Immersive Learning Environments Continue to Hold Relevance as a Learning Resource

Immersive Learning Environments (ILEs) have their supporters and objectors. In my experience, success depends on the subject matter and how it is represented for the learner. One example of an ILE is 3D Virtual Worlds (VWs). They are relevant to 21st Century learning in terms of engagement, learning and context. This is just one of the findings from a recently commissioned state of the art report by our researchers at the Learnovate Centre.

Why use Virtual Worlds in the Learning Process?

Potential Benefits
Whether a VW is created for students in a school or for corporate training it offers the same benefits.

Benefits for the Learner

  • Increases learning potential by replicating the authenticity of the real world
  • Enables learners to have more personalised learning experiences and to construct meaning from them

Benefits for the School/Business

  • Mitigates resource constraints (cost, time, manpower, environmental)
  • Overcomes geographical constraints by utilising multiple environments, i.e. with one login a learner can access multiple learning scenarios or engage with learners from around the world in a collaborative process without leaving their computer

Potential Impact on Learning
ILEs allow for more effective processing of information due to the realism of the medium. There are obvious advantages for both businesses and schools in terms of improving training and learning outcomes.

Potential Disadvantages
Some of the downsides of VWs for formal learning to date are their inadequate or inappropriate pedagogical scaffolding and also a lack of assessment infrastructure to monitor and evaluate learning. These are proving to be significant barriers to adoption for many enterprises and educational establishments.

Potential Solution
One of the Learnovate Centre’s current research projects, ILEARN, involves the design of an immersive learning environment to support, scaffold and assess collaborative learning.

ILEARN integrates a bespoke social search and recommender system (from our research partner CLARITY: Centre for Sensor Web Technologies) and a real time data analytics engine (from another of our research partners, TSSG) into a virtual world which is underpinned and driven by a solid pedagogical strategy.

To find out more about the ILEARN project and the technologies deployed or any of our other research projects please contact us.

Steve BentonAbout the Author: Steve Benton is a technology lead at the Learnovate Centre. As well as holding numerous roles in industry, Steve has a number of years teaching experience and has worked as a resource teacher for children with special educational needs. 

In Defence of Rote Learning

Sitting down to read the Sunday newspapers and looking forward to a respite from my everyday world of learning design, I find myself once again confronted with the use of rote learning as a pejorative term. The unjustified bad press for this type of learning appears to be emanating from Government circles and filtering down into a common misunderstanding of this important type of learning.

I am reminded of an excellent article [subscription required] recently written by Des MacHale, emeritus professor of mathematics at UCC in which he highlights the importance of this type of learning in everyday life.

While I agree with many of the points Professor MacHale makes, as an experienced instructional designer, I would go even further in defence of this type of learning.

Educators use Bloom’s Taxonomy as a framework for setting learning objectives and assessment questions. While Bloom’s Taxonomy is not a pedagogical instrument per se, it provides educators with a conceptual framework for learning and is used extensively by teachers, lecturers and eLearning designers.

Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain

Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain

The base of the pyramid is where the much maligned rote learning occurs. The Knowledge level is concerned with the most basic form of learning and lowest cognitive skill – the acquisition of factual knowledge. Assessment for this level typically requires students to recall facts and basic concepts in the form in which they were learned. The Holy Grail of education is to reach the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy where students are problem solving and applying critical thinking skills – both defined as key 21st century skills. However, without the rote learning that occurs at the first level, students do not have the fundamental knowledge that is required for understanding, application, analysis, synthesis or evaluation to occur. Bloom’s Taxonomy is designed to build on learning from basic remembering to more complex skills such as critical thinking and evaluation. The stronger the foundation of underpinning knowledge, the easier it is for educators to design learning experiences that move learners up the value chain of learning.

If, as the Minister for Education and Skills contends, the focus of the current Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate was on rote learning there would be no Part B or Part C questions as there currently are. Part B and Part C questions are designed to assess comprehension and application – the second and third level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Furthermore you would expect that many more students would get maximum points as success would simply be a matter of recalling facts and figures.

While it’s true that we should aspire to more than the first three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and put in place 21st century teaching and assessment strategies for the development and assessment of skills at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy such as problem solving and critical thinking, inappropriate and pejorative use of the term ‘rote learning’ demonstrates a lack of understanding and regard for its underpinning and valuable role in learning.

Now, back to the Sunday newspapers!

Lynda_BlogAbout the Author: Lynda Donovan is the Pedagogical Lead at the Learnovate Centre. Lynda ensures that the Centre’s technologies are deployed as part of innovative learning environments designed to enhance learning, address industry challenges and provide competitive advantage to the Centre’s industry partners.

What role for learning technologies in reform of the Junior Cycle?

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection has met twice in the past month to discuss issues related to learning technologies.   Firstly, to discuss digital literacy in schools with Department of Education representatives and then with two ‘eLearning’ providers to look at college and school-based online learning.

It’s no coincidence that these conversations are happening whilst there is growing anecdotal evidence of wider technology adoption by Irish schools, particularly at post-primary level.  And at the same time, there is a national programme to implement a new Junior Cycle framework, which itself offers the potential for greater engagement with technology.

We know from our own experience in the Learnovate Centre that there is a vibrancy about the learning technologies space at the moment, particularly in K-12 education.  From start-ups through to established SMEs and multi-nationals, there is a level of innovation which means that schools in Ireland have world-class technologies right on their doorstep.

Technologists will tell you that technology can do anything.  And they are right.  However, implementation experience for K-12 in other countries also tells us that technology on its own will not necessarily deliver increases in learning performance.  The ‘light a fire, stand back and watch’ approach doesn’t work, particularly in K-12 education.

So, we find ourselves at a very interesting juncture in the development of our education system, particularly for our Junior Cycle cohort.  Reform of the curriculum is about to change the way that our students learn.  And these curriculum reforms and new assessment arrangements open up the possibility for greater engagement with technology: for students, teachers and parents.

Opportunities to implement real change don’t come along very often – here are a few simple, high-level guidelines for implementing learning technologies in K-12 based on our own research and experiences:

  1. Design the technology around the learning and teaching, not the other way around.  The technology is the means, not the end.
  2. There are no ‘silver bullet’, off the shelf solutions.  Take the best of what is available and adapt it to the unique requirements of the learners and the curriculum.
  3. Invest in training and development for teachers – technology is enabling new models of teaching as well as learning.  Identify innovative pedagogical frameworks within which teachers can effectively deploy technology to enhance learning.
  4. Delivery of a curriculum requires content – and we live in a world where information is in abundance online.   But such content requires curation, context and interface to make sense of it.
  5. Integrate assessment as part of the solution.  If students are required to generate evidence, give them opportunities to do so digitally.  If teachers are being asked to provide feedback, give them the tools and methodologies to do so online.
  6. Infrastructure is key.  Some infrastructure services (e.g. connectivity, authentication, data protection) demand universal, national provision.  Others (e.g. devices) can be more distributed but must be platform agnostic.  Otherwise, implementation will be patchy and uneven.