Sunday, June 14, 2009

My plan for a flexible course: Mentoring in aged and community care

Assignment Two of the Flexible Learning Course is to make a plan for delivering an educational program that integrates flexible learning principles.

Throughout this course I have been thinking about the principles of flexible learning in relation to the eMentoring program I have been designing and implementing for Aged Care Queensland. This program has been a voluntary program and has required aged and community staff to commit to being either mentors or mentees. The aim of the program has been to connect people using online technology, focusing particularly on staff who live in rural and remote areas and indigenous people - people who would otherwise have limited access to support and professional development.

Hopefully, the mentors will gain from this program as they share the benefit of their experience and skills. Many people volunteer to be mentors because they themselves expect to learn from the experience. However, as things stand at the moment apart from a sense of achievement, all they will get from the mentoring program is a pat on the head.

What I would like to do is design a course they can take that will turn their experience as a mentor into an accepted qualification.

Mentoring in the context of aged and community care
The course will be required to fit vocational and training standards in Australia and delivered by an appropriate RTO - the education arm of Aged Care Queensland. A framework for the course already exists as a Level Four certificate for government employees called PSPGOV414A Provide workplace mentoring. The course I propose would take the elements of the PSPGOV414A and make into a course appropriate for staff in aged and community care who have been or wish to be mentors.

The learner
Before I consider principles of flexible learning, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the profiles of the learners who will be engaging with the course. Having spent some time talking to the mentors I can say that they are highly motivated and willing to share their knowledge with less experienced people. At the same time they are very keen to learn themselves. They are very excited to try new online modes of communication but have minimal computer skills. A number of them also have problems with accessing the Internet at work because of IT policies that restrict its use. Time constraints and geographical distance are the main barriers to being a mentor and any additional education programs.

Contextualising learning
There will be two different approaches to this course. The first wave of students will be the those who have done the 'learning' as they have worked as mentors. Now they need to articulate that learning in a more formal way. The educator's job will be to guide them as they make sense of their experiences and reflect on their learning. The second wave of student will be those who wish to take the course to prepare themselves for being a mentor in the future.

Application of learning theory
In one of my previous posts Carolyn and Bronwyn do a fabulous job of explaining how they feel connectivism is the learning theory that will underpin this course. Carolyn explains that taking a flexible approach to the course will allow students to 'connect' with the course and other learners. Bronwyn takes things a step further by illustrating how connectivism incorporates reflective practice and critical thinking which are essential elements of mentoring. But I am thinking that constructivism may be a more relevant underpinning learning theory.

Constructivism is about students constructing meaning based on their own experiences. Like connectivism, this will require honest reflection and insight on the part of the student which in itself is a vital part of being a mentor. And because each student's experience and pre-existing knowledge will vary, it will be really important to carry out a needs-analysis of the requirements of the student so the educator knows how to support the student, what learning materials are required and how the assessments can be molded to suit the students' needs. So what I am saying is in this course, the educator becomes a facilitator or even a critical friend as opposed to a teacher who dictates all terms of the learning experience.

Assessment in this course will be part of the students' learning journey (authentic). Marking students personal learning and learning journeys is difficult as I said in my previous post. It may be more appropriate that the course does not have a grade but rather 'achieved' mark. At the same time, this course is about students' performance and a 'grade' does give an indication of performance which can be used as evidence for potential mentees.

Because this course is about students' performance as mentors, it may also be appropriate that assessment consists of evidence from colleagues and mentees. A portfolio approach to assessment would capture a more holistic picture of the mentor's performance. Thus, a marking rubric will need to be developed to guide the educator as she assesses the portfolio, and provide the student a framework on which to base her work.

The course will be delivered between six months to one year but students can complete earlier if they have already carried out the mentoring activities. This lengthy time frame takes into consideration the professional workload the student already is contending with, as well as the time that is required for a mentoring relationship to develop. The educational material will be delivered in the first part of the course - the second part of the course will be focusing on students developing their mentoring relationships, gathering evidence and completing assessments.

Delivery of material
The framework of the course will be delivered online using a blog or wiki. Educational material will be delivered using a number of mediums to engage students with different learning styles, access to technology and computer skills including
  • paper eMentoring handbook with reflective exercises
  • eMentoring CD ROM
  • synchronous online meetings to disseminate information and encourage students to network and connect with each other
  • use of video, podcasts and other online medium to impart material in a more engaging way that plain text, especially for people who are not readers/writers.
Whilst I am keen to offer a plethora of online mediums for disseminating information, I also need to be mindful of people's technical skills and access to Internet. So all materials will be available via CD as well as online, for those people who have limited access to the Internet.

I would like to be able to offer a couple of face-to-face sessions that would be designed to address indigenous students' needs but that would depend on funding. The geographical spread of Queensland makes this difficult. If face-to-face sessions are impossible to arrange, it would be imperative that students are given as much tutorial help as they need by telephone or online communication. My long term goal would be for mentors who pass the course to 'mentor' the next intake of students and hopefully be able to provide a sort of 'train the trainers' approach to tutorials in the face-to-face context.

Connected learning
It will also be important to encourage a sense of community amongst these students - somewhere they can talk and share their mentoring experiences and seek support from other mentors. It may not be appropriate to do this in an open online forum such as a blog because of issues of confidentiality, especially in the mentoring context. I will leave the choice of how they do that to them - online synchronous meet-ups or asynchronous forum like an email group. They may also choose to meet face-to-face but this is unlikely because of the geography of Queensland and it will need to be student-led because there is unlikely to be funding for educational staff to attend.

