Interim Report 1: Learning Communities Project
Fahy, Patrick J.
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Executive summary This is the first formal report of the Learning Communities Project (LCP), based on results of the evaluation and research activities conducted to date. The major findings of the project, and observations about processes used, are as follows: 1. The project is focused on the learning needs of adults; therefore, andragogy, the art and science of teaching adults, forms part of the basic philosophy of the project. Similarly, distance education, focusing on any time/anyplace learning, is assumed to be the most appropriate type of delivery for courses included in the project. Other elements of the project deemed to be suitable, even required, for adults include prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR), a focus on essential skills, and instruction designed to recognize the self-direction and autonomy needs of adults. 2. The above having been stated, the project also recognizes that many adult learners have not experienced self-direction in learning, or do not feel confident exercising full on adult autonomy as students. The LCP therefore seeks to provide support and assistance as individually required, to help students feel comfortable and be successful in any learning projects embarked on within the project. (As part of the concern for individual learning preferences, learning styles and preferences are also focus of research, and are considered in instructional design decisions.) 3. Distance education in this project is defined in the classic sense, as learning in which the learner and the tutor are normally separated, technology is used for interaction, there is institutional support throughout the learning process, and the prospect of two-way communication always exists. 4. Based on research to date, potential LCP participants are usually transitory (only a fraction live in the project’s regions), often from outside of Alberta, frequently subject to long commutes, and fully employed (many routinely work overtime). This is especially true of potential students in the CNQ Horizon site. The implications for learner interest and motivation, programming content, instructional design, course and module delivery, and student support, while it is evident there are implications, are being worked out as a core part of the project. 5. Technology is available in the region, due to the availability of Alberta SuperNet, and the technical resources of CNQ (at the Horizon site) and the post-secondary institutions that are already active in the region. As well, agencies such as eCampusAlberta, Alberta North, and the Canadian Virtual University already provide resources and learning opportunities to potential students. Despite these resources, and access to the Alberta SuperNet for broadband Internet connections, it is still true that rural areas are generally less well served technologically than urban areas (especially true of aboriginal communities); however, it is also true that rural residents are often more open to technology-based learning than those in urban areas. 6. Programming interests among CNQ employees or contractors who have inquired about or registered in courses through the project so far are primarily career-related, including business administration, accounting, project management, engineering, Blue Seal, and health and safety courses. In the communities, pre-employment courses, and technology and trades training (especially if including employment-related hands-on experience), have been identified as major areas of interest. 7. Based on survey and interviews, potential students encounter numerous barriers to participation in education and training programs, beginning with the fatigue they experience at the end of long work days, and extending to a potential lack of familiarity, access to, or comfort with technology, lack of familiarity with the distance education as a learning style, and lack of information about the connection between courses, credits, and career advancement. 8. Tracking registrations that result from project activity remains problematic. The project is studying various ways to identify registrations generated by LCP activities, essential to determining the project’s impact. 9. The research portion of the project has produced and circulated five occasional reports, and this interim report. The purpose of research to date has been formative – intended to be of immediate use to project planners and participants. Feedback from project participants indicates that these reports have had the desired impact on project development. 10. The research team have under development of paper for peer review, addressing the question of the programming that is currently available in the project’s regions, and the rationale for what is currently being offered (or not offered). Additional data are being gathered regarding the uptake and efficacy of programming, including registrations and completions, for a future publication. As well, the research team has plans to present at relevant conferences in the first half of 2008 in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Alberta.