Revill et al (2005, 231) published a paper that illustrates distance presents no restriction to collaborative learning and reports on a “learning in the workplace degree based upon an online learning community approach”. “Individualised learning plans, shared electronic portfolios and collaborative reflection on practice” (emphases added) are supplemented with online ‘hotseating’ and the use of workplace advocates. Revill et al (2005, 242) explain ‘hotseating’ as a “special type of discussion with expert witnesses [or specialists], who can be interrogated by” programme participants. Revill et al (2005, 238) state that “workplace advocate is ideally someone within the workplace who is both able to support study and to ensure that the place of work will benefit from the participant’s involvement in the programme”. Revill et al (2005, 231) claim is that the “paper exhibits that it is possible to build an online community for an award-bearing workplace learning degree”, however, they state that “tools and approaches need to be developed to ensure self-directed learning from experience and through reflection can take place in a community of learners”.
Revill et al (2005, 231) point out the “belief that the relationship between those studying for the degree and those offering the degree, is not one of ‘expert’ and ‘student’ exchange, but is aiming to develop a student-centred learning experience where students are valued as” co-practitioners for their contributions.
The underpinning ‘deep learning’ pedagogic principles of the online bachelor’s degree in learning, technology and research, which is directed at participants who have not previously had the opportunity of higher education, include “learning from experience; critical reflection; action enquiry; collaborative discourse in online learning communities; self-directed adult learning” and the use of “learning journals to collect and reflect upon critical incidents at work” (Revill et al 2005, 232, emphases added).
Revill et al (2005, 232) emphasise that “content does not form the basis of this degree” and report on experience “in online communities [that] has proven to be a powerful further stimulus and influence focusing upon collaborative discourse about practice in online communities”. Learning is promoted primarily through brief stimuli that lead into online discussions. Participants are empowered online through the facilitation of construction and structuring to move from specific tasks to the broad. This social action of negotiating meaning, participant choice and self-direction served as basis to plan the degree. The experiences with the first cohort served to establish a pathway for quality assurance requirements. The pathway is in essence a shell of generic modules that is adaptable the meet the contexts, learning needs and job roles of individual participants. The coherence of the curriculum gets negotiated at modular level with the learning facilitator concerned.
Each individual learning plan (ILP) frames the individual participant’s learning requirements for the term, explain Revill et al (2005, 233-4). It is a shared and negotiated web-based document created through a web-based tool. The ‘tool’ caters for individual ‘electronic portfolios’ of learning plans, assignments and commentaries according to the learning outcomes of each participant. Individuals can design their own learning activities, negotiate and modify their learning outcomes to ensure relevance to their own workplace. The intention is to maximise the impact of individual learning on-the-job. Participants further create their own products for assessment purposes, such as “CD-ROMs, web site or slide show presentations, digital films or text-based accounts”.
Revill et al (2005, 234-5) explain the use of the portfolio tool “to capture critical incidents, notes and moments of learning through the use of electronic journals, digital photographs and video clips”. Work-based ‘artefacts’ are meant to represent significant points of learning. Quantity of artefacts and data; such as notes, minutes, plans, methods, interview notes, survey results, observations and other; are encouraged to reflected upon and analyse.
Revill et al (2005, 236) state that “there is a growing body of evidence of the positive personal and professional effects that engaging in action research has on the practitioner”, which is the reason for it being at the heart of the degree. The intent of action research is “to build collaborative enquiries and development in the workplace”. Participants get guidance with the design of their projects, their data collection, analyses and ethics. The final year of the degree revolve around the notion of exhibiting and informing peers and the community of practice about lessons learned. This sharing in turn serves “as a lever of change and a stimulus for more collaborative and negotiated change”.
Reflective writing in the workplace represents the classic double-loop learning state Revill et al (2005, 236). The notion of ‘patchwork writing’ is encouraged, in addition to accumulation of work-based artefacts. Participants are required to document alternative reflective pieces and even encouraged to ”make photo albums, write poetry and design posters illustrating key incidents”, which are often reflected upon by using frameworks suggested in literature.
In addition to the ideal candidates to serve as workplace advocates, Revill et al (2005, 238) explain that the “advocate is not involved with the academic side of the degree work and its assessment but in providing an environment that will maximise” the participant’s learning. The advocate’s role include clarification of joint expectations; negotiation of appropriate learning activities; and enabling the sharing of effective practice, action enquiry and reflective practice. Revill et al (2005, 237) point out that “workplace degrees have a long history of developing mentoring and partnership arrangements”, because of “the importance of a conducive learning environment for work-related learning and emphasises”. It has been found that “more experienced peers offer the best workplace learning support”. Good human capital practices, such as widespread performance management and appraisal systems, imply that it should not be difficult to identify workplace advocates.
Revill, G.; Terrell, I.; Powell, S. and Tindal, I. 2005. Learning in the workplace: a new degree online Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 42, 3, 231–245.