Personalized Delivery

How were you personalizing your approach to meet the needs of learners?

I created a concept for each student—it’s called the individualized learning delivery plan, the ILDP.

Christopher Prechotko, Cambrian College Academic Upgrading

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I created a concept that I now use for each student—it’s called the individualized learning delivery plan, the ILDP. The ILDP is really just a blank piece of paper with ILDP written in bold on the top of the page. On this plan, I note what technology students have, how students like to learn, and how we're going to tailor the delivery to each student. 

We already have an ITP—an individualized training plan. The ITP lists the courses that a student needs to achieve their goal pathway, whether it be post-secondary, apprenticeship or employment, and generally, their electives are decided by what post-secondary program or type of employment they intend to pursue. If it's employment, they normally complete the two quickest courses we have as their electives. But if it's post-secondary, like power engineering, they're going to need more difficult courses—they need physics, chemistry, and advanced math. Based on the courses a student requires to achieve their goal, the ITP calculates an estimate of the duration of time a student will take to complete their chosen courses. That's how the ITP is individualized to each student.

As far as the delivery method was concerned, I wasn't really approaching it in a way where I would formally attempt to tailor the delivery to each student because most of the students came to class. It was more intuition with each student. I approached each student differently, but I didn't really conceptualize that the delivery plan was different for each student. Now, I have something more formal—not always very detailed, but formal—and it gives me a better idea of how I can support the student. 

I'll gauge each student to learn what they are comfortable with. I'll ask them if they’re comfortable with the learning management system. A couple of new students, who I had never met before, recently moved to the island. I asked them if they would prefer the LMS or if they would prefer a more individualized approach to the delivery, and they chose the individualized approach. 

I guess the thing that I'm most focused on with my students, is enabling them to achieve their goals while they're in the program. That is my primary focus. Whatever I need to do to help them do that, I will go out of my way to make it work. But as I've learned, unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't matter how far I'll stretch myself; it's really about the agency and circumstances of the students. Helping them achieve their goals is part of my job—this involves fostering their sense of self-advocacy and self-confidence, so they have a more positive perspective on life. It can be very hard for many people because they've experienced so many adverse outcomes throughout their lifetimes. 

I often find myself to be more of a support worker than a teacher. Eventually, once we mitigate the barriers and students feel empowered, then we can get to the teaching. Sometimes that takes months or even years. 

I think that we ought to be accommodating. We should be ready to deliver in whatever fashion necessary to make it work for every individual. We can’t treat people as groups. We must appreciate individual differences. We must look at our policies, and we should rethink them. That's the only way we're going to make it work for everybody. Right?

And then we also have to let them know we're present and we're stable, and that we're going to be around for them to come back to in the future if they decide to. 

My policy has been if somebody starts the upgrading program and they've only completed half a course, when they come back a month, a few months, a year, or even two years later they can pick-up from where they left-off because I keep the records of where they were in their courses before they stopped out. They might need a little refresher to progress from that point again, but that's what I'll do, unless, and this has happened recently, the curriculum extensively changes for a course, the text we're using is different, the modules are different, or the way that it's delivered is different—then unfortunately, the reality is most likely the student will have to repeat most of the course. 

When I speak to or listen to people at meetings from around the province, especially the people who work in more rural areas, they see some of the same things that I'm experiencing. It's good to know that I'm not going through this alone, but when I listen to places like [urban college], talking about how well they're doing and that they don't really have failures—it sounds that they're so much more capable than everybody else, but I think they get different student types. At [urban colleges], if you don't meet certain course requirements, like time restrictions, or you don't fit their mold, then you're out. For us, we will mold our program around each student to make things work best for each individual, so barriers are mitigated, and chances of completion increase. 

If I treated class like a college environment, I wouldn't retain many students. I would have lost the people that I've been able to help—those success stories probably would not have materialized if we didn't mold ourselves to them; they wouldn't have their high school equivalencies right now. There are institutional expectations of our students, expectations of most educational institutions in Ontario, which intersect with the cultures of some of our students to create barriers; I try to reduce these barriers. I don’t believe that I’m doing them a disservice when they don’t always get that college preparedness in the upgrading program. I'm confident to say that if I had provided college preparedness to everyone in the upgrading program, many wouldn't have finished the high school equivalency that we were delivering. So, at times it can be a trade off.

When we return to the classroom environment, I’d like to continue allowing some students to learn remotely, should they choose to do so. How I'd organize my day would be different, but I'd like to be able to offer that flexibility.

