This adult learners that engaged in blended

This proposal aims to incorporateBlackboard as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) into a QQI level 5 CommunityDevelopment programme in an Adult and Community Education Centre in TallaghtWest. This proposal will provide a detailed overview of a VLE and will alsoexplore a rationale for this proposal which will include relevant literature onthe current economic climate, technology and education and the challenges andopportunities for using VLE’s in community education.  Community education andfurther education has changed dramatically in Ireland due to austerity and thevast changes in teacher training, accreditation, assessment and funding. Thesechanges have presented a range of challenges for the community educationsector. Community educators are currently under resourced and a VLE couldsupport financial and time resources for both the learners and the tutor ofthis programme.  Community Educationworks with the most marginalised people in society and in turn provides a rangeof tailored wrap around supports to maintain student engagement and retention.

These include supports in relation to childcare, employability, additionallearning needs, physical disabilities, mental health and providing access toeducation for students in rural or remote areas.  (AONTAS, 2004)This proposal aims tohighlight how using a VLE (Blackboard) will support a wider range of studentswith diverse needs. Virtual Learningenvironments are a form of blended learning, a model that combines face to facelecturing with an online learning component.  Bates (2015) acknowledged that learningmanagement systems or VLE’s are an element of blended learning in that they cancomprise of short visits to a college campus for face to face training, combinedwith a platform to support time off campus to study and engage with content,peers and tutors online.  Information obtained from the Texas EducatingAdults Management System documented, that adult learners that engaged inblended learning outperformed learners that only attended the traditional faceto face classroom.

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Virtual learning environments can offer some stimulatingfeatures for learners and teachers. The online component can be offeredsynchronously (accessed any time) or asynchronously (as the teacher isteaching). This proposal aims to include a synchronously model within a furthereducation programme.  (Rosen et.

Al 2013) ‘A good VLEmakes planning your courses easier, brings digital communication with yourstudents into one easy platform, and allows you to incorporate any form ofmedia you want into each class and assignment. Both you and your students canbenefit from the new features and capabilities the tools bring into theclassroom.’                                            (Gutierrez etal.

, 2018)                        Blackboard VirtualLearning EnvironmentBlackboard is a virtuallearning environment, a password-protected online system for supportingteaching, learning and assessment, as well as blended learning and eLearning. ABlackboard Course is an online extension of the classroom space accessible byboth learners enrolled in the specific course and the lecturer who isresponsible for teaching the course.                            Blackboard has a widerange of tools that can support student learning and engagement. These toolsinclude announcements to keep students up to date with information, staffcontact information, all information relevant to the module, assessmentinformation, and all tutor materials (handouts, PowerPoint, videos andworksheets). Tutors can also provide online quizzes, blogs, journals to supportlearner engagement and discussion boards to support peer collaboration.  (Edshare.soton., 2018) Economic Context AsIrelands emerges from recession and into economic recovery there is a largefocus on the lack of skills in relation to the labour market. It is recognisedthat technology is essential in supporting the growth of the economy. Digitalskills have been highlighted as vital for Ireland’s future in both high end ICTjobs and it is now valued as a basic core competency in all employment sectors.Ireland’spast responses to this issue has been to expand higher education to ensure theskills for the economy are achieved.

There has been little focus on thepotential of further education and training to utilise the competencies foremployees in the workforce. However If Ireland is to compete globally we mustexpand the delivery of digital skills to all areas of education. (FIT, 2014) Ireland’s National Skills Strategy2025,highlights key goals which include Education and Training providers providingskills and opportunities that are relevant to the needs of the learner, societyand the economy with a strong focus on digital inclusion that will support theskills supply for the economy. Bates(2015) highlights key skills and competencies needed for today’s world. Initiallystudents need to develop communication skills. This is not just in terms ofreading, speaking and writing. Students need to become familiar with digitalcommunication skills in order to engage in employment activities. This could becreating a video for a sales pitch, marketing information to large audiences orusing online communication tools in the workplace.

  Students furthermore have to becomeindependent in working out what they need to know and how they can access thatinformation. Teamwork and flexibility are also vital skills and companies nowdepend on online collaboration and possibly work virtually with colleagues andclients. The most fundamental skills are knowledge management. This includesresearch, sharing of ideas over the internet and ensuring reliability in theirknowledge. One of the key skills is to support learners to find, evaluate,analysis and apply information.  Theintroduction of Blackboard as a VLE would support digital literacy skills. Thiswould also support students and tutors to move from traditional modes oflearner to new modes in this current digital space. An example of that would bethe transition from closed private individual systems to a broader open socialspace for in which educational resources are openly available and therefore cansupport a range of students unique learning styles and also support greaterengagement of non- participating students.

