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Anna Greathead

Narratives, representations and designs

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The beginning of week 8 has been building up to the concept of learning design. The first four activities have been very time consuming in terms of what was asked of us, and also of the thought space the ideas have occupied. 

I think I have arrived at something of an epiphany though.

A learning narrative is simply telling the story of learning. All of us have learned and all of us have taught - even if only in a very informal sense. Any parent has taught their child simple things such as the names of colours, types of food, species of animal, different vehicles and so on. None of them write this down as a formal plan. No mum wakes up thinking 'I will teach my toddler about cows today and therefore we shall go to a farm' but if their activities take them past a field of cows and the child takes an interest then she may stop and point to the animals. Explain that they are eating the grass and that we get milk for our cereal from the cows. They may talk about how the cows are black and white and how they're bigger than a dog but not as big as a horse. This is all very informal and responsive to both the environment and the interests of the learner.

If the same mother was asked 'How did you teach your child about farm animals?' she may write down:

  1.  We went for a walk past a field of cows and my child pointed at the animals
  2. We stopped to look at the cows and I asked my child what colour the cows were. My child said the cows were black and white. The child then remarked that the cows were big.
  3. I pointed to a dog walking by and said the cows were bigger than the dog and asked if the child could think of any animals the cows were smaller than. The child thought and then said that a horse was bigger than a cow.
  4. I asked the child what the cows were doing (they were grazing) and the child didn't know. I explained that the cows were eating grass. I told the child that the cows turned the grass into milk and asked when they ate milk. The child said they'd had milk on their cornflakes in the morning. 
  5. The child then lost interest so we continued with our walk.

This list represents the encounter. It describes what happened, some of the thought processes and some of the ways the teacher (parent) directed the learning of the child by answering questions and offering new information. This is more of a report than a lesson plan but the same information is conveyed and the learning experience has been represented in a way which could be analysed, reproduced or repurposed by someone else.

If this encounter were to be 'planned' then the lesson plan may look like this:

  1. Take the child for a walk close to a field of cows
  2. Assess the child's interest in the cows. If the child seems interested encourage them to speak about the cows. The child may remark on the size, colour or physical characteristics of the animal
  3. Ask the child if they have any ideas about the behavior of the animal - what does it eat, where does it sleep, what does it do?
  4. If the child seems interested tell them about milk production and see if they can associate milk with their day to day lives.
  5. Continue chatting until the child has lost interest and then move on. 

This lesson 'plan' is still very learner focused and is in-keeping with a constructivist theory of education - allowing the learner to build on their existing knowledge and learn that which engages their interest. 

A learning design is the next step and may take a broader approach. It may involve planning for any necessary resources, extension activities, and have a more formal plan for setting a learning objective and assessing learning outcomes. It may be more generally worded so that the same lesson idea could be used for other animals! 

I am finding it easier to grasp these concepts when I apply them to the education of young children. I think this may be because it is a setting I am familiar with even though I have never been a school-teacher. I have had four children, I have 'taught' in many mother and toddler / playgroup settings, I have taught Sunday school lessons for my entire adult life. I can easily see how informal, formal and specifically designed learning both differentiates and converges. 

Applying this to classroom learning for adults (or lecture theatre, online tutor group) is more straightforward than applying it to my own setting where our e-learning platform essentially has no interaction between student and teacher. I am having to mentally separate interactive e-learning from online revision. What we actually provide is the latter. This is challenging but I hope that H800 will allow me to develop our services to be more broadly helpful to our learners.  

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