Copenhagen (DK), October 2019 - Stephanie Rahbek Simonsen M.A., M.LIS, is a Learning Experience Designer in DanChurchAid's Learning Lab, where she helps subject matter experts connect their target audiences with the knowledge and skills they need. Before moving to Denmark, she was a Professor of Communication and Curriculum Coordinator at Fanshawe College in London, Canada. At OEB Global, she will speak about "Building a Learner Ecosystem" on Thursday, 28 November, from 16.30 to 17.30.
How would you define a learner-centered ecosystem?
Stephanie Rahbek Simonsen: In practice, it often takes a bit of time to break down what the term ecosystem means in a learning context and to combine it with the idea of learner-centered design. In our presentation and abstract, we always begin with an explanation because these terms are gaining momentum, but there still isn’t a single, universally agreed upon definition for either.
I would say that in DanChurchAid’s Learning Lab, which includes ACTLearn and Fabo as our partnerships, we define a learner-centered ecosystem as a holistic understanding of all knowledge sharing between all learners in our network. It’s much easier to have an organisation-centered ecosystem, but we are committed to experimenting and evolving to strengthen organisations through authentic learning.
Is the system you use in Denmark one you developed yourselves or something that has been adapted to meet your specific needs?
Stephanie Rahbek Simonsen: Our system includes both a didactic approach and a tangible tool, which is our learning platform. Our approach in Learning Lab is informed by a body of international research on learner-centered didactics, communities of practice, and evaluation. So, while we have developed our own approach over the last five years, it builds on the research of Knud Illeris, Étienne Wenger, and Donald Kirkpatrick, among many others. As our network is not quite the same as any other, we certainly adapt theory into practice according to our learners’ needs though.
Our learning platform, Fabo.org, was also developed by Learning Lab but built on Moodle. We chose Moodle for many reasons, but our freedom to adapt it to our organisational needs and its flexibility as to what we can offer our members were the strongest ones. In 2018, we launched a new version of the platform that was very much based on learner feedback and needs, so we are definitely adapting this aspect of our system iteratively as well.
How does this type of system change the users’ learning experience?
Stephanie Rahbek Simonsen: That depends on the learner, to be honest. What we offer, and continue to pursue, are opportunities to access learning when it is needed and at a quality that really supports the individual as much as possible. For example, we use to offer onboarding or induction trainings twice a year in DanChurchAid headquarters, which meant that some new staff would not receive an introduction to the organisation for five months into their time there. We have built an online learning path that not only combines online induction training, but also all preliminary compliance trainings, and this can be started on the first day of work. Not only does this engage learners at a better time, it also makes the induction process consistent across headquarters and country offices abroad and frees up job-specific training time with an immediate supervisor. The learning path also functions as performance support because it is a collection of resources that a learner can come back to with questions during the entire onboarding period. This is just one example, but it shows one case of a development that is better for learners and the organisation.
What are the crucial criteria in the decision to use such a system?
Stephanie Rahbek Simonsen: Both research and managerial support have been important in every decision that Learning Lab has made for Fabo. Research includes both evidence-based theory and primary analysis of our network and learners. This process also doesn’t stop at implementation: We check to see what is working and what is not after implementation and act on that information as soon as we can. All levels of management at DanChurchAid and our ACTLearn partner organisations have also been supportive of our system development, which is critical for success when shifting to a new way of doing things. As we have moved forward, it is clear that there is an authentic need to make learning more agile and learner centered in the NGO sector, and this also propels us forward because innovation only makes sense when new ways solve a problem.