03 June 2011

E-Learning: A Study Visit to Slovenia

Professional development opportunities for FE librarians may be found not only in the traditional places like our own establishments, universities, CILIP or JISC.

Last March, I spent five full days in Slovenia as a participant of a study visit, Creation of Innovative E-learning Resources. The participants of the group came from all over Europe, from a variety of educational and business sectors. The visit was funded by the EU as part of its Transversal programme, similar to the better known Erasmus programme.

The purpose of the visit was to share knowledge and learn new skills in the area of our particular interest, namely – e-learning. My expectations about the visit were quite different to what the visit actually offered: it was surprisingly hands-on, more about practical skills than the theoretical side of e-learning. Despite that, it was useful and engaging.
It was extremely interesting to learn that the government of Slovenia, a tiny Balkan country, sees e-learning as a priority. It encourages the development of new materials and the conversion of existing educational content into new formats. As an example, we were presented with a course book on Statistics for the Travel Industry. Once published as a printed book, it has been transformed into a Flash-based interactive object with animation and tests.

The Slovenian approach requires a lot of money and generous funding is provided. Their example was an answer to the participants‟ unanimous opinion that one of the major barriers for e-learning is expectation – on the part of policy makers and educational providers in many European countries – that IT should make learning cheaper. It is the wrong expectation: e-learning requires a large investment; it is time- and resource-consuming work.

On a practical level, we learnt Adobe Articulate Studio for creating Flash-based interactive resources and saw very advanced ways of using Moodle. All this will be of great use in my own practice. It was fascinating to attend a classroom observation where a tutor and teenage learners easily switched from Slovene into English to make their class comprehensible to the visitors. There were no printed hand-outs, no white board and pencils – all the activities were posted on Moodle in advance and the tutor skilfully switched between VLE, web browser windows and writing facilities on an interactive smartboard (it was an IT class).

Another lesson learned was that successful Slovenian schools actively search for EU funding, open – as a rule – to anyone in the European Union. If they only relied on state funding, they would never be able to afford all their fantastic projects. This has given me a lot to think about my reliance on the College central funding.

My contribution to the visit was sharing with the participants my experience of promoting good copyright practice among learners and tutors; complimentary use of Facebook and Moodle for teaching and learning; sourcing free graphics for digital materials and utilising podcasts and iTunes U content for self-guided study. The visit reminded me again that librarians have unique and often very broad set of competencies which are useful in many projects.

Every year there are hundreds of similar visits available to anyone involved in adult education. They come in many “flavours” – sustainability, IT, additional needs, innovative pedagogical practice, leadership, entrepreneurship and business partnerships – to name just a few areas. Most of them will be useful for practitioners already involved in those areas; FE librarians should not have a difficulty in finding relevant visits – most of us wear several hats at the same time. If you are interested, check out transversal.org.uk for a more detailed programme. Twice a year Transversal accepts new applications and I am pretty sure most of us have every chance of getting one right.

Originally published in the CoFHE Bulletin, May 2011

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