Facilitating Collaborative PEER LEARNING

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Giles O’Neill

Manager, Education in Ireland, presents his views on the role of teacher and learner, education practices in Ireland and creating new pedagogies

The young people in our education system today were all born in the digital age. They are at ease with technology and moving between different forms of communication. The way in which they learn is very different to that before the digital age. Pedagogies have changed rapidly in the past 25 years and will continue to develop. Learning environments are now rich in multimedia. The rise of online learning, webinars, video lessons and peer learning has meant that educators can teach from anywhere and so students can learn from anywhere.

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Teaching requires increased flexibility. Relying solely on traditional lectures – where information is delivered to a large group of students at a set time per week – is being replaced by the blended learning approach. Rote learning is certainly a thing of the past. Blended learning combines lectures with online learning and lab time. Group work is given to working on assignments and effectively applying learning outcomes. Technology is used to facilitate collaborative peer learning via online forums. Learning outcomes of blended learning have shown to be more valuable that traditional approaches. Blended learning also allows the educator more time for one-to-one mentoring and coaching. The focus is not on what you know, but how you are able to apply what you know. This is particularly evident at higher education level where graduates seek smooth transition into the workplace.

A particular feature of the Irish higher education system is that alongside our universities, we have a network of institutes of technology (IOT). The IOTs are renowned for the level to which learning is practical and applied to emerging technologies and industries. Incubations centres to foster creativity and innovation ideas are a key feature of these institutes.

Roles & Practices in Ireland
Ireland has a longstanding history of providing quality education and learning outcomes that are very much applicable to the real world. Creativity and innovation have been important drivers of Ireland’s transformation into a high-tech, knowledge-based economy. This includes innovation at all levels of the education system. In particular, Ireland’s higher education institutes pride themselves in developing employment-ready graduates. According to the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, Ireland is now the second most entrepreneurial country in Europe, with increasing numbers of people, especially women, starting new businesses. Ireland has the fastest growing economy in Europe.

Also, it was recently revealed that our oldest university, Trinity College Dublin, has produced more entrepreneurs than any other university in Europe in the last five years. The Universities Report from VC irm PitchBook showed that Trinity produced 114 entrepreneurs and raised $655m in capital between 2010 and 2015.

Expanding Education Systems
The skill of critical thinking is key element of innovation. Young people need the freedom to explore ideas and question norms, in order to foster creativity. This skill of critical thinking needs to be developed within the education system from an early age. Young educators today were themselves children of the digital age and are likely to experience a system of blended learning. These young educators can play a significant role in developing new pedagogies to inspire creativity and innovation. New approaches can integrate digital tools that can, not just impart knowledge, but also help students apply that knowledge to the world around them.

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