The student would be expected to mentor a colleague or someone in the workplace context over an agreed period of time. The mentoring relationship should involve at least six interactions. The student will be required to submit portfolio that will consist of:
  • an example of a negotiated mentoring contract that incorporates principles of mentoring
  • evidence of how she managed a situation with her mentee
  • evidence of performance from mentee
  • a reflective summary of lessons learned from being a mentor - this can be presented in whatever form or media the student feels is appropriate
  • a learning/teaching resource that could be used by future students - a 'tip' about being an eMentor - this can be made in any form from a short paragraph to video, podcast, photo, drawing - whatever the student feels is appropriate.
What do you think about this plan? Is it too large - should I look to reduce assessment? Is there any areas where I can plan to be more 'flexible'?

Australian Flexible Learning Framework. (2008). A guide to creating learning design for VET. retrieved 17 June, 2009, from:

Australian National Training Authority. (2002). Assessment and Online Teaching. retrieved 21 June, 2009, from

Blake, A., & Doherty, I. (2007). An Instructional Design Course for Clinical Educators: First Iteration Design Research Reflections. Journal of Learning Design. Vol 2, No 2. Retrieved 21 June, 2009, from

Lorenzo, G., & Ittleson, J. (2005). Demonstrating and assessing student learning with ePortfolios. Retrieved 21 June, 2009, from

Mason, R., Pegler, C., & Weller, M. (2004). E-portfolios: an assessment tool for online courses. British Journal of Educational Technology. Vol 35, No. 6. Retrieved 21 June, 2009, from


Dzyanna said...

Very impressive. this looks really well thought out.

Helen said...

Wow - what another impressive posting Sarah - you have got so many great ideas here.
What a great experience to be able to use this plan for something so concrete and worthwhile for the mentors.
I particularly like your references to constructivism being the theory you are linking to your plan.
I do think you have an ambitious plan here - but judging by your experience I would expect that this would not be too ambitious for you.
In regards to the assessments for the course - the portfolio would work well in this case I would expect - students could develop their own blog to post their comments too as another alternative - if this was something they felt comfortable with.
Again - well done Sarah - and good luck

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks, Helen and Dzyanna. This is to be my proposal that I am leaving Aged Care Queensland - something for them to take on and implement if they so desire.

I had thought of a blog approach to this assessment, but in view of the potential issues with confidentiality, I decided against it. Mind you, there's no reason why people can't have closed blogs.

I would be keen that the students use any media for their reflections etc. On the other hand, they are very new to technology & just getting their heads around it for their mentoring interactions. I wouldn't want to swamp them with learning heaps of different technologies which may detract from their actual mentoring activities.

Leigh Blackall said...

Good look'n plan Sarah, its all there but in an order than is difficult to fit into the requirements of the assignment. When you come to making your presentation, can you make sure to structure it according to the topics given in the assignment description. ie:

* a concise explanation of your flexible learning plan;
* examples or methods that inspired your plan;
* how your plan fits within your educational organisation;
* how you are addressing access and equity; cultural sensitivity; sustainability;
* concluding comments.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks for advice, Leigh - will do!

Bronwyn hegarty said...

Sarah you have put an amazing amount of work into this plan. You have given a good description of the background and the learning theory which underpins your ideas. I think what you have done here is design all the elements for an excellent course - content, communication, activities, assessment. I think it is very ambitious and wonder if you would be best to focus more indepth on one aspect, only mentioning other areas in passing.

It appears that the main thrust for introducing flexibility in the situation you describe is to address this statement: "The aim of the program has been to connect people using online technology, focusing particularly on staff who live in rural and remote areas and indigenous people - people who would otherwise have limited access to support and professional development."

And as you say many people appear to have limited access to the Internet either due to IT reasons or perhaps due to their skill levels.

You give very good rationale for choosing a constructivist approach. Why don't you take it a bit further, and as well as negotiating part of the assessment, also negotiate how they would like to learn going even so far as to negotiate the strategies and delivery methods. Too far fetched?

It is not clear if it will be at level 4 or higher and it will need to be higher if you wish to introduce reflective strategies as part of the learning process wont it?

I really like the idea of an e-portfolio assessment, but wonder if people will get so hung up on the technology that they will forget why they are there - to learn about mentoring.

Perhaps trim your plan back and focus on one area - here are some suggestions:
1. how to provide access in an equitable way to mentoring knowledge and supervision by a mentor using distance learning - a wide range of options not just online - to meet the needs of indigenous learners, people with low IT skills etc.
2. how to use e-portfolio assessment in a sustainable way - workload for students and mentors, is it portable to the workplace etc.

Your plan is interesting and thorough, and I like the way you suggest using a needs analysis with learners and the use of a critical friend. however a qualification can get in the way of a critical friend/facilitator relationship if you are not careful so I wonder how this can be addressed.

Also I am not convinced you have fully addressed issues of access & equity, sustainability and cultural diversity. Is there any way the mentors can go out to the learners?
I think your plan would benefit from more emphasis on the learning process rather than on the assessment, and an e-portfolio can be part of the learning process certainly. But it is the process of getting there which is more important.

I think we need to chat and talk this through cos at the moment it is an octopus with 10 legs and a couple need to be trimmed.