For example, a student was experiencing residential instability and was facing other barriers during the program. Finishing her last course involved submitting written information, which had become burdensome given her situation. However, instead I accommodated her, so she could complete the assignments orally. It was a self-management/self-direction course. It could be done that way. Right? It wasn't a math course. I feel that was, in a way, a more culturally relevant approach or even a more practical way of approaching things rather than expecting solely written assignments pertaining to time management, motivation, or self-esteem. Students can write about them and/or have a discussion with me about them. We can interact and learn together. I feel it was a richer experience for both of us to approach it that way.

 I find people are expressing themselves better too. The one-to-one learning this way—if we do it over the phone or over Zoom, it's not rushed. I don’t have other students waiting for me or other students expecting my attention. If I have an hour booked with a student and I have nothing booked after that, we can extend. No one is going to get jealous. No one is going to feel like I'm playing favourites. I actually slow down too, and I'm more mindful of the conversation I'm having. 

Even though we didn't have as many students as the urban campuses, it was still sometimes a very fast-paced environment. And I wasn't always mindful. Sometimes when I’m busy, I have conversations with people, and when I leave those conversations, I feel a little bit empty inside; there's part of me missing, or I just don't feel complete because something's not right about how rushed it was. I used to feel like that quite often, but I don't feel like that right now. 

There are people being left behind. They're not even reaching out to the program right now, for whatever reason. I think that COVID has impacted some more than others. Many tragedies have transpired since the pandemic began. Over the last year, we've had overdoses, suicides, shootings, and police standoffs. As far as I know, this is unusual activity for Mantoulin. Everyone here has been touched by these events. And for me, I've been touched by this personally too. 

This is something we always knew, but it's become more apparent: all learners learn differently, and at different paces, and they need different things. I think this has been magnified with COVID. 

Elisha Stuart, Brant Skills Centre

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Back in the summer, we put out an anonymous Google Form survey and we allowed the community learners or otherwise to share what they wanted to see from us, and what they liked in the past from us. We use those results not only to contact people with permission to ask if they want to take a course, but also to learn that the blended works really well for people and they want that live part or what the barrier is for people. I think really listening to the needs of the community has been helpful.

Learners have been willing and continue to be adaptable, and they want to learn, despite everything. We do get a lot of requests for courses, even though people are worried about, “Can I find work? Is my family okay?” They still want to learn and that's really surprising and refreshing to me.

This is something we always knew, but it's become more apparent: all learners learn differently, and at different paces, and they need different things. I think this has been magnified with COVID. And it's something we continue to be mindful of, to adapt delivery to what will work for them.

What do you think was more noticeable during COVID?

I think because previously when we ran a course it was in person. It was a couple of days a week. It was three-hour time slots and you were expected to attend 80 to 90% to get your certificate. And we were pretty firm on that. And I think that we just expected that if someone was going to attend a course, they were ready to do that. But now we know that life kind of bleeds into everything. When someone's trying to learn, especially at home, they might say, “I tried to log in but my internet's down, or I've got my child home today sick, or I've just got a new job”, and we start to realize that they'll still reach their goal, they need a little extra time. We've become a little bit more flexible that way. And I think, just seeing someone pared down in their home, you start to realize that they have different needs other than just in the classroom. And so we've become a little bit more soft to that.

Do you think you will keep having this option for people to do course remotely, completely online?

I think if you asked us a few months ago, we would say no, we're going to go back to in-person. But I think now we realize that a lot of people do like having that option and so, if we can sustain it, I think it's something we would keep doing if we can.

Reaching those with lower skills, digital or otherwise has been a challenge. I think when the pandemic eased off a little bit, and we were able to do a few assessments in person, I was prioritizing those that were maybe going to need the Laubach series or the Challenger series. But when it got locked down again, and I said to those learners, “I can't meet you in person, can we deliver you some materials? Can you meet us on Zoom?” We lose them, because it's when they're already stressing about learning basic skills when you say, “Can you meet me on zoom? Or can you read alongside on the phone,” they get discouraged. And so many have said, “I just want to pause for now and pick back up when you guys are open.” So it's been really challenging to hang on to those learners who arguably need us really badly. But it's really hard to serve them.

We're definitely not reaching those with the lower digital skills that we want to. Ultimately, either they prefer in-person, and sometimes it's seniors or people that are maybe ESL learners, they're just not as keen to have that digital barrier. Some people just say, “I don't have the equipment, it's not something I want to endeavour.” We do get a lot of people looking for work, or things like that, just as we normally would but we're missing out on that the lower digital skill learners.

