What should a learning platform do for your organisation?

I remember doing my NPQH way back in 2003, the joy of being with like-minded professionals eager to develop, the thrill of learning new ways of doing things and the anxiety of that final assessment! The trouble was I only met with these folks either on the face-to-face days or the occasional meeting with my study group.

What kept me going was the ability to use the discussion networks on the then National College virtual learning environment so I could get some feedback on my own thoughts from colleagues and get some solutions for the issues I faced.

It wasn’t perfect but I persevered. Why? Because as a teacher I had already found out how powerful a group of like-minded teachers can be when they get together sharing information and their practice as well as life’s highs and lows. In 2004 I moved from my school and joined the National College determined to help colleagues have an equally life enhancing experience.

Fast forward to today and I’m now lead online learning facilitator at Best Practice Network. Our programmes and online short courses, based around online discussion and web conferences, regularly achieve scores of 100% for learning development and facilitator impact.

But my real interest lies in the qualitative feedback. Why? Because this shows the transformative changes that happen to teachers when they engage with great content, expert facilitation and peers. For me, the knowledge that each person who records a change in their perception or skill set which is going to impact on hundreds of children and young people over time keeps me motivated and focused on delivering the best.

Much of the success in our approach lies in making the technology as invisible as possible. It should be something that enhances, not hinders the learning experience. It should make it easier for us to connect with each other to share experiences, encourage and help each other find solutions, and to know that we are not alone.

To quote Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, “We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery.”

So how did I find a learning platform that could do this for us?

First, you have to know what it is you want at the outset. My focus was on people being able to make connections with each other, underpinned by my belief that we are stronger together.

So, I collected feedback about the biggest barriers to learning that users faced, talked to facilitators and administrators about what would make their life easier and then identified about 30 possible solutions. I filtered these by sending out requests for proposals based on the needs evaluations I drew up, and then interviewed the top two before finally settling on Instructure’s Canvas.

What did it have to include?

  • Give users the highest possibility of achieving their learning outcomes so no tech problems
  • It had to be flexible enough to model a variety of learning methodologies
  • It had given learners and facilitators control of their learning environment i.e. the tech fits around their learning or facilitation
  • It had to be easy to administer for the admin staff
  • It had to be simple to use and simple to navigate
  • It had to be future proofed so had to move with the times re mobile/handheld and apps

It was quite an investment, but has proved pivotal in the delivery of our highly rated blended learning programmes.

If you are interested in taking a look at Canvas, either for schools or for delivering adult education then please do get in touch, I’d love to show you.

Tim McShane MSc BEd(Hons) NPQH
Lead Online Learning Facilitator

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