Exploring the opportunity digital learning offers – is eLearning real learning?
The National Plan for Music Education includes an extensive annex relating to technology – a clear and encouraging statement of the importance attached to the use of technology by the report’s authors.
The Secretary of State’s aspiration that ‘all children should have the chance to learn an instrument’ could well be supported by good use of technology. The contents of the long-awaited National Plan for Music Education indicate a growing understanding that educators need to think beyond traditional methods of delivery and look seriously at serious technologies, says Gigajam-founder, Brian Greene.
Instrumental teaching, particularly in group situations, is incredibly challenging to classroom music teachers for a wide variety of reasons: noise, space, equipment, instrument-specific knowledge/skills to name a few. The Secretary of State’s aspiration has been a persistent challenge to music leaders but as government grapples with a severe budget deficit, we are all set to do more for less.
I have long argued that we need to utilise the available and emerging technologies in our music classrooms to support and enable both our classroom music and Music Services’ workforces to create a single music system that can deal with the persistent issues of scale and reach. Instrumental learning has long been seen as a one-to-one activity or, perhaps most commonly in schools, as one-to-three/four. The elephant in the room is that we operate a mass education system and most music classroom teaching is one-to-twenty-five-plus. Providing skills-based learning on such a large scale is the issue that seems to be continually brushed aside and I can only assume that it is because there has been no solution and therefore no will to make it a requirement for schools to provide instrumental lessons as part of the curriculum. Be in no doubt that failing to measure meaningful participation over the nine years of a young person’s statutory music education has perpetuated the problem. Our Head teachers and Governors respond to targets – make it important, offer solutions and they will respond. In the 21st century and much-vaunted digital age, we have an ever-increasing number of solutions driven by technology.
Interactive music technologies provide a unique opportunity, especially for our Secondary schools. There is no doubt that Whole Class learning, through the expansion of Wider Opportunities, is not affordable, sustainable or practical. There will never be enough money nor enough Music Service teachers to deliver and we therefore need to utilise classroom teachers to support more instrumental learning in the classroom – either as part of the curriculum or as a creative option – and feed their activities through to Music Services. This will certainly help target the music grant funding more effectively.
So what eLearning innovations are available to support the delivery of instrumental and skills-based learning in and out of the classroom?
Let’s explore a few of the opportunities on offer with the assumption that the use of technology must be about supporting a system that creates more instrumental and music-making opportunities than are currently available and offers routes for progression that use the scarcest and most important resource – teachers – most effectively.
Knowledge delivery and checking understanding
Teaching thirty students at once is hard but providing everyone with personal attention is nigh on impossible. With technology, teachers can place the knowledge and application of tasks onto a computer and use their time to review individuals’ work. Moving the bulk of knowledge delivery to a computer, preferably via the web, will enable all students to work at their own pace, in class and at home, and allow teachers more time to move around individuals checking and supporting their understanding.
Benefit – personalised learning, scale of delivery
Repetition of musical exercises is widely accepted as the key to becoming competent. A teacher cannot accompany each student individually while they practise so using interactive software allows students to play along to their exercises and ensures that all of the class can participate actively. Using headphones and instruments that easily connect to a PC ensures that this can be done in near-silence, avoiding hectic and disruptive noise distractions for students.
Benefit – independent learning and self-paced development
Ofsted recognises the challenge of continual assessment and I question whether it is reasonable to expect a teacher to assess thirty students constantly and provide each with continual feedback. Using recording and analysis software enables students to get some immediate responses to their practice, enabling them to view their progress in important areas such as timing, pitch and note lengths. Where each exercise can be recorded and saved by the system, teachers can review students’ progress during and after lessons and provide additional feedback.
Benefit – continual, formative and summative assessment
With students developing tangible instrumental skills, teachers can more easily identify which students are working at the same level and get them to form bands and ensembles as well as to apply their practical knowledge to composing and recording. Students with more skills can then engage in a wider range of musical activities at higher levels.
Teachers can develop their own knowledge banks by aggregating content from sources on the web into learning platforms or they can consider licensing content and interactive software from educational producers such as Charanga, Smart Music and Gigajam.
About the author
Brian Greene is the founder of eLearning company, Gigajam, and won the 2005 British Education Teaching with Technology (BETT) award for his Essential Skills Course for guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. A former music lecturer for the University of West London, Brian remains a professional freelance drummer, performing with artists such as Cliff Richard, George Benson and The Drifters. Brian’s TV credits include The Generation Game, Record Breakers and Jim’ll Fix It.
Gigajam is the only eLearning instrumental lesson provider to win a BETT award and provides high-quality instrument learning in guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and music theory. It uses the internet so that pupils can interact live with digital technology in the classroom and then carry on learning outside or in their homes.
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