policies, lifelong learning, and labour market issues, and is Managing Partner at Ockham Institute of Policy Support.