Sunday, April 19, 2009

Early Learning Educational Platform-- What's Missing?

Over the last several years, Illinois has been building an educational and professional development infrastructure for child care (early learning) professionals. This project known as "Gateways to Opportunity" is designed to bring together all the resources for educating beginning and advanced professionals interested in early care and education. Additionally, there has been a long-term effort to integrate many of the resources for parents and professionals at the Illinois Early Learning Project.

These efforts have advanced the resources for parents and professionals interested in young children and have developed a wide array of useful tools-- newsletters for early learning professionals, a listserv for professionals interested in early care, descriptions of early learning standards and video examples of classrooms, teaching and work with parents, parent materials in Spanish, English and Polish, and much more. There are also many useful links to other resources on the web.

Despite all this useful material, I still feel like something is missing and there is something about the design of these websites that is lacking.

Review of the Illinois Early Learning Project Website

One difficulty is the conceptual structure of this website-- it is organized by structural features of the material rather than by the content. For example, there is a section on "videos" and "tip sheets" (which is actually a reference to the fact that these are designed as print materials). Organizing material by delivery mode is a structural characteristic of the delivery system, but not a characteristic that would be particularly important to a parent or professional who is more likely to be interested in a particular topic, issue or question. This points to another problem with these materials which is that parent and professional material is intertwined. The Illinois Early Learning Project website could easily be organized by the type of learner/client/audience so that parents could find the materials designed for them and professionals could find materials addressed to them.

Review of the Gateways to Opportunity Website

This website is better organized to address the needs of particular types of potential audiences (parents, students, current professionals, etc.) and there is a lot of useful resources located in each section, but I still have the feeling that the organizational structure reflects the resources rather than the interests or questions of the audience. For example, in the section designed for higher education faculty there are many useful links to appropriate resources, but they could be organized around the tasks or needs that higher education might be interested in such as: resources for getting approval as an entitled program, resources for professional development, resources for your students, new teaching resources, and so forth. In short, the website could be organized around the questions or concerns of the audience.

This organizational structure may result in people overlooking valuable resources. For example, the website has an extensive list of research reports listed under the section titled, Resources, but there is no link to this directly from the higher education pages. This list of research studies is likely to include a number of items that would be of interest to higher education faculty either for their own professional development or for their instruction to students.

Adding Interaction, Participation and Community

Increasing websites are incorporating opportunities for online users to interact on the website, participate in the creation of knowledge and building community. (See my general description of these topics and links to other resources about these issues.) In order to build an effective platform to education and professional development in early learning, we will have to build a platform in which there are opportunities for parents and professionals to engage with each other and with the creation of content in these online settings. This means moving beyond websites as places to find information or to tell people about the issues. This calls for a different type of design and a more open online platform.

This is the big challenge for those interested in building an effective learning platform for early learning.

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