E-moderating Reflections Week 5 | The VAKman cometh

If you’ve been following my posts over the last few weeks, you’d probably know that I am currently attending a course on eModeration from the British Council. This week’s content was focused on making online learning effective. It reviewed topics such as motivation, low participation & lurking, and catering to participant needs. Comme d’habitude, I’m going to focus on one aspect of what was covered for my reflective journal.



Early on in this week’s module was a section on Learning Styles. This segment starts off with an exercise where you have to decide whether a statement is Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic (you know where this is going!). My favourite statement was “You are a stylish dresser” which apparently is an indication of being a visual learner. It’s quite tragic that the exercise didn’t consider my preference for plush corduroy and velour. Would that place me in the tactile subset of visual learners?

Or would VAK proponents explain my preference away with the easy escape route that ‘you’re a mix of styles’ provides?

To the BC’s credit, they balanced this inanity with four resources from the web that criticized learning styles and multiple intelligences. Nevertheless, dragging VAK into online teaching concerns me on two levels. First, you can’t simply duplicate practices from face to face teaching into online learning environment and expect them to help you engage learners and meet objectives. Second and more seriously, duplicating falsehoods from face to face teaching isn’t helping anyone.

If the goal is to make online teaching more effective, I recommend using the seven affordances of new assessment and learning, conceptualised by Dr. William Cope and Dr. Mary Kalantzis from the University of Illinois. It’s a more robust model and one that was specifically designed to leverage technology and meet the challenges of the learning environment.

Here are some of my ideas for making online teaching/learning effective using the seven affordances:

Affordance 1: Ubiquitous learning 

  • Design learning such that it’s device agnostic and can be accessed on the go. If your platform does not permit this, create downloadable chunks which learners access through their smartphones or other devices.
  • Provide shareable podcasts and vodcasts which can be accessed and viewed outside of scheduled ‘learning time’.
  • Recommend additional resources in the form of apps or PDFs created specially for mobile devices.
  • Design activities that get learners to notice and document everyday routines – they could record these as images, videos or short texts such as tweets.

Affordance 2: Active knowledge making

  • Go beyond encouraging forum responses to getting learners to create documents in the form of basic infographics, how to guides, cheat sheets, presentations and the like as responses to challenges or ‘missions’ as Shelly Terrell puts it.
  • Give learners opportunities to create new things, not merely summarizing understanding or answering questions.

Affordance 3: Multi-modal meaning 

  • Create opportunities to access, interact with and respond to content in multiple ways. Don’t restrict learners to only text-based discussions. While synchronous chats are one way to vary communication, learners can also record themselves using their webcam, sharing their ideas or creating audio responses.
  • Curate a wide variety of resources from across the web; infographics, short videos, long videos, podcasts, blog posts, images, even tweets. But, give learners tasks to complete using these resources so they’re making sense of what they are reading, watching and listening to.

Affordance 4: Recursive feedback 

  • Go beyond the canned feedback that MCQ and drag & drop interactions provide. Design assignments that give the learners opportunities to consolidate their learning, apply and experiment. Establish systems for generating both facilitator and peer-feedback for these assignments.
  • Use synchronous sessions to provide feedback for both tasks done online in the virtual classroom and those completed offline or elsewhere.
  • Use screencasting tools to provide feedback on forum contributions, assignments, and other submissions.

Affordance 5: Collaborative intelligence 

  • Get learners to work in groups to use their collective resources to solve case studies and problems. Their responses can be multi-modal.
  • Set up forum discussion tasks such that each learner builds on the contributions of another.

Affordance 6: Metacognition 

  • Peer-reviews are one way to build metacognitive awareness particularly when peer reviewers have slightly different topics for their assignments because it compels each peer reviewer to consider the process of ideating and creating a full response to a task.
  • As learners complete tasks, encourage them to reflect on the process as this can also help them build metacognitive awareness for how they learn online.

Affordance 7: Differentiated learning 

  • Give learners the choice of completing tasks at different challenge levels, with the option of choosing a task that meets their skill and proficiency level.
  • Monitor responses in discussion forums and provide additional resources that learners would enjoy based on their level.

Russ Mayne’s blog is a good place to start if you’d like to read up on pseudo-science in ELT; I particularly recommend his concise and incisive article on learning styles.

Image attribution: Monster by Joel McKinney | NounProject | CC BY 3.0 US

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