My aim in this unit is to look at inclusive learning and teaching in lifelong learning and explore it in the context of teaching Information Technology. I will analyse and evaluate aspects, strategies and approaches to inclusive learning. I will explain how areas like resources, functional skills, feedback and assessment opportunities can help learners achieve their goals and beyond. Also, I will show how important the learning environment is towards motivating learners and promoting respect for others. Inclusion is ensuring that all learners feel part of the learning process and can participate and contribute in order to get the best opportunity to succeed. Wilson (2008:153) states that inclusion is “about creating interesting, varied and inspiring learning opportunities for all learners; ensuring all learners contribute and are never disadvantaged by methods, language or resources”. This statement makes sense as if learners feel excluded and their needs are not met in any session they will most likely not be motivated to learn and thus prevent their overall development.
Francis and Gould (2009:74) statement supports this theory when it noted that “all learners should feel part of and engaged in the particular session”. It was in 1996 Tomlinson defined inclusion as ‘the greatest degree of match or fit between individual learning requirements and provision’. Although his theory centred on students with learning difficulties and disabilities in mainstream college provision, it is suggesting that everyone will benefit if learning and teaching is inclusive. Where inclusion is diversity is not far behind as we have a wide range of learners from various cultural, religious background, ethnicity, gender/orientation, age, physical disabilities, previous experiences, mental health issues, aptitude and learning styles. For example, a teacher can use the cultural background of their learners and embed it for an Internet task to search for information on that particular country online and then share with the class. If teachers are to be inclusive they must also recognise and support equality to ensuring that all their learners can access learning.
For example, a learner with hearing problems can still access an IT course if a teacher will find out the leaner’s needs which may be to source an Interpreter or ensure the room has an induction loop. It must be noted here that inclusion is a collaborative process and involves both teachers and learners to ensure that everyone is aware of roles they play in making it work. Learners have individual learning needs and come from various educational and social background and teachers should endeavour to meet these learning needs and create an environment where all learners can be included in the learning process. This would involve planning, examining teaching methods and styles, effective use of resources and how we assess learners and ourselves. Planning cannot be effective unless we understand our learners and it is counterproductive to plan sessions without a clear idea of who will receive the knowledge and skills we hope to give.
Francis and Gould (2009:55) say that in planning “the learners and their needs are our first consideration”. It is important to recognise individual differences in terms of gender, race, age, learning abilities, cultural backgrounds and so much more. It is unlikely that we will meet learners before the first session; however, teachers can find useful information about learners through their application forms, initial assessments, questionnaires, interviews and so on. These can be useful to ensure we check that courses are appropriate for learners and if any additional support is required. It makes it very difficult to take the needs of learners into consideration if learners are not willing to disclose needs to us. Support can be pre-arranged for learners, for example, in the form of accessing the classroom, childcare, financial help and so on. There are learners whose numeracy, literacy, language and ICT skills are below standards and can be a barrier to achievements of their goals.
Most learners with skills gap will move toward courses not linked directly with English, Mathematics and ICT but feel that doing them as a subject will not be relevant to their needs. Information Technology classes can promote skills in literacy when learners create PowerPoint presentations where they would need to check for spelling and grammar. Numeracy skills can be incorporated by using charts, tables and graphs in learning to use Excel. Language skills are useful with learner led or teacher led discussion groups or question and answer segments where learners will be able to practice this skill. Once we can identify the learner’s needs then planning the sessions can have purpose and direction. According to Francis and Gould (2009:59) it is important to “give purpose and direction to your planning”.
When teaching a course on computers to absolute beginners, a teacher may want to help learners gain the knowledge and skills to use a computer which they can use at work or home. One of the tools that can help to make sure this learning objective is achieved is SMART which is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound. It makes sense to describe what is to be learned, what can be done as a result, using various methods to teach it, how useful would it be to help learners now and in the future and how long it will take to achieve. Teachers may have one overall learning objective for the class; however, they need to recognise that learners have different ways of learning. For example, teachers can find out the learning styles of the learners through VAK learning style self assessment questionnaire.
The three learning styles are visual, aural and kinaesthetic. It recognises that some people learn through words, some by looking at things and others by doing it. While most learners may fit into one of these styles there may be others who might be a mixture of all or some of them. All subjects will have a combination of knowledge and theory and skills and some learners may struggle with the “lecture” part of the session. This knowledge can be helpful in planning as it would allow teachers to incorporate short learning activities at the certain intervals to break up the session. These can greatly help teachers to plan how to carry out learning by using different types of resources or changing the style of teaching throughout the session to increase the chances that all learners learn something from the session.
Different learning styles bring to the forefront the issue of participation which cannot happen if learners don’t interact with each other which has to done within the classroom environment. According to Francis and Gould (2009:16) “the teacher creates the optimum environment in which people learn”. They go on to suggest that the “teaching environment” has three aspects which are physical, social and learning. Our focus is on the physical and social environments in relation to people interacting in the various learning styles that suit them. It makes sense that the physical condition of the classroom is important as if it is too hot or cold and not properly ventilated it would make learners uncomfortable and inhabit learning. Some learners can be turn off learning by the way in which the furniture is arranged in the classroom. For example, a course on Life drawing would require learners to sit in two-ways setting whereas an IT course set up has little room for flexibility.
