Learnovate supports Community Education innovation: A Virtual Learning Environment strategy for An Cosán

An Cosán is a centre of Learning, Leadership and Social Innovation located in Tallaght West, Dublin. For 30 years, An Cosán has been very successful in implementing a community education model, which aims to use education as a key tool to eradicate poverty. To do this An Cosán offers a wide range of education programmes and creates an infrastructure of supportive scaffolding around each individual student and develops a strong collaborative learning environment. One of An Cosán’s strategic goals is to scale impact. A first step to achieve this is to transform their current model to a blended model of virtual and face-to-face education and learning in order to make it accessible to disadvantaged communities nationwide.
An Cosán started their ‘transformation journey’ with Phase 1; a Pilot Course on Transformative Community Education as a continuous professional development programme for Tutors in community education throughout Ireland. The purpose of Phase 1 is that a cohort of Tutors will be able to support Learning in an online virtual environment in the near future.
The partnership between An Cosán and the Learnovate Centre was conceived to enable An Cosán to ensure the pedagogical quality of the envisaged blended model through virtual learning environment (VLE) strategy recommendations while maintaining the strengths of the current An Cosán model. Learnovate provided pedagogical and technological support on a cost-recovery basis while the Project Manager’s and Centre Director’s time were pro bono.
Learnovate visited the An Cosán community centre multiple times. We observed live virtual synchronous sessions of the Pilot Course and collected data on the Learners’ experience through a Questionnaire and a Focus Group. In addition, we analysed An Cosán’s virtual learning platform (IT Carlow’s Blackboard) both from a pedagogical and a technological perspective.
Based on our observations and data collection, we identified that our recommendations should focus on the following topics:

• How to build online learning communities
• How to design an effective VLE
• How to facilitate in a VLE
• How to overcome Blackboard’s challenges

We outlined research-based best practice guidelines for these topics and compared An Cosán’s delivery approach for their Pilot Course with these guidelines. Based on this analysis we were able to identify a series of challenges and offer recommendations illustrated by many practical examples to overcome them.
Learnovate delivered an extensive virtual learning environment strategy that truly enables An Cosán to take their goal of delivering an innovative blended learning solution while scaling their impact nationally to the next level.

“It has been both a pleasure and inspiring to work with the Learnovate team from their initial pro bono support and introduction to instructional design to their excellent evaluation of our early efforts and recommendations on the way forward. We have been introduced to many interesting and powerful aspects of virtual teaching and learning including state of the art methods and tools for virtual learning environments, and the important steps to access all the potentially creative and useful tools of Blackboard Collaborate. We are both creatively challenged and encouraged by the State of the Art evaluation undertaken by the Learnovate team and the practical recommendations proposed by Learnovate. Working together into the future will greatly enhance An Cosán’s Virtual Community College and will make a significant contribution to challenging the digital divide and the development of digital community education in Ireland.”
Liz Waters, CEO An Cosán