Background to research

where london learns

The City Literary Institute

The City Lit is one of the largest providers of Adult Education, based in central London.  It delivers more than 5000 courses annually.  These are facilitated by industry experts who are not necessarily career teachers.  Current expansion of our programme, including a Summer school programme, has required many more teaching staff to be employed to deliver these niche courses.  Most of them do not have teaching experience or training.  In order to ensure effective facilitation and checking of learning, it was necessary for these occasional teachers to gain a basic understanding of Adult learners and teaching strategies.  Past experience of and research into training part-time teachers, identified the main barriers to training were constraints of time and reluctance to invest any time and effort into engaging in lengthy accredited training.  Providing national ITE qualifications through the blended mode of delivery does offer a more flexible mode (Bhote, 2013) but still requires substantial engagement with self-study and coursework.  It is often a requirement from an employer for their sessional staff to obtain the initial national teaching qualification for this sector.  However, this may not apply to a vocational expert delivering occasional teaching sessions, which happens at the City Lit, and the same may be true of similar professionals teaching in small community based organisations.  Nevertheless, it is important that the learning experience meets the participant’s expectations and enables them to achieve the learning outcomes.  Therefore, an option was to provide these professionals with a short online module that would enable them to engage with specific resources that would enable them to gain the knowledge, skills and attitudinal approach required for adult learning.

There is currently no specific research into training constraints for very sessional vocational teachers in England.  However, having previously developed and evaluated the effectiveness of an online course for facilitators of informal learning, it was found that “this heutagogical experience of self-determined learning, an approach that provides an enriched teaching methodology for lifelong learning in the 21st century, was found to support these group leaders of informal learning” (Ashton and Newman, 2006, cited in Bhote, 2013:9). Similarly, my research into a blended version of the Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) programme identified feedback from participants that online learning did not have “any adverse impact on the development of their theoretical knowledge or practical skills” (Bhote 2013:7).  Taking into consideration the results of this previous research, I considered developing a short online training module, called the Teacher’s Toolkit, and offering it as a pilot to currently recruited teachers with resources that targeted achievement of specific outcomes as outlined in the course publicity (Figs. 1a and 1b).

My practice and experience has been primarily into Practitioner action research.  As an educator and teacher educator, reflection-in action is a skill developed over the years, following Kolb’s experiential cycle.  This is a particularly useful skill for “coming to grips with (…) constantly changing and turbulent environments” (O’Brien, 1998), such as Education and Training.  The purpose of this current research is not intended to solve a ‘problem’ as no problem was perceived, eg. poor teaching.  Therefore, action research methodology was the perfect option for a practical approach to address the constraints of time and flexibility for new teachers and provide them with an opportunity for a quick dip into training that would support their new practice.  This exemplifies Dewey’s perception of educational action research (O’Brien, 1998) as a method used by professionals who are engaged in developing programmes for professional development.  Another consideration within the process of action research is application of ethical principles.  Winter (1996, cited in O’Brien, 1998) identifies these considerations as consultation with and acceptance of the research principles by those involved at the start of the research and throughout; the process should remain transparent at all times.  Further, the researcher has to obtain permissions (Fig 2) and assure the participants of confidentiality by anonymising the results.



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