College lecturers

Can we improve our students’ ability to learn?

Loraine Lyall has worked in Further Education for 26 years, initially as a Lecturer in Business, Travel & Tourism at Telford College (now part of Edinburgh College) where she is currently Quality Enhancement Manager.  As part of her role, she manages a team of staff who deliver Assessor and Verifier qualifications, the PDA in Teaching Practice in Scotland’s College, and support staff to complete their TQFE.  Loraine is committed to supporting staff to improve and enhance their teaching practice through professional dialogue and continuous review and research into evidence-based approaches to learning and teaching.  She is a committed member of the Edinburgh College Research and Innovation Forum. She is supportive of her team’s recent success in developing a suite of qualifications in Creative and Critical Thinking.

Loraine’s colleague Jo Turbitt worked on the ‘Learn to Learn’ project which was developed in response to the professional learning described below.

At the time of this professional learning, Jo worked at Edinburgh College as a lecturer in Performing Arts (Dance) and as a Learning & Teaching advisor.

Why did you decide to engage in this professional learning?

My team supports members of staff to develop their teaching skills.  There are many theories of learning which are covered in the courses we deliver.  In order to keep our course as current as possible, we wanted to review new and emerging theories of learning and teaching which might enhance the teaching and learning process

As part of our ongoing professional dialogues on how we could continuously improve the support we provide to members of staff, we decided that we would each do some very basic research into this topic. 

What we basically wanted to know was, is it possible to help staff develop their courses in such a way as to help students to learn more easily?  Is it possible to improve our students’ ability to learn? 

Initial research identified advances in neuroscience that were seeking to understand how the brain works, specifically in the context of learning. These advances were of great interest to me and my team so we decided that we should take some time to look into this field of research.  We were aware that some students seem to find it easier to learn than others and that often in FE we are faced with students who don’t have a very good track record in succeeding at learning.  The question therefore arose, would it be possible to affect this and make our students better at learning? 

What we basically wanted to know was, is it possible to help staff develop their courses in such a way as to help students to learn more easily?  Is it possible to improve our students’ ability to learn? 

What form did your professional learning take?

I came upon a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called ‘Learning How to Learn’ developed by Dr. Barbara Oakley, which I signed up for and encouraged members of my team to sign up for too. This particular MOOC was the most popular of its kind in the world and was endorsed by a wide range of distinguished professionals in the field. I completed the course with four team members and agreed that the techniques from the course, although based in neuroscience, were actually very simple and easy to use.

I also purchased a copy of the accompanying book ‘Learning How to Learn: A guide for Kids and Teens’ for use within the team.

What was the impact of your learning? 

Further professional discussions with my team members followed and we decided that we would recommend the MOOC to colleagues so that they were able to incorporate the techniques used in the MOOC into the design of their courses.  We also decided to develop a course specifically directed at our students, in order to improve their ability to learn. 

The plan to develop an Edinburgh College ‘Learning How to Learn Course’ was approved by our Head of Faculty and associated Vice Principal.

This Professional Learning has impacted positively on my team and our ability to support staff in developing their teaching skills to support effective learning.  It has enabled us to update our knowledge of recent advances in neuroscience and adopt practices which have the potential to improve our students’ ability to learn effectively.  My team members have been able to incorporate these techniques into training courses for our staff.

Next steps: developing a course based on learning

Loraine’s colleague Jo Turbitt worked on the ‘Learn to Learn’ project which was developed in response to this professional learning.

At the time of this professional learning, Jo worked at Edinburgh College as a lecturer in Performing Arts (Dance) and as a Learning & Teaching advisor.

In the development of the course, Jo worked collaboratively across departments, curriculums and specialisms, and challenged herself to apply a range of pedagogical approaches to the creation of a new online learning experience for SCQF level 4 students. Throughout the project, Jo found herself having inspiring discussions, brainstorming and developing new knowledge and understanding within the realms of digital learning.

Listen to Jo describe the process of developing the course in her own words. This is a 16-minute audio recording.

How did your professional learning link with the Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s Colleges?

Professional Values

This PL has reinforced the commitment of my team to put students at the centre, by developing a course to have a positive impact on their capacity to learn. It also helps students to help themselves, thus enabling them to take responsibility for their own learning.  My team and I have engaged in research and course development which embraces emerging practices and developments and helps us to deliver excellence in learning.

Professional Knowledge and Understanding

We have engaged with current theories of learning and teaching and applied these to student learning.  We have planned and developed the curriculum in collaboration with each other to meet the diverse needs of learners.  We have adapted the materials for remote delivery, embedding appropriate digital technology into this model.  We have reflected critically on learning and applied our new knowledge to student learning experiences.  In all of this, we have recognised students as partners in the continuous improvement of learning approaches.

Professional Practice

The team has engaged with up-to-date research and developments in learning and teaching to inform practice.  We have developed a course which will help students develop skills for learning and have embedded appropriate digital technologies for the delivery of the learning.

Submit your own example for the A-Z

We are keen to include as many contributions as possible in the A-Z. If you have an example of professional learning you would like to share, please fill out the Professional Learning Template below and submit it to derek.timpany@gtcs.org.uk

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