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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsIncorporating blended learning into the way a training organisational college runs will cost additional time to plan and develop. But here, we're going to look at how to plan for the payoff. Is it feasible to improve both learner experience and teacher workload? Well, we've defined collaborative learning as a mix of learning through discussion, practice, production. It's complex. But it doesn't need to increase class time if it runs online. So by setting learners a task to work on together, there's a good chance of promoting more effective discussion. Because it's focused on putting their understanding into practice.

Skip to 0 minutes and 42 secondsSo in this example, the learners are asked to work in a small group, in an online forum, to practice doing something like designing something, or observing something, or summarising what they've seen. So first, they work individually. Then they share it with their group and agree on the best way to complete the task. So it could be something like a safety instruction, or an observation of someone's behaviour, or a summary of what they learned from a video. And each learner has had to think about this on their own, but also has the chance to work on improving it with help from other learners. Their discussion has to be focused.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 secondsAnd it's explicitly about the task, which helps to elicit more thinking about the topic. The advantage of posting their output in a public place where it will be voted on is that this learning through production motivates them to make it as good as possible, and also gives the teacher a sense of how well they've done the task, and what more feedback they might need. So here, the teacher has generated a learning design that includes a practical task that takes learners, say, 30 minutes individual work, 20 minutes discussion, and 10 minutes production to post their output.

Skip to 1 minute and 59 seconds10 minutes, then, to learn from other groups by looking at and voting on their outputs, and five minutes to read or listen to the teacher's feedback. And the teacher time needed to run it is about 10 minutes to look through the outputs, depending on how many groups there are and how complex the output is, and 20 minutes to think about and record their feedback. That's a total of 30 minutes for 75 minutes of a quite intense learning activity, running mostly without the teacher being involved. Then there's the time to prepare the activity. It would take a good hour to prepare and set it up from scratch. But once done, of course, it can be rerun with much less preparation.

Skip to 2 minutes and 40 secondsAlternatively, by sharing designs of this kind we can reuse something already developed. So you could now copy or import this activity into your own Moodle or other VLE in much less time than if you were starting from scratch.

Collaborative learning to improve learner support

Before we consider the institutional responsibility to invest in blended learning, we consider here how the individual teacher can cope more easily with increased student numbers, while maintaining the quality of the learning experience.

Increasing the number of learners need not necessarily mean increasing staff workload, or reducing individual support time, if we can use technology to improve the tutor’s use of their time.

The video shows how we can.

It shows an example of using a VLE to orchestrate small group work so that learners help each other, and together produce something the teacher can work through quickly to give constructive feedback to all of them. It’s a blended learning design that could be used in many different topic areas.

The document ‘A learning design for ‘Collaborating to draft a good assignment’ [PDF] applies the same idea to a different type of assignment. This is an output from the Learning Designer. You can view this in the Learning Designer, where you access it from the Browser screen under Education Sector – Suitable for Vocational Education.

You can also link to it in our Moodle Hub where you can look through a working version to see how the design is meant to help learning through collaboration. (If you haven’t yet set-up an account to access the Moodle Hub, please visit this page.)

The text of the design is also available in the Downloads as the document ‘Moodle Hub learning design on ‘Collaborating to draft a good assignment’ [PDF].

This should be an effective learning experience, and yet, once created, could take less teacher time than running the same design in class. This is because it pushes some of the evaluative feedback onto the learners themselves, as they work together. It makes the tutor feedback and support time more efficient because they are commenting on a small number of learner outputs, which is feedback to all of them.

Finding ways to improve both staff workload and learning experience does NOT mean reducing the need for teachers. Learners are getting less and less individual support time from their teachers. Yet the more we widen participation, the more we bring into education and training the learners who are most likely to need that kind of support.

We will return to this activity later in Step 2.6, when you can try adapting it to your own learning context.

Have your say:

  • Would this kind of orchestrated small group work online be feasible for your learners?
  • Can you see this as a way of BOTH improving learner outcomes AND reducing teacher workload for such an activity?

This video is from the free online course:

Blended Learning Essentials: Embedding Practice

University of Leeds