A tale of Ning and Skype – e-learning for Dementia Care

I was at the University of Bradford distance and e-learning conference on the 23rd of April.

I attended a very interesting workshop and a presentation done by the Dementia Group at Bradford where they talked about how they use Ning (a social networking site) and Skype to teach groups of adults practioner-learners studying M-level courses. The students are not your usual digital generation learners. They are older, with work, family and social responsibilities in addition to study commitments. Most of the students on the programme have never met each other or their tutors in real, physical life.

It was heart-warming to hear two of the students explaining to the audience how they learn and engage in the social networking platform and Skype, and how they enjoy learning. One student, told that he gave up his studies 45 years ago (at another university) after receiving feedback for his second assignment, and another course much later. So the course he is taking on Dementia Care is the third attempt to learn. He enjoys it because of the flexibility and the social nature of learning available in the current form of e-learning. He said that he couldn’t believe that learning could be a fun, social and creative activity that he is able to incorporate into his daily routine of work, family and social life.

Before I forget I must write down the following (un-refined) thoughts that occurred to me, and notes that I took while listening to the presenters (I also incorporate some of the quotes from students and staff).

The following are some of the key points that came from the students and staff when they talked about their experience of leaning online.

– Flexibility. The social networking site ‘brought the class to my home.’
– ‘Everything is on site. You can’t lose anything. It is all there!
– ‘Most of us are on it [Ning and Skype] everyday.
– ‘It does help you develop your own time’.
– Ability to support each other. ‘No matter what time of the day, there is always someone there – online [either on Skype or on Ning]. [The social network] helps me to do the degree while bringing up two kids and working 40+ hours a week’. Students also tend to create their own little study groups / peer support groups independent of the tutors.
– Provides a platform / tools for the distance learners to talk to each other from a wider geographical area, and across national and international boundaries, across cultural barriers; ability to create a shared experience. This seems to be an important element, because the students’ work was based on various practices, and on a daily basis they had a lot of work, and study-related experiences to share with each other. Without the e-learning platform, this valuable learning resource and knowledge can remain unused.
– Ability to create a new form of online identity (an identity that is much related to the ‘third culture’ developed online)

The module site showed students’ personal / individual and collaborative pieces of writing. One of the important things that I noticed was that students were gradually becoming skillfull authors, reflective practitioners and creators of practice-based knowledge. These are important learning outcomes relevant to their professional and academic development.

Many apologies to the Dementia Care group at Bradford if I have missed  important things that the group had said about their e-learning and e-teaching experience. And thanks Will (Will Stuart) for inviting to me to do a keynote at the conference.

Palitha Edirisingha (25 Apr 2009).

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