Thursday, June 2, 2011

Valuing professional practice and lifewide learning

In 2002, with Ingham and Wagner, I conducted research using secondary data, to understand the status quo of information about the Recognition of Prior Learning on the web in Australian Universities. As the abstract stated: Recognition of prior learning (RPL) information on 38 Australian universities' websites was analyzed, with the following results: (1) research on universities' use of technology for student-institution interaction was lacking; (2) terms and definitions used for RPL were inconsistent, hard to find, or required a high level of knowledge; and (3) usefulness varied widely. The study confirmed other research being conducted at the time that the recognition of prior learning in Higher Education was, by and large, poorly promoted to adult learners (Childs et al) and poorly offered to students (Whelan et al).

The rapidly growing "APL" (Accreditation of Prior Learning) agenda that was taking place Europe and the UK, simply did not exist in Australia. It still doesn't. Charles Darwin University is a marked exception to this statement, both in 2002, and in 2011.

Why is RPL important in the "blended and flexible learning" discourse? It is important for a number of reasons.
1. The "lifewide learning" discourse remains incomplete if it does not theorise and encompass student's lifewide learning beyond the institution.
2. The "lifelong learning" discourse remains incomplete if it does not theorise and encompass student's lifelong learning beyond the institution.
3. Institutions that argue that "professional practice" is a critical aspect of contemporary Higher Education continue to attempt to argue that professional practice gained outside a university course is of lesser value (and less critical) compared to "professional practice" developed inside a university subject. This is an elitist argument that falls well short of theorising criticality and disciplinarity within practice, on it's own terms. [Note however, at the honorary doctorate end of the qualification spectrum, universities do have ways of acknowledging lifelong and lifewide learning. These mechanisms are poorly deployed for students in undergraduate degrees].
4. The theoretical and practical processes that lead to the recognition and valuing of lifewide and lifelong learning takes the HE sector into a conversation about their purpose. That conversation includes the following conjecture "If we value what students learn outside the institution, and if we come to understand and identify criticality and knowledge production as a function and outcome of situated learning outside the institution, then what does this mean for what we do inside a university? How can we create a dynamic and flexible relationship with, and between, student's learning and journeys?" These, and many related questions, are a good thing.
5. RPL asks academics to think about learning outcomes, rather than focusing on content. If a student can present evidence of the learning outcomes, then an academic should be able to justify why that evidence does not count. We know from research that often such evidence is judged not to count because it was not developed using a specific textbook (which is not mentioned in the learning outcomes) or a specific assessment task (which is not mentioned in trhe learning outcomes). Or simply because the evidence was "not manufactured here" and therefore, by it's very nature, deemed to be of a lesser quality. I had a personal experience of this latter reaction when I once taught a casual class in "Program Development" in a Bachelor of Adult Education and VET at UTS. I referred a number of highly experience students to the Course Coordinator for RPL (they could have taught the subject every bit as easily as I could) but their requests were denied on the basis that they although they were doing program development, this was not the same as studying it. This comment, and the subsequent decision was made without any reference to evidence. Rather, it was an untested working theory of the Coordinator that relegated experience to the bin of uncriticality.

Childs M, Ingham V and Wagner R (2002). Recognition of Prior Learning on the Web--A Case of Australian Universities.Australian, Journal of Adult Learning, v42 n1 p39-56 Apr.

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Dialogue about blended learning

Visit a project I built using Wix in 2010 where colleagues and I explore the meaning of "blended learning"