New opportunities; new ways of learning. Lets embrace the possibilities melded learning presents for teacher professional development. Confidence in using technology can be a barrier to colleagues engaging with online learning. Due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions many school colleagues who were previously nervous and reluctant to use online systems have faced their fears and found that technology has been surprisingly easy to use, such as zoom, a popular virtual meeting software, or online learning environments, such as google classroom. There has been an increase in the number of teachers engaging in educational conversations on twitter, watching video clips via platforms such as YouTube or engaging in live sessions online. We should capitalise on recent gains, particularly when seeking to deepen understanding of complex educational matters.
However, success with melded learning that actually brings about school improvement does not happen by magic; it requires a positive learning culture, a clear focus on goals to be achieved, a big picture plan, effective organisation, high-quality ongoing dialogue, careful monitoring and evaluation. Leaders need to approach melded learning strategically and have a genuine commitment to professional development. The rewards can be amazing - but to unlock potential takes skilful leadership. Melded learning particularly lends itself to the in-depth study of educational issues and provides a framework in which to maximise the impact of professional development.
This blog considers :
1) how to create a melded professional development programme;
2) factors leaders should consider to ensure melded learning yields excellent returns;
3) how participants can get the most from a melded learning programme;
4) the types of thinking that maximise the impact of professional development.
When designing adult learning:
It is particularly important to emphasise 'critical thinking' in adult learning programmes and require participants to draw conclusions, synthesise information and share knowledge with each other. Reflective discourse is important in enabling adults to assimilate new information and in helping them to make accommodations to their existing schema (e.g. changing their perceptions, addressing a misconception, correcting an error, changing a viewpoint, altering habits, changing procedures, engaging in new ways of working). It is harder to make accommodations than it is to acquire new information. As adults bring with them a great deal of existing knowledge, it is important to engage with any new material with an analytical and reflective lens. An open mind and a questioning approach also help to move adult learning forward.
Reflection and critical thinking are more likely to occur when group sessions are facilitated, i.e. by an senior leader, expert in the field, coach. Whoever facilitates group dialogue should aim to become skilled in aiding adult learners to engage with the materials and in reflective discourse. It should not simply be assumed that putting colleagues together in groups will automatically result in transformational discourse.
Moving from the inner to the outer layers of the circle - and moving between the layers.
Also see the work of Diep, Anh Nguyet. Adult learners' needs in online and blended learning, Australian Journal of Adult Learning, Vol 59, No 2, July 2019.
Each layer builds on from the last, but can also be returned to.
Circle 1 Readiness: It is important that participants are informed about what is expected of them as learners and are provided with optimal physical conditions to learn, e.g. space, time, equipment. At the lower end of the framework, we deal with physiology and safety aspects of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. For example, clarity of goals, success criteria, transparency of how progress / impact will be measured and assessed, time lines, programme structures all help to relieve uncertainty and enable colleagues to feel safe. In this circle, schools should address issues related to resources and equipment, technical support and confidence colleagues have in being able to engage with the learning, e.g. how use the online platform, confidence in using zoom technology for virtual meetings, ability to use brainstorming software; and confidence for actual learning, e.g. study buddy, allocation to a team/group, a lead facilitator or coach, dedicated time to talk about themselves as a learner and their progress towards the goal. Adult learners should continue advance their learning skills. For example, in university courses and A levels learning tends to focus on individual performance, whereas school improvement relies on collective performance. How do work effectively to ensure the whole team are competent and skilled? Prior to entering the teaching profession colleagues may have engaged in courses that have a very well defined curriculum to follow and an examination to work towards, whereas in schools it may be up to school colleagues to set out the content to be covered and the skills to be learned, and consider how performance will be measured! Investing time in readiness will reap rewards later.
The readiness circle also includes understanding WHY professional development is necessary. How does the training and learning link to school improvement? "it provides a raison d’etre for the investment of effort in both individual and collaborative learning activities, given the limited time adults can reserve for learning. This is significant because while the learning itself normally intrinsically motivates adult learners, they are also goal-oriented, viewing time as ‘left’ rather than ‘passed by’ (Knowles, 1984;)." Diep 2019.
Circle 2 Foundation stage: The second element of the framework provides opportunities for participants to build knowledge, understanding and skills, e.g. through online learning modules, video clips, instructor led sessions, lesson demonstrations. Switching between circles 2 and 3 allows participants to engage in a 'knowledge community'. In order for circle 3 to be successful, participants need knowledge. The programme should set out very clearly how knowledge levels will be raised.
