Research shows that using a Learning Management System (LMS)in a traditional face-to-face (f2f) classroom to create a blended learning environment, allows teachers and learners to extend and enhance learning beyond the classroom (deVega & McAnally-Salas, 2010; Govender, 2010; Gergouli, Skalkidis & Geirreiro 2008; Korin-Lutig & Lukaric 2008; Haran, 2007; Henderson 2007). In f2f Adult Education classes where time is short and curriculum demands are high, educators easily submit to a transmission mode of teaching. By integrating the Open Source LMS Moodle, which was built on a Sociocultural-Constructivist learning model (Melton, 2008), overwhelmed teachers and learners can augment classroom time and engage in active, collaborative and constructive learning activities.
A Brief Description of an Adult Education and Adult Learners in British Columbia
The province of British Columbia's Adult Graduation Diploma Programoffers free and flexible options for adult learners to complete or upgrade their high school graduation requirements. Although self-paced (including online) options are available, schedules for f2f classes are short and intense. For example, many Vancouver School Board Adult Learning Centres follow a 9 week quarter system in which classes run for 2.25 hours/day, 5 days/week. As Ministry prescribed curricula must be followed, the pace can be overwhelming.
The program attracts a diverse group of learners including: students who were unsuccessful in the regular K-12 system; students who wish to upgrade their skills for post-secondary, and English as a Second Language (ESL) students who have either 'aged-out' of K-12 or are new immigrants upgrading their skills for re-training. Many of these students also have additional obligations on their time including family and full or part-time work.
In such an intense and diverse learning environment, Adult educators need to take advantage of any opportunity to extend and enhance learning beyond classroom walls.
Moodle Affordances for a Blended Learning Environment in Adult Education
Because most Adult Learning Centres do not have student computers in the classroom, a recommended approach would be to use Moodle activities as an adjunct to the f2f class. Moodle is web-based and therefore can be accessed anytime from anywhere with an internet connection. Thus, individual and group activities are best incorporated as homework. This approach is well-suited to students who have work and family obligations.
Easy to Use and Well-Supported
Users and researchers agree that Moodle is one of the easiest LMS platforms to use (McCall, 2009; Henderson, 2007; Maikish, 2006; Robb, 2004). The content is displayed in WYSIWIGformat, so no knowledge of HTML is required. Most convenient, "Moodle handles all the programming and database work in the background so that teachers can focus on building the content." (McCall, 2009, p.62)Moodle is also fairly easy to use for students and activities can be introduced and demonstrated in-class before they are set for homework. If problems do arise, Moodle creator Martin Dougiamasalso created a Moodle supportsite which has answers to any possible Moodle question. Students can also use Moodle communication tools like Forums and Messenger to contact instructors outside of class time if they have difficulties.
An Empty Shell
In the article "It's OK to Moodle at School", Mark McCall calls Moodle "an enabler program: it enables teachers to expend and customize
their classrooms to engage 21st century students" (McCall, 2009, p.62). Moodle does not come pre-loaded with lessons; it's content is determined by the instructor who is aided by various Moodle tools and activities. Below are some of the key Moodle activities that are well-suited to a blended Adult Learning environment.
Some Key Course Features
outline: each Moodle course starts out as an empty outline which the instructor can customize by week or by topic. calendar: instructors can upload important dates (assignment due dates, field trip dates, test dates etc.) to keep students on track. grades: students can view and track grades
Some Individual Activities
Blogs: students can reflect on their learning in a private or public learning log. Quizzes: ideal for scaffolding, pre and post-test quizzes can provide ongoing assessment of student understanding. Assignments: Students can upload assignments directly to Moodle. Instructors can also give feedback and marks on in-class assignments by creating an "offline assignment".
Some Collaborative Activities
forums: students can post responses to course questions posted by the instructor. Students can engage in asynchronous discussion with each other and build on their original posts.
wikis: ideal for group projects,students can collaborate to create and publish their work online. Chats and Messaging: synchronous chats and messenging can be used for student collaboration during online group activities like wikis and also for student-student online support while working on individual assignments. Glossaries: great for content heavy courses with a lot of new terms. This activity can be done individually or as a collaborative class effort.
Limitations of Moodle in Adult Education
School board servers are notoriously slow and can crash at peak times (Haran, 2007). Adding a large number of regular Moodle users may exacerbate this problem. To eliminate this problem, but at a cost, schools can team up with a Moodle Partner.
Lack of Technical Skills
Not all Adult Educators or learners are digital natives. Teachers who have limited technical skills may be reluctant to using an LMS in their classes, even one as easy to use as Moodle. At the same time, students with limited exposure to technology may also balk at using an LMS and be reluctant to participate in online activities (Govender, 2010).
Access and Equity
Although it is the norm these days, some Adult learners face financial difficulties and may not have a home computer with access to the Internet. School computer labs may be a viable alternative, but many Adult Learning Centres are situated in adhoc spaces which may have limited lab space or accessibility.
Building and administering adjunct LMS courses requires extra instructor work hours (Pape, 2010; Korin-Lustig & Lukaric, 2008; Black,
Beck, Dawson, Jinks, & DiPietro, 2007; Haran, 2007; Henderson, 2007). Learning the system, creating and monitoring online activities and increased student-teacher communication puts an high demand on teacher preparation time. To alleviate such burdens, teachers need to be supported with paid in-service training, curriculum development time and additional preparation hours (Pape, 2010; Korin-Lustig & Lukaric, 2008; Black, Beck, Dawson, Jinks, & DiPietro, 2007; Haran, 2007; Henderson, 2007).
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