“What are digital learning resources?” might seem a fairly obvious question, but it’s one that my colleagues Zac Gribble, Chris Thomson and I have been discussing a fair bit recently.
We’re working with FE, adult community learning (ACL) and work based learning (WBL) in Wales on a project about “Effective design and use of digital learning resources”, linked to the Digital 2030 framework. As we’ve discovered, it may be a simple question, but the answers are not all that easy to pin down.
What’s in a name?
The Jisc Digital Learning Resources in FE Teaching Toolkit tells us that digital learning resources are “multimedia materials that can be used to enhance learning and teaching”. It explains that they come in a variety of formats” such as interactive activities, simulations, animations, infographics, audio clips, videos, games and quizzes.”
That’s certainly a helpful starting point, but what makes a digital resource into a digital learning resource?
It seems that the answer to that question may not be so much about the digital content itself, important though that may be. It’s more to do with how the resource is intentionally used and supported in order to create a learning experience. In the words of The Open University in their free short course Take your teaching online, a teacher’s choice of software to create resources should focus on what can “bring their online teaching alive with a range of media”.
A broad, varied palette
One of the things I like about Take your teaching online is the way it’s helped me think about digital learning resources as a broad and varied palette, one that is constantly changing. On one level it considers the type of resources and tools which typically sit within a VLE or learning platform. Then there’s the assortment of multimedia such as audio, video, graphs and infographics, the ‘building blocks’ which can be further packaged together using content creation tools. Resources may be shared as open educational resources (OERs). Yet digital learning resources don’t always need advanced skills. Teachers can get creative with something as simple as MS Powerpoint to make existing materials more engaging. It is even possible for collaboration tools to become resources for learning – social media or shared documents for instance – without a teacher having to create much, if any, content at all.
Keeping an open mind
If we think of a digital learning resource in this open-minded way, the digital content no longer appears as the “be all and end all”. What really makes the difference is what you do with this resource and how it fits into your learning design to enable active learning to take place. Here, the distinction between a digital resource on the (web) page and the digital tool/s used to create and deliver the learning experience can get quite blurred. Perhaps that doesn’t matter, as long as the learning happens and the learner is well supported.
Definitions of digital learning resources often emphasise multimedia but tend to exclude the many text-based resources (such as e-books) that a library or learning resource centre usually provides for learners. But keeping an open mind about sources and formats of digital learning resources can help ensure that we don’t miss opportunities to incorporate high quality, useful and readily-available materials within active learning pedagogy.
Between now and July, Zac, Chris and I hope to learn from staff in FE, ACL and WBL in Wales about the kind of digital learning resources they are using and creating. We’ll be blogging and sharing some of our learning here on the Inspiring learning blog as we go along.