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Theme 1 Keynote: Responding to learners. Helen Beetham, Rhona Sharpe. 21/11/09 | slide 1. Joint Information Systems Committee. Supporting education and research. Responding to Learners. Presenters: Helen Beetham, Rhona Sharpe Facilitator: Greg Benfield.

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Theme 1 Keynote: Responding to learners

Helen Beetham, Rhona Sharpe

21/11/09 | slide 1

Joint Information Systems Committee

Supporting education and research


Responding to Learners

Presenters: Helen Beetham, Rhona Sharpe

Facilitator: Greg Benfield

Helen Beetham is a Consultant to JISC, in which role she supports the Curriculum Design and Open Educational Resources programmes. Rethinking Pedagogy for the Digital Age, edited with Rhona Sharpe, is becoming a standard textbook in the discipline, and a second volume, Rethinking Learning for the Digital Age, is forthcoming from Routledge.

Dr. Rhona Sharpe is principal lecturer in the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD) at Oxford Brookes University UK. She has managed learners' experiences of e- learning projects funded by the JISC and Higher Education Academy. She is a founder member of ELESIG, co-editor of ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology and is Fellow of the Staff and Educational Development Association.

Greg Benfield is a senior lecturer/educational developer at Oxford Brookes University in OCSLD. He has been involved in a number of JISC and HEA projects, including the JISC Learner Experiences of e-Learning Programme. His particular area of interest technology-mediated group work, and assessment.

Joint Information Systems Committee


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Responding to learners

Helen Beetham

Rhona Sharpe


“a consumer revolution for students”Higher Ambitions: the future of universities in a knowledge economy


problems with the consumer model...

  • at an individual level, not developmental, not ambitious
  • at a societal level, rhetorically allows next year’s cohort of students and this year’s top graduate employers to define purposes of FE/HE: in practice sidelines the debate

The consumer or client replaces the learner... [and] as the language of performance and management has advanced, so we have lost a language of education which recognises the intrinsic value of pursuing certain sorts of question...


needs and expectations...

  • how are they framed?
  • are they the same thing?
  • can needs be met by having expectations challenged?
  • how can we avoid charges of patronage, normalisation, elitism, being ‘supply-side’ driven...?

we need to debunk a couple of myths

  • learners are digital natives
  • have high expectations of technology-supported learning

Familiarity with technology in students’ social and leisure lives has created high expectations for technology enhanced learningDo you agree? YES / NO


Distinguishing between myths and reality

  • Research approaches that are fit for purpose
  • Sound, ethical methods
  • Contextualised data
  • Understanding of individual differences
  • Conceptual accounts

Familiarity with technology?

  • 91% of students use social networking and 73% use SN sites to discuss coursework
  • 54% regularly or sometimes use wikis, blogs or online networks
  • 28% maintaining their own wiki or blog

(JISC Great Expectations study, 2008)


Holistic, participatory methods

"the online resources that are available are good. WebCT is really good. I didn't come to university with any expectations about what would be available, coming here and finding that there are quite good resources is quite good. ..

”The resources I’ve used have been recommended by tutors. .. This is different from when I was at school, we never got recommended books, just Googled everything …"

I knew what blogging was, from online newspapers, but it wasn't something I'd ever done..


Understanding of individual differences

  • Equivocal findings related to age, although prior educational experience clearly important.
  • Technology is largely used in ways suggested by course and tutor, with some notable creative, exceptions.
  • Technology use to enable a specific, individual learning requirement e.g. international students, learners with disabilities.

High expectations?

  • Learners value ubiquitous access, flexibility, convenience, rapid response
  • Learners make extensive use of technology mediated peer support networks
  • Learners value access to academic digital content, consistency in use and a blend with face to face teaching

A developmental model

Creative appropriation


Creative appropriation

  •  Driven by contextual or individual need, not provided by tutors, e.g.
  • ‘Had a phone tutorial with my supervisor referring to a support document he emailed to me – I digitally recorded the tutorial and saved it as a digital file on my laptop. This has then been playing while I make the adjustments to the document’ (Clarke 2009: 12)
  • “One of the group members was not able to make it today so what we did we were connected by using MSN Messenger so we were discussing notes. We were feeding back to the other person.” (Jefferies et al. 2009: 16)

Creative appropriation

  • Blending social and academic…
  • ‘Chun-Tao also blended the academic side of her life with social technology by using Facebook to find out about software and sites that would be useful for her work, like Zotero and ClickUni, which “looks something like iGoogle but it has things like Facebook [… and] College News.” (Thema Case Study)

Enablers towards creative appropriation: which of these enablers do you think you provide most well?

Access that meets personal needs, in multiple formats and locations

Opportunities to develop generic technical, information, communication and learning skills.