 (Beetham et. al 2013) Prerequisite forblended learningPrensky (2001) identifiesthe digital paradigm shift as contributing to a shift in the way students thinkand process information. He distinguishes the difference between digitalnatives and digital immigrants. He understands that digital immigrants willadapt to digital technologies, they will not obtain the level of digitalliteracy as digital natives. He argues that a key challenge is that tutors thatare digital immigrants are struggling to teach digital natives as there is anassumption by tutors that digital natives will learn in the same way thatdigital immigrants have learned in the past. Tutors need to be trained andeducated in the complexity of blended learning and the different ways in whichdigital natives access and retain information. (McMahon, M.

2016)Bates further seesthe importance of integrating blended learning into education programmes due tothe current digital age and the rapid pace of technology development inindividual’s daily lives. The internet has created a paradigm shift ineducation. Batesbelieves that a key component of blended learning as the interactionbetween learners, tutors and online resources within the unique context of theinternet and these elements are essential to online learning. As reputed above, thereappears to be an assumption that digital natives have already acquired keydigital skills from their interaction with computers, gaming and the internet.(Prensky, 2005)However in somedisadvantaged communities where community education practice is located, thismay not be the case. A recent article in the Irish Times shows that just overone-third of households (34 per cent) in Tallaght West do not have a personalcomputer. This figure drops to 28 per cent for Tallaght as a whole. (Census) Thiswould indicate that there is a digital divide in areas of disadvantage andstudents may not have access to the skills or devices to support digitalliteracy.

(The Irish Times, 2018)Theuse of a virtual learning environment can support students to develop digitalliteracy skills and create opportunities for students to develop digitalreadiness skills.  As stated abovestudents are faced with the increasing expectation to have or acquire digitalreadiness skills in technology rich environments in both education andemployment.  Challenges Ifstudents are to engage in a virtual learning environment, tutors and studentsneed to be supported to develop the following skills prior to a blendedlearning programme;·        How to access and return to the VLE.·        How to use tab browsing·        How to click on links that may take themoutside of the VLE·        How to create and save a user ID andpassword·        Be familiar with the navigation ofwebsites·        How to scroll down a page·        How to save written work                                                      (Rosenet. al 2013)·         In areas of disadvantage it is also vital that institutionsprovide the necessary supports for students to engage in a blended learningprogramme. Blended learning cannot happen if there is no access to thetechnology and resources that they need to engage online. In contrast to this,blended learning will support other students that have access to technology athome and therefore support individuals that have issues with childcare,mobility or social anxiety. Once access to technology and digital skills isprovided students can then begin to develop technical and communication skillswhich will support an increase in confidence and they can utilise those skillsin a range of learning or employment contexts.

VLE’s also provide the learnerwith the opportunity to make informed choices on the use of technology on theirown or within a group setting. The development of these skills can pave the wayfor learner’s to create their own learning choices and strategize their ownlearning. (Beetham et. al 2013)A well-kept virtuallearning environment should support all different learning styles which may notalways happen in the traditional classroom. The introduction of a VLE can support student engagement.

Tutors need tobe educated in developing and managing materials for blended learning. One ofthe main considerations is the cognitive load theory which explores memory inthree key areas – the intrinsic load, germane load and the extraneous load. VLE’scan support student engagement in the use of multimedia tools online. However,tutors should keep multimedia videos short as students tend not to watch longervideos and may not engage with the content if the video exceeds 6 minutes.  A conversational style is also recommendedwhen using multimedia as it can create a sense of social partnership whichleads to greater engagement and effort .(Brame, 2016)In conclusion, the introduction ofa VLE into a Community Development QQI programme delivered in a communityeducation setting would be a fantastic resource and tool for both learners andeducators alike.

The blended learning model has the potential to supportretention rates and student engagement due to the diverse components on the VLEand the fact that learners can access information from any location at any timewhich supports different learner needs. It has the potential to eliminategeographical barriers and reach learners in rural areas. It can be costeffective for students as it eliminates travel costs and for tutors in thatinformation will be online so printing won’t be needed as much and once thecontent is uploaded it can be tweaked to suit different cohorts of students.

Ithas the capacity to create a community of online learners. It works with arange of learning styles and also increases digital literacy in the classroomwhich in turn will support employability opportunities for learners and furtheralign with policy on Adult and Community Education.. (Hamad,2017)Additionally detailedplanning must be completed before integrating a VLE into the classroom. It isevident that tutors need to be aware of the changing patterns in which studentslearn and to be mindful of the cognitive load. It is essential that prior tointegration tutors and students are giving the appropriate training andguidance to promote a positive experience of a Virtual Learning Environment inthe programme. 


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