Circle 3 Relatedness: The third elements acknowledges the importance of relationships and interactions in the knowledge building and learning process. Social inclusion and teamwork are essential ingredients in the participants having sustained motivation for learning. This dimension, therefore, embraces literature in knowledge construction and socio-constructivism. Metacognition and critical unpicking of materials should be ingredients in this circle. Usually, there needs to be a facilitator to help get the most from the activities, e.g. keeping discussion on topic, raising perceptive questions, scaffolding discussion, supporting colleagues to express their thinking, capturing group conclusions, documenting ideas, aiding synthesis.
Sharing knowledge is a reciprocal exchange and there is perceived enjoyment for supporting others in this way. Blended learning research has shown that social exchanges are extremely important to the motivation levels of participants and for increasing the pleasure of study. Reciprocal knowledge sharing among team members can enhance their problem-solving abilities and therefore team effectiveness.
Sharing knowledge with others requires participants to express their own understanding and as a result they may gain a better grasp of concept through the articulation of thoughts, feedback from others, questions raised by others and other's contributions. Sharing knowledge also helps participants to consider gaps in their own understanding or raise questions in their mind that they can then pursue through independent study, perhaps returning to the group with answers or a more thorough / clear expression of knowledge and ideas.
Circle 4 Growth and confidence: The other circles provide a firm foundation on which participants can then successfully engage in self-directed autonomous learning, becoming experts themselves. Having built a firm foundation, participants are better able to make more sense of wider contributions to the field of study, e.g. appreciating twitter comments, placing blog posts in contexts, linking theories together, engaging with the research community. Intrinsic motivation plays a part in achieving high-level knowledge and understanding. This circle allows participants more freedom to pursue study along their own motivational lines of enquiry. "The researchers insist that adult learners should be afforded the opportunities to take ownership of their studies, namely respect for learner autonomy or diverse talents and ways of learning (Bangert, 2004; Ross-Gordon, 2003; Walker, & Fraser, 2005)." Diep 2019. This circle also works towards competence and skill - for competence to be enhanced, learners need to have access to feedback that helps them improve their learning, experience a feeling of efficacy (Bandura, 1988). "Additionally, learners need to be cognitively challenged by learning activities that help them to test and go beyond their academic capacities. Thus, feedback and learning activities that have a formative nature are necessary to support learners’ competence." Diep, 2019.
An A3 audit can be downloaded at the end of this blog.
What is melded learning?
One of the most common definitions of the term 'blended Learning' is "combine face-to-face instruction with computer mediated instruction" (Graham, 2006, p.41). We can unpick this further to consider what elements might be included when we use blended learning in the workplace. In 2002, Margaret Driscoll writing for IBM said blended learning was:
1. To combine or mix modes of web-based technology (e.g., live virtual classroom, self-paced instruction, collaborative learning, streaming video, audio, and text) to accomplish an educational goal.
2. To combine various pedagogical approaches (e.g., constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism) to produce an optimal learning outcome with or with out instructional technology.
3. To combine any form of instructional technology (e.g., videotape, CD-ROM, web-based training, film) with face-to-face instructor-led training.
4. To mix or combine instructional technology with actual job tasks in order to create a harmonious effect of learning and working.
Melded learning is the combination of learning methods to achieve one or more goals. Blended learning is usually considered to be online learning + face-to-face learning. Melded learning is the use of multiple ways of improving knowledge, understanding and skill to achieve a learning goal. For example, in seeking to improve the quality of reading comprehension teaching, colleagues may undertake the following:
complete an online learning course in order to build knowledge;
digest a range of research papers to challenge their thinking;
work with colleagues on collaborative planning of lessons to aid implementation of ideas;
watch live or recorded lessons to analyse impact of teaching methods;
participate in small group debate and discussion (face-to-face or virtually via videoconferencing) to tease out ideas and improve clarity of thinking ;
read professional texts on the subject or participate in jigsaw reading activities to gain more breadth and depth of learning;
attend instructor led sessions (live) / links with experts in the field to ensure understanding is deep enough, ask questions and seek clarity;
share findings with each other to promote good practice and ensure there is collective responsibility;
test out their ideas in the classroom;
action plan together;
access twitter, blogs, chat groups to gather a wider perspective and ask the wider education community questions;
communicate with each other key findings and conclusions;
The melded part is putting together the full programme in a structured and systematic way so that it yields high results.
