Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The echo of teaching

I thought I'd have a go at answering the The Learning Circuits Blog: December Big Question - What did you learn about learning? One of the projects I have worked on this year, is the development of a tool supporting the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL). It has been truly enlightening for me in many ways.

APL is going to be a core activity of a lot of Universities I recon. Content no longer seems to be the core business of the sector, as has been shown by initiatives such as Open Learn. Coming to grips with this is a bit like trying to understand Open Source business models I think, it requires a fundamental rethink of what is valuable. For most universities I think that value is going to increasingly lie in guidance and coaching on the one side, and assessment and accreditation on the other.

There seems to be a problem with accreditation of learning that has not taken place within the controlled environment of a course though. Very few universities are serious about APL, and I can't help but wonder why. Part of it, I am sure, is to do with fees and such, but not all. After some reflection I think we must also admit that APL exposes some critical weaknesses of our assessment processes. In theory our assessments are supposed to discriminate between those learners that have attained certain outcomes, and those who haven't. If that was all there was to it, then surely learners claiming APL could as simple as doing the regular assessment, but without attending the course.

The reason this isn't common practice I think, is that most assessments don't really assess the right outcomes. Most assessments I think are designed to trigger an echo of teaching, and not of learning. And of course our teaching is so good, that if the learner echo's a confirmation of our teaching, then surely that means the intended learning has taken place. But what if learning has not been a result of our teaching? Suddenly we cannot short circuit the inherent difficulty of assessing competence by resorting to looking for the echo of teaching.

I think it would be interesting to dig into assessment practices used by recruitment agencies. In a way they are asked to make assessments that employers aren't confident we have made. Furthermore, whatever they assess is always without the luxury safety net of knowing what has probably been learned and by which means.

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