Using an Adaptive e-Learning Curriculum to Enhance Digital Literacy: Challenges and Opportunities

Year: 2016

Author: Morgan, Rhian, Bryan, Sharon, Meldrum, Kathryn, Mathiesen, Bronwyn, Hill, Angela

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Universities around the globe have established the need for digital literacy as a key graduate outcome (Lea, 2013). Students must develop a range of IT competencies in addition to the specialist skills associated with their disciplines, and higher education institutions must find ways to support the development of multiple digital literacies (Littlejohn & McGill, 2012). As we occupy an era of widening participation, it is also important to heed the cautions expressed by the Educating the Net Generation report (Kennedy et al, 2009), which noted that it is erroneous to assume all students will enter the higher education sector with the technological skills required to support their academic endeavours. While some incoming students may be “skilled technology users”, many will lack the full range of digital competencies required for success in an academic context (Jisc, 2014). Students need support for developing digital literacies, but explicit teaching of these skills may lead to frustration, as some students are forced to “learn” skills they already possess, while others who require more personalised support are lost in the crowd. Adaptive learning technologies are particularly suited to addressing student diversity, as they enable the development of e-Learning objects that automatically adjust to individual student’s needs. These technologies allow students to progress quickly through known content, while also offering remediation as necessary. This paper documents the development of an online digital literacies curriculum designed to utilise an adaptive e-Learning platform to help students prepare for technology-rich academic environments. The curriculum was co-developed by academics and librarians, using a proprietary e-Learning platform to produce three adaptive lessons regarding the digital literacies of information literacy, media literacy, and online identity management. Challenges associated with the development and implementation of this curriculum included meeting sustainability, usability, and cross-platform compatibility requirements, while also providing an authentic learning experience that anticipated student misconceptions and catered to multidisciplinary cohorts. Additionally, the process of developing the curriculum and partnership between academics, librarians and software suppliers presented many opportunities to improve teaching practise through collaboration and the creation of personalised technology-enabled learning experiences. This paper elaborates on the pedagogical underpinnings of the use of adaptive e-learning software for the curriculum, as well as the challenges and opportunities observed during this particular attempt to implement adaptive e-learning technologies for teaching undergraduate university students, and reflects on the impact adaptive technology will have on teaching practice in an increasing blending learning environment.