If everyone knew how to use their own device, that would be good. But also, that using a smartphone, as much as they're good for lots of things, I don't think are the best choice for online learning. If it's someone's only option, we'll say, “Go ahead.” But using a phone is not ideal. And the other thing is that, especially when we're teaching them in the live classes, to be able to take notes, or things like that, at the same time, knowing how to snap your windows side by side is so useful. And knowing where to go in the community to get lower or free internet and technology if they needed it. We share where we can, but not everyone knows where to go.

We care so much about our learners and our staff that we wanted to be extra, extra safe. However, this, unfortunately, means restricting the number of learners we allow in our Learning Centre and restricting the services they are able to access.

Evan J Hoskins, Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council and DOI2T

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The other big concern is that 90% of our learners are from the street / homeless community, and there's no social distancing with them in their regular lives. 

Here in Sioux Lookout and at the Learning Centre, we say "homeless / street" because it encompasses a complex community of people who spend their days socializing in the streets. Some sleep in the bush camps or at the shelter. Other's live in permanent, or semi-permanent residences, like supportive housing facilities.

I say that to show that our LBS practitioners in Sioux Lookout do a complex job—realistically, we are frontline workers, harm reduction workers. Every day we're trying to mitigate social problems and addictions, while simultaneously trying to teach LBS.

We care so much about our learners and our staff that we wanted to be extra, extra safe. However, this, unfortunately, means restricting the number of learners we allow in our Learning Centre and restricting the services they are able to access.

It's hard to see how those repercussions work their way down the chain of health repercussions. While it's hard to pinpoint the exact causes, we do know that in the first year of COVID, double the amount of learners, our learners, our friends, have died. That's twice as many as usual, nearly ten learners. Again, it's pretty hard to connect all of the dots that caused these deaths, but it is a very abnormal year for learner deaths.

I'll say in the perfect world, we would never have face-to-face learning anymore. 

Nanditta Colbear, Literacy Alliance of West Nipissing

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I'll say in the perfect world, we would never have face-to-face learning anymore. I have found such good engagement online. We deal with social anxiety—I never realized how many learners have social anxiety. I’ve worked with a certain learner twice or three times and this time round, since April, we did everything online and I saw a whole different person. Her brain was responding well. I know what's happening at the office—she’s worried about other people; she’s always looking to see who's looking at her and what's happening around her and when she hears something she wonders if they are talking about her. 

I can't believe how much material we cover in 40 minutes one-on-one online and I am surprised at how much they speak up. I've been doing everything on this device, which is a ThinkPad. I can share my screen and it's live. I like to sketch and draw—if it's English, if it's social studies, if it's history, if it's math—I’m horrible at art but I do things visually on a board for them in different colours and it makes them laugh, it makes them think and it translates the text into a visual as they're learning. I've had more answers and correct answers in this environment of learning versus when we were sitting one-on-one at the office.

We're doing everything at a higher education level. We don't have many learners who are with us to learn ABCD, or the basics of language or math. The majority of our learners are people who are heading into employment, are going to go to college or university, are writing the apprenticeship exam, need to get their real high school diploma—the OSSD—or they're writing their GED exam. We're talking about subject matter that relates to grade nine to 12. I find that because they have these dreams, it's easy to draw them into learning using real data.

Normally, before COVID, the most challenging part of our business is learner engagement, because they have no coping mechanisms—they don't have safety nets around them, they don't have positive adult role models—so the smallest thing can set them off. That moment could end up being that the police are called because they became violent or they were attacked and they're in emergency now. Prior to COVID, those were the things that we were dealing with—helping with building their coping mechanisms and providing them with a way to come back to our agency and not to give up. So those are definitely the challenges. It's nothing to do with learning. It's nothing to do with the OALCF [Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework]. It's nothing to do with the curriculum. It's all about life.

One of the things that we've found is learning can be so boring. As I say, for the majority of people entering our programs, they will right off the bat say, “I hate math.” It's the most common thing I get, “I don't like math.” My staff are the same. Eight percent of my board falls asleep when I'm presenting financials—they look at me and say, “No, no, not again.” 

When I work with the concept of probability, and coin tosses, nobody believes me on independent probability because you don't expect the numbers to be so high. When you think about the chances of something happening if it's one coin, it's easy. Oh, it's 50/50. What I did was I had all kinds of pennies waiting and I said, “Let's map it out. We're going to have a ten-coin toss.”

The one that nobody believes me on and I made them draw it and we had a lot of fun was the Pythagorean theorem. It's based on, no matter the size of the right-angle triangle, if you take the shortest sides and draw a square in the area of those two squares, the sum of the will be equal to that on the longest side. We began with a little triangle on a graph paper. Then we had the big chart paper. Then we kept going, sticking paper. Nobody believed me, they'd measure and calculate the area, always true. The beauty of that is we got away from math, you're not thinking math, but you'll never forget that concept. You'll be 90 years old and you'll remember the paper and all that fun in learning a squared plus b squared is equal to c squared. I pull off stunts like that, whether it's the theory of gravity, all kinds of stuff. And to me, it may be weird but we get the result.

