In addition to our four-stage blended learning teacher training, since 2015 the LearnIT2Teach project has been developing, piloting and hosting online training for Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) managers or lead teachers. The aim has been to encourage emerging learning technology leadership and build knowledge and awareness of blended learning opportunities and challenges facing local leaders.
In this report the author looks at the survey results from participants and the lessons for course enhancement. He also includes many thoughtful quotes posted on course discussion boards by participants. For anyone interested in innovating with LINC blended learning, the report has useful information about what LINC leaders are encountering as they try to put LINC blended learning to work in their institutions. The result is a summary of important lessons for the sector about learning technology innovation.
With so much discussion of the place of information technology in learning today, perhaps nowhere is it more relevant than the settlement language training sector of adult education. Language educators are asking: What are appropriate applications of technology? How can technology serve adult newcomers? Can e-learning improve language program outcomes? Can it increase learner participation and retention in language training programs?
From an adult newcomer’s point of view, how can information technology assist the immigration project? Can technology skills facilitate learning English and enable more flexible, accessible course delivery? Government funders and policymakers are asking all of these questions AND if learning technology innovation can make settlement language training more effective and efficient.
What follows in this Executive Summary is a description of the evaluation standards with recommendations culled from the body of this report:
STANDARD 1 Development of personal leadership skills to support learning technology innovation in an SLT program
Progressive SLT professionals still encounter serious local challenges even when they do understand the role of leadership in the innovation process. Additional evidence to indicate how well this standard was achieved by participants would have been available if their plans for local innovation were more evolved by the end of the last unit of the courses. A better developed local plan should be a requirement in future iterations of the courses. For example, in future participants could be required to write and define their personal role and next steps toward meeting local blended language training challenges.
STANDARD 2 Understanding of the roles that each stakeholder (funders, managers, teachers and learners) play in successful learning technology integration
Many discussion board postings reflected a high awareness of the needs and perspectives of managers, teachers and learners. The missing element was the role of funders and the need for service providers to engage with funder(s) to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities represented by better practices in learning technology, especially flexible delivery models and improve program outcomes and effectiveness.
Recommended is continued engagement with and among the participants in the course to share experiences and lessons in building innovation partnerships with funder(s). The next step is gathering ‘alumni’ in webinars, ongoing discussion boards (i.e. what’s happened since the courses ended), and longitudinal surveys.
STANDARD 3 Understanding of the innovation process and the foundations of Innovations Theory
The recommendation in Standard 2 to continue to support ‘alumni’ intercommunication through webinars, surveys and discussion boards to enhance understanding and skill to support
the innovation process also applies to this standard. Ongoing engagement will encourage shared practice and lessons learned by reflecting experiences of the local innovation process across a range of service providers.
In addition, the course design included a requirement for a ‘capstone’ assignment at the end of Part 2; a rather vague requirement for the participant to provide the foundation of a plan for continued local innovation with blended learning. This assignment generated very uneven and incomplete responses. A first recommendation is to revise the Part 2, Unit 6 assignment to be more structured and specific. This assignment should also be leveraged to provide the agenda for ongoing Community of Practice discussions, including local progress reports in the months and even years following the course.
STANDARD 4 Increased awareness of theory and evidence which supports better learning technology practices in the SLT sector
To expand on the case for learning technology presented in the course, more evidence is required. Evidence for LINC blended learning that exists, as reflected in the forums, is mainly anecdotal or culled from other, non-immigrant, research on modes of language training. A demonstration research project located in a service provider organization that has made the transition to LINC blended learning (Edulinc) could begin by looking at the courseware’s impact on learning and teaching. Potential questions to be posed to the research could examine gains in self-efficacy, language proficiency or settlement-adaptation.
STANDARD 5 Understanding of core persuasion and leadership strategies to support learning technology innovation within the participant’s organization
Participation in the course by sector professionals was voluntary, and we can surmise that they self-selected as technology innovators. Most had already taken steps locally in their programs to implement blended learning. Rogers research posits an organizational S-curve to describe the rate of adoption for an innovation, typically beginning with an initial adoption by a few individuals, and progressing toward the final innovation stage when just a few outliers eventually adopt. In the LTIL training, participants’ local innovation projects were all past the initial stage but otherwise, each of their innovation instances was unique in terms of the barriers and opportunities it faced (Rogers, 2005, p.23). The survey and discussion board data indicate positive thoughtful responses to the readings on leadership in the course. For greater certainty under this standard and others, a scale that encouraged participants to rate and comment for each reading, podcast or video in the course would provide additional data to assess the impact of the curricula.
STANDARD 6 Awareness of the role program evaluation and effective communication can play in supporting local learning technology innovation
Evaluation questions were specific to the latter units of the training, mainly the final unit of Part 2. Beginning the evaluation discussion earlier in the course and threading it through earlier units is a recommendation.
STANDARD 7 Articulation of a plan for local learning technology innovation.
All participants were actively engaged in the courses in discussing and sharing planning. However, a more structured capstone assignment requiring development of the broad elements of a local plan for blended learning technology innovation should be a requirement of future iterations of the course.
A revised Part 2, Unit 6 assignment would be something like this: “Address your personal role in innovation in your language training program and your response to the blended language training innovation challenge and your strategy for moving your program forward. Include your next steps to implementing blended learning in your language training program, your approach to leadership and your mid and longer term strategy for implementation and ongoing evaluation.”
STANDARD 8 Ongoing engagement in an online community of settlement language training practitioners.
The project should encourage all alumni to engage in an ongoing Community of Practice by creating further opportunities to share goals, plans, challenges, barriers and opportunities for blended learning innovation beyond the time frame of the online course.