The Adaptable Learning Paths digital support model available for distribution to professionals

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2018.

Text: Jari Välkkynen, Anu Konkarikoski & Ella Eld, Tavastia Education Consortium
Illustrations: Ella Eld, Tavastia Education Consortium

After three years, the Adaptable Learning Paths project has reached its final moments. At the same time, Finland’s reform of vocational upper secondary education is in full speed. It is time to sum up where we are and invite educational institutions all over the country to benchmark the Adaptable Learning Paths model.

In that model, we make contents available for students to learn independent of place, which allows greater flexibility regarding where to start and conduct studies. Students who complete their degrees while working benefit from this, as do those who obtain their learning in educational institutions with ample support from teaching staff through contact guidance, and so do even those who are not always able to come to school but learn independently in their homes under distance supervision.

Our assignments combine practical learning and theory, thereby guiding students to observe, document and reflect on their own learning and to link each assignment to the required background information. The learning and practice of professional terminology, keenly desired by teachers, takes place while completing assignments.

Over the past years, we have enhanced our way of thinking about digital support. In the early years of social media tools, many teachers were confused in the jungle of applications and IT managers gritted their teeth confronted with support requests for a multitude of freeware applications. Today, the emphasis placed on individual learning paths in the current education reform drives us to include the various computer systems of educational institutions into the students’ digital paths, thereby enabling the students themselves along with the teaching staff and study advisors to follow the progress of students’ acquisition of competences. In addition, we desired to retain the years-old requirement of compiling a portfolio. Portfolios were first compiled in Blogger, then in Instagram or Pinterest, with the idea that they would help students obtain employment. This is also in line with the reform: students should be guided in overall career planning, and providers of education are rewarded if their students find employment or further education places.

In the spring of 2018, the steering group of Tavastia Vocational College decided that over the upcoming years, our organisation would implement outcomes of the Adaptable Learning Paths project in the Moodle environment. It is important that the pages for the various qualification units are visually appropriate, uniform and subdivided in accordance with the subdivision of vocational competence requirements in the student management system. To achieve this, we created Moodle templates for qualification units and compiled sample assignment structures on these templates, and, in order to systematically monitor the progress of students’ acquisition of competences in a visual manner, we set our assignment monitoring tool on automatic monitoring. During the school year 2018 – 2019, we will phase and support the introduction of this system, assigning responsibilities in and among teams so that no-one will be required to be a nerd in order to get started.

We are also building a connection between students’ Moodle and Wilma: when a teacher has approved, for a student, all assignments and check points under a certain qualification unit in Moodle, information about that student’s readiness to proceed to skills demonstration is automatically forwarded to the student’s personal competence development plan in Wilma. Even though we operate in a closed school environment, the teaching staff is encouraged and even instructed to continue the use of a variety of digital applications and essential professional literature in the digital form – as long as security issues are in order.

The first field to start the creation of assignments in Moodle following our system and in accordance with the new qualification requirements is Upholstery and Interior Decoration, a qualification under Industrial Arts. We encourage other field-specific teams to adopt this model and to draft long-term development plans in Moodle, incorporating a wide variety of multimodal and embedded contents such as photos, audio, video, third-party learning materials, structuring tools, examination tools and game tools. Initially, we allow basic user functionalities to teachers. We also eagerly await the opportunity to use the national solution for open-access learning materials, of which the ministry informed the public in October 2018.

In the Tavastia system, the front pages of courses correspond to qualification units and are standardised. Behind the pictures on the front page in Moodle, there are vocational competence requirements structured in modules in the same way as in students’ personal competence development plans in Wilma. Each blue block in the coloured bar “Osaamisen kehittyminen” [Development of competence] changes to green when the student completes that module. Underneath, the bar “Tehtävien seuranta” [Assignment follow-up] indicates the completion and approval of individual assignments.

It is important that students have coherent study processes and digital support available before they enter work placements in new work communities. Such support enables them to concentrate on their learning opportunities while they are in working life: how do you operate in this work community, how do you master the skills specified in the formal competence requirements, etc.

The structures and schedules of the teaching arrangements in a school impact the usability of our model. The Adaptable Learning Paths project pilot operator, the Surface Treatment Guild, has implemented a system in which each student’s schedule reads ”Vocational qualification units” from 8:10 am through 2:30 pm each day. In this way, the issues to be learned depend on the practical work originating from current customer assignments and other similar sources, and the student determines, under the teacher’s supervision, what skill it is that the job improves. Teaching at the Surface Treatment Guild focuses on skills that help students accumulate the competences specified in the formal vocational competence requirements. The Guild also annually offers in-depth theme days in which everyone is invited irrespective of formal qualification as long as they desire to improve their skills in that vocational field.

Opposite to the mainstream opinion in the media this autumn, we think that students are still able to obtain learning through their vocational education; however, this requires that we let go of the old structures, fully embrace the opportunities offered by digitalisation, and make sure that teachers have the required competences themselves. We must also ensure that if a student is unable to handle his or her study duties at the workplace or home, then that student is pulled back into the classroom into the teacher’s solid, supportive care and helped to complete those tasks which the other students are doing at the workplace.

At the same time, we must ensure that the teaching staff have a sensible amount of time allocated per duty and make sure that it is possible to organise tasks in teams so that students may feel that their teachers are available and students also gain sufficient practice for true competence.

In the final moments of the Adaptable Learning Paths project, we will publish a more detailed digital support model, and we also hereby invite teaching staff and school administrations to come visit us in the upcoming years and learn about our development work, which will continue even though the project will be ended.

Come and see us at the Adaptable Learning Paths project final seminar on 21 November 2018 in Helsinki and 27 – 28 November 2018 in Jyväskylä at Arena for Digital Learning.

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