We are so flexible, and we find solutions for everything all of the time. I've always maintained that they are above average in intelligence. Once they dropped out they utilized their smarts to navigate life and now it's just a matter of redirecting that brain energy into structured learning long enough for them to get excited. And then they drive their own train on those tracks. That's exactly what we do. I say over and over again, that's why you don't need a teacher in the building. What you need is leaders and motivators, people who will excite them into the learning journey, not sit there and teach. As soon as we get away from that teaching, the learning begins. My husband always tells me, “It's not what you know, that's not important. What's important is what your learner learns.” It's so true. Whereas in structured education, it's what the teacher knows, right?

If we can focus on what the learner wants and their success, instead of getting caught up in, say, what the ministry wants, what my board wants, what the management wants, what the team wants, everything falls into place. For me, it's been very easy making decisions by asking what will work for the learner. As soon as I do that, everything falls into place. 

We are struggling with internet in Northern Ontario. Just 27 kilometres north of me, I have four learners—five now—there is no internet in their community at all. Don't even think about slow, it doesn't exist. We're on slow speed DSL. The highest speed--upload, download, anything that my computer would do—is three kbps. I've had Bell in here. We've tried everything. They said it's so archaic—because it's rural, because it's in the north, because there's next to no population—the infrastructure doesn't exist. You can pay Bell hundreds of dollars a month, but you're not going to get any better than what you have. That's been our challenge – and hardware for learners. I'm so surprised. We work with them so much and I didn't realize that they all manage with just their phone and the phone has limited minutes. When the libraries closed, that took a lifeline away from them. 

This is where the biggest issue has been—this whole concept of hardware/software/internet now. In the old days, if you recall, if you bought a laptop or a computer, it came preloaded with Word Perfect and the old Corel package and big manuals would come with it so you could use it. Then Microsoft came along, and they were doing the same—your computer came preloaded with everything. I've had learners bring their laptop in because I'm doing a video lesson and I ask them to pull up Excel and they can’t find it. I've been having them come to the office so I can look and there's nothing—there’s no pre-loaded software. It's $100 to buy Microsoft Word—how are they going to get $100? The fact that OW got them a little laptop is great, but it has no software on it other than Windows 10. These issues have definitely been very challenging.

Our pedagogy is, as always, rooted in social justice principles

Ryan Pike, Labour Education Centre

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Our pedagogy is, as always, rooted in social justice principles. We always use a learner-centered individualized approach. This has been more challenging in the context of our new online classes (all of our classes are now online rather than in-person) which allow for virtually no one-on-one time. 

Some of our new curriculum is more pre-determined than it was before, so there is a bit less room to adapt to individual needs. We do, however, conduct individual intake assessments and try to modify the curriculum as much as possible to meet everyone’s needs. We also try to engage in democratic decision-making within the class, either  through open discussion or the Zoom polling feature

There are challenges with online delivery. It’s much harder to identify when people are struggling with particular topics or activities if you can’t see what they’re doing. It’s especially difficult with individuals who are more quiet or have their video turned off. At times I found it difficult to have group discussion – particularly because of the way Zoom quiets everyone’s audio when one person is speaking. I tried to make myself available by phone and email to address any individual questions or concerns that come up. 

We redeveloped much of our curriculum based on new partnerships we developed directly as a result of the pandemic. We have developed several classes as a direct result of needs arising from the pandemic. We have developed several digital training classes to help “upskill” laid off hotel workers. For example, one of our partnerships is with an Action Centre that serves hotel employees laid off as a result of the pandemic. Much of this curriculum was developed from scratch to be targeted at their needs and deliverable in an online format.  We’ve also developed two classes in partnership with community organizations to train (tech savvy) seniors to train other seniors to use digital tablets, to help reduce their isolation during the pandemic. 

For some of our basic computer classes we ask that someone from the partner organization sit in on the class, for at least the first two days, to provide technical support (via chat and phone) to anyone who is having technical problems joining the class. This has been very helpful. 

I would like to continue the classes we have developed during the pandemic, in their current format. As much as possible, we will continue to deliver classes over Zoom. 

I would love to see more software and online resources that are AS accessible as Zoom. Zoom has been excellent for basic digital literacy learners because essentially they can click a link from any device and join the class. Most people with very little or no experience with digital tech can join a Zoom class with some guidance. Other online learning tools than I have seen recently (I’m thinking of Mentimeter, Padlet, etc) look like excellent tools, but are a little bit too advanced for most of the people I work with.  

