College Learning Resources -Are They Really Worth It?

Learning Resources Development Group (LRDG).1995. Transcript of talk given in September 1994. by Dr Richard Evans, Principal, Stockport College of Further & Higher Education

The immediate answer to this question is an emphatic yes! College libraries and learning support services and their staff must now be at the hub of any learning institution. Their capability and importance cannot be questioned. The reasons for their importance include the continuing move to:

  • Learner centredness for the more diverse student population of the future.
  • Curriculum frameworks.
  • New technologies.
  • Resource management for the benefit of learners
  • financial
  • physical
  • human

All these elements must be underpinned by “value for money” (VfM), quality and overall effective management.

Colleges, like many other organisations today, have to carry out a fundamental review of how they operate and most certainly with the funding regimes imposed on them, achieve greater levels of efficiency. The often quoted statements, “greater value for money”, and, “do more for less”, whether you agree with them in education/training, are now a reality.

Learner centredness and diverse student populations.

The increasing move to learner centredness will bring about major and fundamental changes in the way colleges’ learning resources arc managed. The new funding model, mentioned later, is very much centred on the learner and requires high levels of learner retention on a programme of study and subsequent achievement. This approach is far more effective, providing as it does a better match with learner expectations/intention and with employer requirements.

The expansion in the further education (FE) student population will precipitate an increased and differentiated student body who will inevitably require different teaching and learning methods and methods of curriculum delivery. The students, irrespective of age, whether self or employer-sponsored, now possess a different and wider range of expectation and intention than in the past. The ever accelerating knowledge/skill base will also require an enhanced commitment to retraining, multiskilling and cross/skilling of the workforce. As companies continue to reorganise and consequently downsize their workforces, they and their staff will need support, hopefully from the FE colleges, to introduce these changes. Provision will become more precise and individualised, very often for small numbers of people. People in the future will experience multiple career changes in their lifetimes, be multiskilled and will need to have opportunities for lifelong learning. Colleges must respond positively to these changes in order to realise the student growth targets set by the government and play their part in achieving the national targets for education and training (NTETs). Colleges, in order to respond to the changes, must shift from course-based provision to individual self-motivator programmes of learning for all their students and such a principle is enshrined in the philosophy of library and learning support services.

The shape of the student population in the future will shift dramatically in terms of age.

The tables on pages 5 and 6 covering the participation in education by 16 year olds (Figure 1.); the population projection 1994-2004 (Figure 2.), and the participation in education shown as a percentage of cohort, indicate the general demographic features (Figure 3.)

figo1.

figo1.

XXXX FIG 2 REMOVED XXXXX

PARTICIPATION IN EDUCATION (PERCENTAGE OF COHORT)    
FULL-TIMEPART-TIME
Age Group1988–891992–931988–891992–93
1652%72%17%8%
1735%55%18%11%
1818%34%14%12%
1991–92
21–246%
25–344%
35 and over2%

These tables show starkly that the future student population will be predominantly adult, including those in employment or wishing to “return to study”. The colleges will need to take care in managing their response to these needs, and whether they are constrained in domestic, work or financial terms.

It is well known that people’s motivation and capacity to learn is fuelled by a wide range of factors. Once they have made the commitment to take up a learning opportunity and assuming they have received information and guidance to embark on appropriate choices, the tools that all learners need are information skills, information technology skills and the skills to analyse, select and synthesise what they are learning. Strong emphasis on these skills, combined with their learning specialism and tutoring support make for greater learner independence and the facility to gain greatest advantage from libraries and learning resource centres. Diverse student populations will need increasing emphasis on information skills and information technology skills in their programmes and colleges will have to place greater emphasis on supporting and developing these skills with students if the investment in learning resources is to achieve fullest benefit for learners.

Curriculum frameworks

The main curriculum frameworks post 16 can currently be shown as:

fig04.

fig04.

They must not be seen as separated but increasingly as being integrated. One of the current challenges to colleges is to manage these horizontally in order to bring about integration. This will allow a more broad and balanced curriculum experience for the students. Programmes of study can be ‘customised’ for the learner and the employer from units from these frameworks including specially derived units not present with the existing frameworks. A good example is with the developing GNVQ framework – the award can be offered with additional qualifications such as more GNVQ units, whether optional or additional, occupationally specific NVQ, ‘A’ or ‘AS’ levels or GCSEs. Access provision could also be complemented with GCSEs, GNVQ or NVQ units. This horizontal management will enrich the learner’s experience and require much greater levels of learner support and guidance. The vertical management is also important especially in terms of progression from the national curriculum and to higher education.

One of the challenges of integrating curriculum frameworks is to map common learning outcomes across a range of qualification types. The implications of this for the selection and use of learning resources are that many learning materials and resources are appropriate across different qualifications in the framework. Learners can best be assisted in drawing on these resources if ‘route maps’ are devised as essential curriculum organisation tools for exploiting the resources available to support the learning programme, whether those resources are in central libraries and learning centres or learning resource centres in dispersed locations.

New technologies.