Also, teachers have to ensure sufficient resources are available to match the type of course to be undertaken. For example when teaching computers one would expect enough computers systems to enable learners to practice what they have learned either individually or in groups. Resources are very important to inclusive learning as they will ensure that learner’s different styles of learning are met. According to Francis and Gould (2009:126) resources should be available to “support, not lead learning”, “reflect diversity and experience of learners” and should “always be checked” before using. As with the learning styles mentioned earlier, resources can be tailored to enhance individual needs. Audio-visual displays such as PowerPoint presentation, videos, CD player, tape or cassette recorder, Internet and so on. Textbooks, handouts and worksheets can be used by learners to complement the learning taking place for example, giving learners handouts can be beneficial as these are summary of what has been learned.
Sometimes in order to engage learners practically we may need to work through points in groups and present to class, some aids to help would include flipcharts or whiteboard. For example teachers can use handouts with larger fonts or coloured paper for students with learning difficulties thus ensuring they are included with the session and they have the same access to learning as other learners on the course. According to Francis and Gould (2009:19) one can “learn best when we are relaxed and feel comfortable with what we are experiencing in the teaching environment”. They suggest that teachers play a very important role in establishing a “positive social environment” for learners. However, this cannot happen overnight and will require that teachers at the beginning of any course help to relieve the tension and anxiety of their learners. Therefore, motivation is vital at the beginning of learning as without it learners will not development.
Both physical and social environmental needs is supported by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943) which suggest that all humans need to have a sense that their physical and psychological needs are met before any type of learning can take place. According to Maslow what motivates learners is the need to achieve their potential; therefore, a negative environment prevents growth and development. There are many ways to create a positive social environment for learning which include how teachers present themselves by appearance (are we dressed appropriately), body language (are we open, welcoming and positive) or how prepared we are ( have all available resources). Once these have been established and learners have been put at ease, it is important for groups to set ground rules. Francis and Gould (2009:22) suggest that “the creating of norms or expectation or rules is a natural part of group dynamics”. They further added that in order to know what is required of them learners need “a sense of structure”.
Learners may already be aware of the institution’s existing rules regarding use of mobiles, smoking and so on at some stage of enrolment or induction. However, there is the need for both teachers and learners to come to common rules for the classroom which are within the control of both. Francis and Gould (2009:22 says that “exactly what you have arrived at may well depend upon the nature and maturity of your learners”, which would make sense as some rules may be compulsory and others flexible. It is believed that the more learners have a greater say in the setting of ground rules the more it is likely they will keep the rules and it would be easy to follow. For example, rules regarding drinking and eating in an IT classroom would need to be establish taking into consideration Health and safety and cost of damage to computers.
The positive interaction in the classroom between teachers and learners will continue throughout the course if teachers ensure that they create assessment opportunities to meet the needs of our learners and give constructive feedback to motivate them. When deciding on the methods of assessment, teachers must make sure that learners will be able to achieve it and that it is the right level. This can be done in consultation with the learners on which method of assessment is best for them and then plan the assessment around it. In an IT class, assessments may involve a picture quiz, making a presentation, observation, tests, ILPs and so on.
Teachers should then give feedback to learners as it gives them an indication of their progress and if there are areas to improve. Feedback needs to be constructive and ongoing in order to be successful and it can be formal, informal, written or verbal. It is worth remembering that the purpose for feedback is to help people improve and not break them down. Therefore, it is important that teacher’s tone and attitude is positive throughout the process. On the other scale it is important for teachers to get feedback from the learners because they need to know how learners feel about their learning activities.
Sometimes learners may have great input to activities which teachers can look at incorporating which shows that learning is going on not only for the learners but the teacher as well. In conclusion, there is a greater need today for adults to continue their education as they want to improve their financial worth, chances of getting a promotion, and other reasons. Therefore, when inclusive teaching and learning is practiced in the lifelong sector it should ensure that all learners get the best opportunity to succeed and the teaching strategies can meet the needs of all learners. Alternatively, inclusive learning and teaching will not be happen if both teachers don’t promote it and learners don’t cooperate.
Francis, M.,Gould J.; (2009) Achieving your PTLLS Award. London: Sage Wilson, L. (2008) Practical Teaching: A Guild to PTLLS & CTLLS. Italy: G Canale & C. Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education 2008-2012 CSIE About Inclusion? [Online] http://www.csie.org.uk/inclusion/index.shtml Accessed: 28/04/2012 Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education 2008-2012 CSIE What is Inclusion? [Online] http://www.csie.org.uk/inclusion/index.shtml Accessed: 28/04/2012 Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education 2008-2012 CSIE Why Inclusion [Online] http://www.csie.org.uk/inclusion/index.shtml Accessed: 28/04/2012 http://www.lifelonglearning.co.uk/mosergroup/freshsum.pdf Assessed 07.05.2012 Moser Report