To practise making decisions about which technology to use for which purpose

Perceived value and/or relevance of technology

Confidence (risk taking?) to move beyond established, conservative views of study, to explore , to find and use new tools in appropriate ways.


we need to debunk a couple of myths

  • learners are digital natives
  • have high expectations of technology-supported learning

Young people who have been immersed in digital technologies ('digital natives') have more advanced learning practices and capabilities than earlier generations.Do you agree? YES / NO


we need to debunk a couple of myths

  • what practices and capabilities do learners need for a digital age?
  • how do we enable learners to develop them?

Helen Beetham

Lou McGill

Allison Littlejohn

Small-scale JISC study

Final report May 09


what capabilities will today's learners need in 2020?

economic uncertainty

high competition for employment in the global knowledge economy

increased alternative, contract-based and self-employment

inter-disciplinarity and multi-role work teams

a networked society and communities

multi-cultural working and living environments

digitally-enhanced environment: geo-tagging, embedded data

blurring boundaries of real/virtual, public/private, work/leisure

increasing ubiquity, availability and reusability of digital knowledge

distribution of cognitive work into (human+non-human) networks

personal 'cloud' of information, personal/wearable devices

rapid social and techno-social change


We are not rethinking some part or aspect of learning, we are rethinking all of learning in these new digital contexts

As knowledge is increasingly accepted as being multi-modal, always potentially capable of digital capture and sharing, then the significance of 'the digital' as a separate space for living, learning and working may recede


How will we manage multiple identities in a world where public and private are being redefined? How will we act safely and responsibility in hybrid spaces?

Creative appropriation


What would you describe as the priority for graduates in the C21st?A high level skills for a knowledge economyB creative production of ideas in multiple mediaC critical information and technology literacyD digital participation and citizenshipE personal and social resilience


slow change, cultural and institutional inhibitors

rapid change, economic and techno-social drivers

Competence frameworks

information and media literacies

academic and prof literacies

ICT skills

web searching

using CMC

using TELE

using digital devices

word processing

using databases

analysis tools

assistive tech

social software

immersive envts


searching, retrieving

analysing, interpreting



managing resources

navigating info spaces

content creation

editing, repurposing

enriching resources


sharing content

critical thinking

problem solving


academic writing


concept mapping

time management

analysis, synthesis


creativity, innovation

self-directed learning

collaborative learning

what capabilities are being supported in UK HE and FE today?


A developmental model

Creative appropriation


hand-out: mapping capabilities to the developmental model

Strategies tend to focus on 'employability' – occasionally 'graduateness' – both very poorly conceptualised. In practice, how should the curriculum change? How will learners benefit? How will they be supported, challenged and progressed?



what are the challenges for learners?

Learners over-estimate their information skills

Many lack general critical and inquiry skills

Most learners still strongly led by tutor / course practices

Most learners unwilling to explore or creatively appropriate technologies

Separate 'skills' provision poorly engaged with

Need support integrating skills at task/practice level

Problems transferring skills from personal/social contexts to study

Potential clash of academic/personal knowledge cultures


What do learners arriving in HE and FE need to make the best of their learning experience?

A info/digital literacy module integrated into all

programmes in semester 1

B intensive study skills support including ICT

C student mentors with strong digital skills

D teaching staff with strong digital skills

E personal development plan that centres on

digital literacies


Digital participation, production and enquiry

Multiple modes of knowing, multiple media, multiple communities

Self-management of learning, career and reputation

Creativity, innovation and agility...

Rethink the capabilities graduates need

Rethink how they are taught, supported, assessed

Rethink how different capabilities and practices are valued by the institution

Peer learning, informal learning, 360 degree support and review

Authentic contexts for practice, including digitally-mediated contexts

Individual scaffolding and support

Making explicit community practices of knowledge and meaning-making

Anticipating and helping learners manage conflict between practice contexts

Recognising and helping learners integrate practices

Interdisciplinarity? Cross-contextual learning? Learner-generated contexts?

Transparency over processes and values

Recognition and reward (staff and student, cultural and financial)

Digital scholarship = learning and teaching practice, research and innovation, content production

Digital professionalism recognised and nurtured


Learning, living and working are understood to take place in a digital society: there is no separate space of learning which is 'digital'

Learners are blending their own learning environments

There is an entitlement to access and basic skills of learning in a digital age, plus a recognition of diverse personal goals and needs

Literacies for learning are continually assessed and supported: the emphasis is on producing digitally capable lifelong learners

The focus is on what formal post-compulsory education uniquely offers in the digital age


References and resources

  • JISC Responding to Learners pack
  • Sharpe, R. et al (2009) Learners’ experiences of e-learning synthesis report: Explaining learner differences, available from

Beetham, H., et al (2009) Thriving in the 21st Century: report of the JISC Learning Literacies for a Digital Age project, available from

  • ELESIG, next event 21 January 2010, Reading
  • Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age, Routledge (Spring 2010)

Theme 1 Keynote: Responding to learners

Helen Beetham, Rhona Sharpe

Thank you for your attendance and participation.

We hope you will join us now in the conference discussion area

where we will continue these discussions over the next two days.

Joint Information Systems Committee