I would love to see better ways to give interactive presentations – possibly even as an additional feature of Zoom. 

I wish there was access to free wifi for everyone, and digital devices, too, for that matter. If we had known what was coming, we would have delivered in-person classes to prepare people to transition to online learning. These would have focused on the basics needed to attend a Zoom class.  

As the instructor, you're the leader and your energy will carry them through.

Shelley Lynch, Toronto District School Board

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I don't think anybody dropped out because of going online. Some moved on to college or they've moved on to other things, but I don't really think there have been any dropouts because of online learning which is brilliant. I'm not sure that's everyone's experience.

I'm using Zoom, Canvas, and Adobe and Google and some Google Documents. I've got Kahoot on board, and obviously, YouTube. 

They all have computers. Some of them will be on their phone for the zoom meeting. And they manage—God knows how—they manage okay. But they do their homework on a computer. It depends on their kids and how many computers there are in the house. 

A couple of them have got funds to get themselves a computer through OW [Ontario Works]. They've just got approval for the funds. There's one other who is waiting on the school lending a device. They all they all did this at the beginning—if they didn't have a device or if they didn't have internet, they sorted it out one way or another.

I wish learners had been more computer literate, however, that is one of the skills they come to us to learn. It just wasn’t as key in the classroom. Being online forced us all to get better with our computer skills as “necessity is the mother of invention”. 

It's so much easier to get on the computer and show someone or fix it for them … then let them do it rather than trying to talk them through it. Even with share screen, we can't see everything. So that has been a test of my patience, let me tell you. There are a couple of them who had very little computer knowledge.

I just try and get people to sort of, not laugh at it exactly, but I don't want them to make a big thing of online technical problems because I know they’re going to happen. We just all make the best of it. You have to provide leadership there. For some reason, we were often having technical difficulties every Monday and I'd just say, “Oh, no, that's a technical problem. It must be Monday.”

As the instructor, you're the leader and your energy will carry them through. We're all different. [Instructor] and I have totally different styles. I don't even know how he gets results, but I know he does. And he probably doesn't know how I do it because we're so different, but it's what we bring to the class.

One of the most brilliant things is they recognize their progress in the classroom [working online in Canvas]. Before, most of the time what I would get is, “Am I making progress?” They didn't feel it. They feel it now—every single one of them online. And of course, that makes them (and me) feel great.

And then material. I found this wonderful News in Levelsa wonderful 19 lesson series where we read about how to learn English. They all loved it and they got so much out of it. A couple of them, English is their native language, and they still they still got a lot out of it. It's really well written. It's basic stuff about how to learn that I've told them a million times, but it's in a nice pretty story they're reading so that they're getting it that way—they’re hearing it in a different voice, in a different way. Sometimes that's what they need—they need to hear the same thing 10 different ways. So I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for resources, and then thinking about how I can bring them in. My goal is that they can write a three paragraph story when they leave me. Everything is working towards that end.

One of my goals is to get them to edit more. They don't really, they don't really realize that but the thing holding them back is editing. I know they need practice and the rules blah, blah, blah, right but part of the practice is learning to edit. I tell them, there's nothing I've written nothing that I couldn't look at a week later, a month later, a year later, and improve. I tell them editing is important but, they have to get there in their own way. I'm pushing editing and I'm pushing them to do it in breakout rooms without me.

One reality is now I have this group I've trained up and I sort of dread taking in new people and having to bring them up to speed and integrate them. If they're competent on the computer or on the cell phone it won't be too bad. My class is just swimming in Canvas. I'm very happy with my group that I've nursed, and I know it won't stay like that. Some of them will move on, new people will come in, and I'll have to handle it.

Despite the technical challenges, there were moments of fun discoveries

Inoussa Pempeme, Centre de formation pour adultes de Greenstone

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Despite the technical challenges, there were moments of fun discoveries such as when learners tested out the bluetooth headsets in the classroom. They were amazed with these new devices, they were surprised at how they could move away and still hear the instructor. Overall, it was a surprise to see how easy going the learners were in accepting the changes (many of our learners are elderly). Thanks to previous technology-related training we had done, some of our learners were more confident with the changes.

The hardest part of this situation has been to make the changes so rapidly without any preparation, to adjust so quickly. We really needed a few weeks for everyone to adjust. I was comfortable with the technology and the equipment myself but I wish learners would have had the opportunity to get accustomed to video conference software and tools ahead of the crisis. I discovered different approaches and ideas to the challenges by connecting with instructors in other programs. Adapting to the situation took a lot of patience and resilience; teaching at a distance is harder.