Traditional book and non-book material will be increasingly complemented by technology based learning systems. The information technology (IT) revolution continues at a pace and the learning environments of a college, whether libraries, learning resource centres, classrooms or workshops, will see the introduction of the newer technologies. The range is already quite staggering e.g. interactive audio and video, compact disc – interactive or with extended architecture, hypermedia system, digital system and even “virtual reality systems”. However, a word of caution is needed with the introduction of these systems. The purest definition of computer based leaming/teaching (CBL/T) is teaching without books or staff. Pure, but not true, for CBL/T does not aim to replace either paper or people – well, at least not in the foreseeable future. At its best CBL/T combines the best of textbook writing and conventional teaching/leaming techniques and remodels them to fit into the world of a computer program.

The advantages of CBL/T are:

  • Learner centred.
  • Flexible and matches modular approaches.
  • Control of learning – time and rate.

The connection between how people learn and the opportunities that new technologies present to activate this is underexploited and requires far more research.

One interesting fact is that the learner has a higher level of recall from hearing and doing. Newer technologies, involving greater interactivity with multimedia, enables the facility to see, hear and do. The diagram on the next page shows vividly the percentage recall using various means of communication method:

fig05.

fig05.

Colleges need to plan environments, resources and communications networks through which learners can fully benefit from the potent contribution that information technology can make to meeting people’s needs in terms of preferred learning styles, reinforcement of their learning and in preparing projects, assignments and reports which meet the requirements and expectations of employment contexts. The emphasis in this culture on information technology skills and information skills is self evident.

Within the financial constraints a full exploitation of the new learning technologies will be required. Enhanced partnerships will need to be developed between other colleges, higher education institutions (HEIs), employers, public libraries and other information providers to provide a comprehensive service as is possible. Electronic systems such as Janet, Super-Janet and the evolving technologies associated with tele-matics will need to be evaluated and introduced, again within the financial constraints. This is particularly important where FE colleges are involved in HE and the increasing difficulty of subscribing to expensive specialist journals. These texts are becoming increasingly inaccessible to people other than those at the frontiers of their subject(1).

Resource management for the benefit of learners

Financial.

Colleges, as has been stressed, should be learning organisations first and foremost, being curriculum-led resource constrained and it is essential that all the services offered and delivered are as cost effective as possible within a quality framework and with enlightened and effective management.

The Further Education Funding Council (FEFC) have introduced a new funding model, namely Model ‘E’. Roger McClure in last year’s seminar indicated the rationale behind the model. It is based on sound educational arguments and is very much learner centred. The basic model recognises three stages of a learner’s experience, namely, entry – on-programme – achievement.

The student attracts units for each stage of the process which in turn brings money to the College. Once on programme the student is tracked and three FEFC monitoring exercises occur each year. If the student leaves the programme the College no longer receives money. It is therefore essential that students are retained and achieve their primary learning goals which has been decided at the entry stage. This will require increased learner support and guidance.

Physical.

Libraries and learning resources must also become more attractive and welcoming to facilitate more effective learning. Quality learning environments need to be established with ‘fitness for purpose’ very much in mind. The accommodation must not be cluttered up with rows of shelves, many carrying material which contains redundant and/or obsolete information and which is infrequently accessed. The culture and purpose of libraries in the college learning context needs to be questioned. A new culture needs to develop which is less about historical collections and more about access to the most up to date materials available. Learning material must be maintained and continually audited -quality standards should be set. Examples of such standards could be, ‘how old is the book?’, and, more important, ‘how often has it been taken out over the past three to five years?’. Staff in the learning support services have an important part in maintaining these standards. A possible organisation structure is the ‘model of complementality’ (figure 6.), a large central learning facility open throughout the learning day and year. This facility is then complemented by a series of learning resource centres – either generalist or specialist in nature – linked by computer network on a local, college-wide basis. With the evolving electronic techniques, links with external organisations are essential. Many benefits flow from this approach such as remote accessing and increased mobility of learning. The model of complementality is a powerful construct and similar approaches can be developed within colleges in other essential learning support areas such as guidance and information technology.

fig06.

fig06.

Human resources.

Having emphasised the high value which should be placed on college learning resources – in terms of information sources, technology and environments – the key to making these work for the best benefit of learners is in the kinds of staff support that is provided. It is essential that the messages about the changing kinds of skills mix and levels of expert knowledge which the rest of industry requires now and in the future are heeded by colleges in their human resource planning and the development of their staff.

Three key areas of expertise need highlighting in particular. They are the information experts, information resource managers and information technologists. These may not yet be the most appropriate terms but ‘teacher’, ‘librarian’ and ‘technician’ no longer portray the roles and expertise that are now required. Nor is it appropriate to see these as totally distinct and separate roles. Indeed each role has within it an essential element of teaching or coaching. There must be some elements of cross-skilling but also the recognition that learners cannot get the best out of the physical resources and new technologies invested in unless there is team work amongst the various experts to exploit the best contributions that each can make.

To conclude, for colleges to be in the vanguard of the lifelong learning movement, learning resources must be at the centre of their thinking.

References:

(1) R. Evans, “Libraries and Learning”, College Management Today. September 1993.

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