Where adults take control

28th September 2007 at 01:00
"Log On for Learning" is the new CLAN slogan. The CLAN in question is the City of Edinburgh Literacy and Numeracy partnership which has developed an innovative website to support extended learning for adults.

The idea is to provide online facilities to extend the duration, frequency and effectiveness of learning and to give people more control over their learning oppor-tunities and goals.

"This is a major resource which is probably unique in the UK and Ireland and there is a lot of interest from around the British Isles in copying it. We want to share it," says Catherine Macrae, CLAN's literacies and ICT development officer who manages the project. "It offers learners a programme of individualised e-learning, tailored to their specific goals and guided by an online tutor as necessary."

When the project began in June 2005, it expected some 30 learners to log on; two years later there are more than 250 registered users. "This is certainly a sign of its success," says Ms Macrae. "We thought people might use it two or three hours a week on top of classes, but the average is probably four to six hours, with some learners online for as much as 15 hours. We have far exceeded our expectations. Tutors use it for online classes and learners can access it at any time. It demonstrates how learners can take control of their own learning."

The site was developed with support from Learning Connections two grants of pound;6,000 to promote blended e-learning, a combination of online and face to-face teaching and learning. But because of its user-friendliness, far more learners than expected have been working alone and developing personalised web pages on the site.

"The website only shows the students what they are involved in," says John McGrath, the project co-ordinator and web designer. "It is deliberately 'de cluttered' to make it more user-friendly and less intimidating."

That said, it offers a range of learning resources and services. Multimedia materials can be used independently or via the learners' existing courses or project tutors. For example, there's a podcast zone which offers learner writing for students to download to any type of MP3 player and a peer support zone for learners with English as a second language. Learning events are advertised and subscribers receive emails. Users can search a database of resources available from the CLAN base. Learners can listen to Beans, the CLAN newsletter being read by other learners, or stories from around the world written by refugees.

CLAN Edinburgh is a partnership project funded by the Scottish Government and led by the Edinburgh City Council to increase the number of people confident about using English and maths in their everyday lives. It works with the city's three colleges (Jewel and Esk Valley, Stevenson and Edinburgh Telford), the Workers' Education Association and the National Health Service.

There are 8,480 learners in CLAN groups, 5,000 of whom are new learners in the past year. The majority are from national and local priority groups: young people, the unemployed, people with English as a second language, people from disadvantaged areas, those in low-paid, low-skill jobs and those with a health problem or disability.

The key to the website's success is that it has sound and images as well as text. "This frees the learner up from doing homework with a book, which they might not understand," says Ms Macrae. "Using IT such as this is relevant to the adult learner who may have negative experiences of school and of book learning. Using a new medium breaks down barriers."

John McGrath demonstrates how an adult learner can access a text visually while hearing it read or spoken. "If they are listening while reading, it means they can access materials that by sight alone might be beyond them. But with sound, they can understand the text and increase their reading fluency simultaneously. Hearing vocabulary extends their reading vocabulary."

The website also frees up time. Learners can log on outwith class time as well as in class, which is an advantage to most adults who lead busy lives. Students who miss class or have to drop out can still keep up with work. Although the registered users are all from the Edinburgh area, one ESOL student who has had to return home to work, logs on regularly from Poland. "The site allows the learner to work at the level and rate they want," says Ms Macrae.

Making mistakes is not the prerogative of learners either, says Mr McGrath. "If you print a few thousand copies of a book with spelling mistakes, you're in trouble. On a website, mistakes can be rectified with a couple of taps on the keyboard. More importantly, we use a Moodle-based website [a course management system] which can be developed continuously to meet growing learner and practioner interest in and demand for e-learning."

* www.clanlearn.org

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