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Learner Needs

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Last updated by Glen
 

Focus

Ensure learner needs are identified and addressed in an ongoing manner.

Explanation

The needs of the learners within the LCO (as identified in the scoping process) need to be continually reassessed each year, bearing in mind the “learner” may be the students, staff, executive, principal, or community. The identification of needs is aligned also with the perceived opportunities collaboration within an LCO can bring to a school. Therefore it is important to engage schools in continuing to raise their awareness. This can be done by promoting the activities of the LCO and wider VLN community through school information/open days, school newsletters, blogs, and news stories in local media.

Secondary schools can also use options meetings and curricula choice booklets to promote online learning opportunities. Once needs are identified, processes and protocols need to be determined to make learning opportunities available. This will involve discussions between schools in how they can make new opportunities available that meet (for example, new classes) the needs of their students within the LCO, and negotiations with other LCO through the VLN community to broker access to existing learning opportunities.

Protocols that need to be considered in respect of learner access will need to cover things such as support for students who will be online learners, the numbers of students that can be catered for in an online programme, and the logistics of shared timetables.

In considering learner access to online programmes you need to be aware of students’:

  • motivation eg. why do they want to take this class?
  • their academic ability, literacy levels, learning style, or prior knowledge
  • independence, maturity, and concentration level
  • self management skills.

These considerations are very important when choosing an online programme that suits the needs of the learner and in the development of learner support structures within a school. Research and experience have shown that academic prowess is not as important a factor in successful online learning as is the commitment of schools and students to be engaged in
their learning.

Indications of a need to participate in online learning (such as enrolment in classes) need to be established ahead of time, well before programmes commence. For example in secondary schools this happens at the end of the previous year, or at the latest, very early in the new year. This will enable the provision of a suitable time to run the programme, and the intake of the appropriate number of students.

The VLN offers facilities for brokerage, enrolment, and timetabling of learning programmes through their website. Here full information about classes available can be listed by LCOs who are offering them, enrolments can be made, and times scheduled. There are some standard protocols around student participation that has been adapted across LCOs in the VLN community as there are many students enrolling outside of their own learning communities. One overarching protocol that underpins the way schools and LCOs operate within the VLN is the premise of ‘reciprocity’. If schools and LCOs want opportunities for their learners to participate, they also need to contribute learning opportunities to the VLN.

However, most LCOs in the VLN will need to meet the needs of their own cluster first.

Action

  • Following ‘learning needs audit’ carried out in scoping phase, discuss with leadership team how they can be met within the LCOs.
  • Investigate learning opportunities available from other LCOs through the Virtual Learning Network.
  • Decide how the needs of learners within the LCOs will best be met internally from participating schools, and externally through other LCOs.
  • Investigate existing VLN protocols for student participation.
  • Develop protocols for participation within the LCOs (these may be very similar to others particularly if you plan to engage with other LCOs).
  • Develop structures for learning support (student training, allocate study space, time, and support personnel).
  • Promote online learning opportunities through a range of forums. e.g. school newsletters, open days.
  • Advertise available online learning programmes within LCOs and on VLN website.
  • Depending on the number of online learners within your LCOs, you will need to draft a timetable if classes are synchronous. As numbers grow, this becomes more critical.
  • Accept enrolment requests from participating schools and prepare to enrol learners on the VLN website.

Supporting Resources

Organizing an e-Day: An Example from FarNet

According to the literature, one of the potential challenges students face when engaged in online learning can be a sense of isolation. In many instances online learning students are attending small, rural schools; and may be the only student enrolled in a particular online course. In this situation, it can be quite easy for students to feel like the teacher is just a face on the screen, and their fellow students are simply these strangers in some distant location. One of the strategies that many of the VLN e-learning clusters have attempted to provide students with the opportunity to get to know their teachers, and their fellow students, in a face-to-face setting is to organize e-days.

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Figure 1: A copy of a letter FarNet provides to all of the participants of their e-Day

As you can see from the letter, the FarNet cluster provides specific time for students to work with their teacher and their online classmates in this face-to-face setting, but also includes specific down time or unschedule time to allow for the students to get to know each other - and their teachers - on a social level. These kinds of social interactions are often the ones that are most difficult to replicate in an online environment, and the ones most missed by students engaged in this form of learning.

In addition to organizing the e-Day, many of FarNet's member schools featured items from the event in their school newsletters (such as the Northland College example below).

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Figure 2: A portion of a page taken from the Northland College newsletter about the FarNet e-Day

The publicity within the member schools of this event could be used to illustrate to students who were not currently enrolled in online learning courses that taking a course through online isn't just you and a computer or video conferencing screen.