Applied learning. A design model for further education in the 21st century
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Undertaken over four years, this research was both an investigation of the adoption of an applied learning approach for further education (FE) course delivery in the 21st century, and the development of an educational model that could be adopted by other, cognate FE learning institutions and organisations. An Irish further education college, its course offerings and teaching approaches provided the empirical context for this practitioner design-based research (DBR). Learners, teachers and outside collaborating agencies and work experience providers acted as the principal design informants and participants for three iterative cycles of design-based research. Data were derived through observations, questionnaires, interviews and recordings of applied learning activities, both within the college, in classrooms and in specifically designed working environments, as well as in the wider community outside of the college including various workplaces. Informed by a literature and policy review and the researcher’s own professional biography and experience as an educator in the college under study, an initial conceptual model of an applied learning environment for 21st century learning was developed. This AACES framework was based on five key design principles, including: authenticity, aestheticity, creativity, engagement and sociality. These principles provided the framework for identification and classification of applied learning activities within the college into five major operational types – Mobility Abroad for Knowledge and Experience (MAKE), Work Experience (WEXP), Collaborative Applied Learning Events (CALE), Real Environment Learning and Working (RELW) and Award Integration – Delivery and Assessment (AIDA). Along with the overarching AACES design principles, these activities provided the scaffolding for a rigorous, iterative, design process of three DBR research cycles. Cycle 1 of the study focused on three of the identified types of applied learning (MAKE, RELW and CALE) with 12 different award groups (approximately 200 students). Cycle 2 included a further type of applied learning (AIDA) with the number of different award groups increasing to 19 (approximately 340 students). The final design cycle included all identified types of applied learning and involved 24 groups (approximately 430 students). Corroboration of the elements of an applied learning environment through the design cycles together with the consideration of 21st century skills, informed the design, development and implementation of a robust model for applied learning in an FE college. The AACES principles and related andragogical activities: MAKE, CALE, RELW, WEXP and AIDA are now part of a maturing intervention in the school, which has sustained and developed beyond the lifecycle of this research, and continues to enhance significantly the ‘learning-by-doing’ ethos of the FE college. This research has demonstrated how applied learning can be deployed across an entire further education college, to augment students’ learning experience and teachers’ application of innovative andragogical practice. Using a similar, iterative DBR process, the AACES model can be adopted and adapted by other interested FE practitioners to augment their students’ engagement in 21st century learning, subject to the particularities and requirements of their respective educational contexts and settings.
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