For analysing the benefits and challenges of this online training programme, I have referred to a report by Koller et al (2008) in which they have investigated the “rapidly growing phenomenon” of using online training within the sectors of education, government and industry. This report focuses on the benefits and challenges, which are discussed below.
Benefits of the online Teacher’s Toolkit programme
Flexible time-frame fostered accessibility, as was identified in the participants’ evaluation. None of the participants identified the presence of a course trainer as important, in fact, none of them requested any support or feedback whilst they were on the programme. However, whilst evaluating the results with the team, it was agreed that the presence of one would help reassure those who may need support and also to keep up the motivation and momentum through monitoring of participant engagement and sending a reminder to keep the pace going. There are also financial savings of running an online training course, though that was not the goal of this research project. There is minimal use of the trainer’s time, compared to a similar classroom-based course. Scalability can be accommodated as resources would have served a larger group as much as it did the smaller group. This bodes well for future running of the course, i.e. the participating groups can be varied, depending on the number of newly recruited teachers who may not have any previous training. The resources have already been developed so the couple of suggestions, eg. providing extended learning material and an editing option for learners to review drafts of reflective logs, can easily be provided. As is evident from the reflective logs and self-evaluations, participating on the course gave learners an opportunity to build their knowledge of Andragogy through a process of discovery learning. The resources can be re-visited repeatedly, in the learner’s own time, in order to consolidate learning, thus leading to deeper learning.
Challenges of the online teacher’s Toolkit programme
The ‘digital divide’ can be a challenge to online learning. This did not appear to be the case for any of the participants; those who did not complete the course did not report any technology-related issues. The course-related information was first disseminated to the academic staff at a Best practice staff development event, called ‘be-inspired’ which was a day of events in which best practice in using technology for supporting learning was presented by the teachers themselves. The course information clearly outlined the technology being used, including a checklist of hardware and software requirements. Access to the e-learning team was also identified if the participants encountered any technological issues. None were reported. ‘Social loafing’ (Koller et al, 2008) can be another challenge and that was evident from the results. Usually this happens when there is no identified course teacher to refer to for support. Though one was available on this programme, none of the participants requested any support. As the non-completers did not provide any evaluation it is difficult to ascertain if their disengagement was as a result of issues with course material, structure of the course, technology or even the lack of learner-to-learner interaction. A platform was provided in the guise of a Course Discussion Forum and the induction material had explained the benefits of creating a community of practice. However, as has been evident from past experience, the main motivator of online learning is flexibility and forum discussions are, therefore, not a priority for the participants, generally. Initially, some of them participated by sharing their bio, no further communication was sustained between the learners. Consequently it is not possible to measure the attrition rate on this programme. Another challenge can be accessibility. Though Moodle is a familiar VLE, and has accessibility adaptation available, this should have been clearly identified in the induction material. The Head of Staff Development had issues with the size of the online text which could have been easily resolved if the help information had been provided. An informal chat with one of the participants identified lack of time. Their suggestion was to keep the module as an open resource for anyone to delve into as and when needed and also the opportunity for a ‘roll-on, roll-off’ enrolment structure. There are issues related to this, as open-ended programmes generally result in low motivation to complete.
To evaluate the benefits of this Teacher’s Toolkit programme I have used parts of Kirkpatrick’s Taxonomy (Marengo and Marengo, 2005) – focussing on ‘reaction’, ‘training quality’ and ‘progress’.
The evidence that enables measurement of the above was provided by the participants, through the quantitative data for participation and engagement and the qualitative data related to impact. This evidence, gathered from the six completers, is positive. The self-evaluations at the end enable measurement of learner satisfaction with the course generally. The reflective logs identified the teaching skills, which the teachers acquired through this programme. The professional discussion identified forward movement in the facilitation skills and knowledge of the teacher. The interview with the Head of Staff Development confirmed that the course would be a useful first point of training for unqualified teachers coming into adult learning for the first time. If all six completers could have been observed within the time-frame of this project, as initially planned, there would have been more robust evidence available to analyse teaching practice, to see physical evidence of its impact. There is still an intention that more visits will be carried out in the coming academic year, in order to arrive at a more definite conclusion as to the efficacy of the programme.
Maclsaac (1996) identifies “key component involved in action research is the notion of praxis”. However, at the heart of this praxis is effective communication between those involved, including the team and the participants, and reflection by all involved. This gives an element of honesty to the process, where there is genuine purpose for future improvement and resolution of a problem. I feel that this was achieved during this project.
The Head of Staff Development, as a direct result of her participation on the programme, has corroborated that this programme is appropriate for new teachers starting at City Lit. It has been recommended that the Teacher’s Toolkit becomes part of the probationary period of a new teacher starting at the City lit, along with the online induction and Equality and Diversity activities. This has been added to the induction pack to be sent out to future recruited vocational professionals (Fig 10).
There is no doubt that online training programmes have a place in 21st century education. Their ability to move with the pace of changes in the skills sector, scalability and potential for wider geographical access, as well as financial saving, make them a viable option for continuous professional development that is individualised and contextualised, enabling participants to learn and work concurrently. In fact, the 2014 statistics prove that this mode of training and development has grown exponentially (Pappas, 2013). Though these statistics mainly come from industry, they corroborate the premise that online training modules offer busy professionals a viable option for professional and personal growth. For our industry specialists, albeit a small group of six, this programme appears to have been this viable option, the alternative being no training or a long accredited programme. As one of the participants stated in their self-evaluation, “Overall I’ve taken a lot of value from this and thank you for taking the time to put it together”.