Understanding Adult Learners’ Sense-making to Inform Pedagogical Innovations in Blended Learning (BL)
Sense-making, understood as meaning-making or giving meaning to experience, is an integral part of everyday life and work. It is a process critical in enabling people to recognise how and when to respond to situations appropriately so that they can resolve problems effectively (Weick, Sutcliffe & Obstfeld, 2005). Understanding how learners sense-make can contribute to better learning design and support in and across different learning environments that will likely contribute to individual ‘mastery’ of professional expertise. Our interest in sensemaking in blended learning (BL) (i.e. learning that takes place across multiple settings including classroom, tech-enabled and workplace (IAL, 2016)) is about how learners experience learning that is intended to increase their capability to act differently in their environment, be it in educational, technology-enabled and/or work settings, as well as how they translate their learning in and across different environments and what the pedagogical implications for such learning are.
This research study captures in ethnographic detail the experiences of learners and educators as they experience, design and facilitate BL in the context of Continuing Education and Training (CET) in Singapore. As with any sector, the CET sector, constituting accreditation bodies, training providers, Institutes for Higher Learning (IHLs), educators and support staff, and most importantly their learners, is riddled with historical artefacts, discourses and (mis)understandings that mediate practices and thus learners’ experience of learning as they go through the courses. However, it is not clear to us how these different stakeholders in the system of BL design and delivery are related to and affect one another and impact the quality of adult learners’ sense-making experience in BL. The findings from the comparison of six case studies of BL in this study suggest that to enable seamless and highest quality of sense-making in BL, strong partnerships between the government, training providers and industry partners are necessary in the curriculum development and pedagogical approaches adopted in BL. In this study, delivering BL that include workplace learning, the collaboration between training providers and industry partners, adult educators, curriculum designers and workplace supervisors, emerges as a crucial factor to provide higher quality of sense-making for the adult learners.
The key findings are as follows:
1. Learners’ sense-making is enhanced when curriculum design and enactment relies on authentic tasks and experiences, providing holistic, systemic understanding of professional/vocational knowledge and practices;
2. Sandwiching practicums, placements, work experience, etc. (i.e. work-based learning) ideally in multiple layers not only enhances sense-making, but also provides a seamless learning journey across different learning environments;
3. Perceptions of system requirements lead training providers (curriculum designers) to continue to use curriculum based on outdated competencies, despite their educators having currency in industry practices;
4. Training providers may not be ready for tech-enabled learning in terms of their technology infrastructure and expertise. Additionally, minimal attention is paid to addressing learners’ digital literacy; and
5. There needs to be established and trust-based relations between adult educators and workplace supervisors to enhance feedback to each other on the progress of learners in order to better facilitate their transition across different learning settings.