Melded learning plots a route towards a professional learning goal and links this very closely to the desired school improvement goal. If it is a whole school priority: It would have some core elements that everyone would complete and some elements that would be allocated/chosen by individuals based on their needs, role, interest and career progression. If it was a personal goal: it would be a custom programme.
It focuses on deep learning that is connected and integrated with existing knowledge to build comprehensive schema on important issues. It should aim to build expertise and increase knowledge leading to empowerment of colleagues. A central principle is a commitment to creating a knowledgeable workforce that has the agility to respond to future demands in the profession.
It is tracked and monitored. A critical element is ongoing professional dialogue about how the learning is moving the person(s) closer towards the goal. It has a 'director' that is guiding colleagues towards desired outcomes. There are regular reviews and elements of coaching/mentoring that helps colleagues to take ownership of their learning and individual and collective responsibility for shifts in practice and processes.
Whilst research shows that self-directed learning can be motivating, researchers have also found that adult learners should be provided with structure to comfortably and effectively organise their learning (Cercone, 2008). Over time, adult learning should aim to foster independence and to do this professional dialogue 'about learning' and the 'learners effectiveness' are important, as is accountability and reflection on goals / success criteria. Melded learning allows the learner security and peace of mind of a central program (designed with a goal in mind) whilst also providing plenty of opportunities for self-directed learning as the learning unfolds.
It requires headteachers to commit senior leadership time (including their own) to leading melded learning. Strategic and ongoing leadership is essential for success.
Melded learning would include elements from all six of the areas listed in this diagram.
Richness, breadth, depth and specialisation
Online courses can offer teachers CPD that is more extensive than a twilight, a single day course or even a multi-day face-to-face course. Face-to-face training can be limited by time avilable and training can be prohibitively expensive. Online courses can offer a richness of materials, allowing colleagues to add greater depth and/or greater breadth to their learning. In menu driven online learning courses, there is often also the option to specialise - allowing colleagues to dig into materials that meet a specific need, match well to their role in school or follow a particular interest or line of enquiry. A mix of essential and optional components can ensure everyone's needs are met. For example, EYFS colleagues can feel frustrated as they sit through training sessions that don't relate well to their phase. The EYFS team often try very hard to interpret training session through an early years lens - some are very skilled at doing so, but it is always great to have the option to access more specialist materials and online learning can offer a broader range of materials for participants to choose from. Online learning environment can offer more pathways through materials to account for the differencing needs and roles of colleagues. It can also be frustrating in face-to-face courses if the materials is too basic or too advanced. Online learning offers more control over the pace of learning.
However, there can be drawbacks that need to be mitigated against. For example poor quality equipment, a requirement to be self-disciplined in studying, a feeling of isolation if not combined with other forms of learning, not having a comfortable work space to operate in, a lack of associated skills (e.g. ability to create notes online, brainstorming software, software to help organise thinking), an ill-defined work schedule, time not allocated to study. All of these can be addressed by leaders who are serious about improving teacher performance.
Who is in charge?
This will vary from school to school:
Ultimately governors are responsible for the development and well being of staff. There should be a governor linked to staff development. They can be particularly useful for interviewing staff representatives, e.g. NQTs, subject leaders, TAs, HLTAs, lunch time support staff, business manager, caretaker/estates manager - to get a rounded picture of professional development. They should support and challenge the headteacher regarding the quality, quantity, spending and impact of professional development and the extent to which it is supporting the school to achieve the school improvement objectives.
The headteacher needs the 'big picture' view. They should focus on the strategic elements. This would include setting out a vision, monitoring progress, supporting senior leaders to effectively lead professional development activities, appraisal arrangements, reviewing spending, reviewing the whole picture and spread / depth of CPD, ensuring CPD is quality assured, ensuring evaluation takes place, holding leaders and other colleagues to account, delegating. Some of the strategic & some operational elements might be delegated to a DHT depending on the size of school and the way workload is divided. As with everything, there will be operational elements, e.g. ordering books, timetabling, organising meetings, linking teachers to coaches. It is important to ensure there is clear strategic leadership and an effective and efficient organisational plan.
CPD lead - There are likely to be some professional development that meets a whole school improvement objective. Leadership of the training would usually therefore be allocated to a senior leader or a subject leader / teachers with a specific whole school responsibility (perhaps backed up by a member of SLT). For example, if the focus is 'exploring how mathematics progress can be enhanced through the use of manipulatives', then the mathematics leader would need to help steer the CPD offer; if the focus is 'distributed leadership' then it might be the DHT or member of SLT leading improvements in middle leadership.
Teams - in primary schools either phases or year groups (depending on th