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An Application of Tandem Learning: the 3xC Project Catherine Lockhead-Strzępka, MBA1 1

Institute of Economics, University of Information Technology and Management, Rzeszow, Poland

Abstract—This paper describes the 3xC project which was carried out in 2008-2010 under financing by the European Directorate General Lifelong Long Learning Programme by a team of Polish, Greek and German researchers. It describes how the concept of tandem learning (generally used for foreign language learning) was adapted for a course for managers on international project initiation. Index Terms—education courses, education technology, electronic learning, distance learning, management training.

I.

INTRODUCTION

This paper describes the 3xC project (Coordination, Cooperation, Cultural Context A tandem learning program of transnational cooperation for SMEs) which was carried out in 2008-2010 under financing by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union by a team of Polish, Greek and German researchers. It involved the design of a training course applying the tandem learning concept aimed at development of skills and competencies of SME employees in the field of transnational cooperation. It promoted learning based on the interactive approach, contributed to development of tandem learning methodology in particular in virtual learning environments, and developed a new delivery method for distance learning. The 18-month time-frame of the project provided for the creation and pilot of the learning program and postpilot adjustments to the final learning kit. The learning methodology was enriched by supporting IT solutions– messengers, VOIP, and discussion forums. Parallel workshop sessions were organised in the three partner countries in which the participants were grouped into international “virtual” partnerships. Using internet communication tools, they faced and solved real-life transnational cooperation problems over a period of about 8 weeks. The project resulted in a platform which contains background topical resources for learners or teachers, the key course modules with tasks to be completed in tandem with a partner (optimally from a different country) a concept manual and a technical administration manual for facilitators. All materials are freely available on the project website http://3xc.ig.wsiz.pl while the course itself may be downloaded and reused on a creative commons license arrangement. This forms the key product of the 3xC project.

II.

PROJECT STAGES

A. Adaptation of the Tandem Concept In the first stage, an analysis was carried out to determine the current state of the art in the use of tandem learning. All project partners investigated the uses of tandem in their own countries. Traditionally tandem has been used in foreign language learning. Language learning in tandems means communication between two persons with different mother tongues in order to learn from each other the other partner’s language. It is a method for autonomic language learning. General Definition of Tandem Learning: Within Tandem-Learning the learners are learning in teams of two persons or two groups. The partners learn from each other and give each other feedback. The new knowledge can be put immediately into practice. Principle of mutuality: Language learning in tandem is done in a partnership in which each partner brings skills that the other wants to acquire, and in which both partners mutually support learning. Both sides should have an equal benefit from the partnership. Principle of autonomy: Each partner is responsible for his/her own learning. He/She determines what, how and when he wants to learn and what kind of help he wants to have from his partner.

While the role of open, self-determined, self-contained and independent learning has become more and more important, very few uses have been made of tandem learning outside of the scope of language learning, and of these only face-to-face approaches of the tandem methodology could be identified. In some cases the role of exchange and corporate development is stronger than the aspect of learning, though processes of exchange also can generate learning between two persons. The identified examples in the field of development/exchange/improvement/transfer of concepts and ideas can be regarded as forms of change management activities in companies, either in terms of maintaining or developing know-how in order to reach or to maintain competitiveness in the market. The third area of applied tandem methodology lies in mutual support among


different target groups. Mutual support in tandems occurs between teachers, between teachers and educators, between students or between older and younger employees. [1] Contextualised in the 3xC project for SME managers, the tandem partners were also experts, coaches and learners. However the subject was not a foreign language. (The course was run entirely in English). Participants were interactively learning about transnational project cooperation by completing tasks together which seemed an appropriate manner in which to acquire the desired skills. Tandem provided a proper vehicle for the delivery of intercultural competences. In this manner the project sought a transfer of innovation moving tandem beyond the limits of language learning.

There are three possible types of tutor present in the course: 1. Technical tutors (or support) who provide technical help and support on computer-specific and Moodleplatform-specific issues. 2. Workshop tutors. Each workshop is assigned to a tutor who has some kind of expertise on the topic of the workshop. 3. Tandem tutors. Each tandem is assigned a tutor, who has the task to motivate, support and monitor the activity of his/her pair(s) during the whole duration of the course. All approaches have their advantages and disadvantages:

B. Training Concept In selecting the training topics, 30 in-depth interviews were held with SME managers to determine their needs. Next the topics were put into 7 workshops reflecting the steps taken to initiate an international cooperation project. A Moodle platform was created for the content. All workshops are provided as online workshops via the moodle platform. As an addition or alternative, the first and last workshop are also designed and provided as faceto-face workshops. With the exception of the face-to-face workshops, all online workshops have the same basic structure: a) Introduction: General information about the workshop, its contents and proposed time frame. The proposed time frame is given in hours. Depending on the individual situation and setting, these hours can be allocated over a period of several days. Ideally, no workshop should take longer than a week. b) Self-Evaluation: Each student or participant describes his/her status-quo of skills, language skills (if necessary) and knowledge in the proposed topic area. c) Self-Learning: Self-learning materials are provided as background or reference information and are such a training base for the Tandem-Learning period. d) Tandem Learning: In this part, the participants try out and train the intended skills with the help and support of a participant from another country. e) Reflection: The final part of a workshop provides the opportunity to reflect about the learning process, progress made, achievements, and propositions for workshop improvements. Each workshop may take up to 8 hours of effort from each of the partners to complete depending on their experience and interest. The overall time frame depends also on the individual schedules of the participants. Although it is possible to do the course in 5-6 weeks, there is no reason why participants should not set their own time frame and learning rhythm. Furthermore, although tandem tasks are usually asynchronous tasks, they need to be organised and scheduled among the tandem partners. Otherwise, holidays, business trips, or other temporary absence might lead to confusion if tandem partners are waiting for feedback. Nevertheless, a maximum time frame of 12 weeks should be aimed at to avoid losing too much momentum. Here the tutor plays an important role to foster the learning process if necessary.

Assignment to workshop + You can assign tutors to a topic in which they are truly expert +Participants work with several tutors and get more diverse input s/he is really a specialist in Assignment to learning tandem +The tutor gets a good overall overview of the training results +Participants work with only one tutor and thus get a more stable and reliable experience -Tutors might be expert in one or two topics but not in all Office Assignment +There is one central place for questions and requests. Questions that are of general interest can be published and answered in FAQ section. -Tutors and/or the central office will still need to monitor progress and activities of the participants.

Learning tandems can either be assigned by the tutors or organised by the learners themselves. One idea is that the learners first choose a “project idea” among those which have been proposed by the individual learners and then choose, or are assigned to, a tandem partner who has also chosen this idea. An overall self-evaluation of the prior experience of the learners in the topics of the course is proposed to be obtained by the pre-course questionnaire that can be completed during the first on-line introductory workshop The preliminary analysis of the data obtained can help the course organizers identify the “level of prior experience” of all learners, and thus be more aware of the learning needs of each pair. Participants for the pilot of the course were recruited and the course was run, (over a time period of 8-10 weeks depending on participants since this is an independent learning program) and the pilot was evaluated. C. Evaluation of the Pilot There were challenges in the adaptation of tandem for these purposes. Firstly, the partner matching process had to be developed. While in language learning there already exist a wide range of forums with thousands of candidates to partner with, the project did not have such a huge and highly developed pool of candidates ready to participate


as the concept of such learning for SMEs is so new. Additionally, in language learning simple demographic and language skill level matching processes are relatively easy to implement while SME participants would likely prefer partners more specifically suited to their actual field of activity (a participant in the retail trade would ideally prefer a partner perhaps in production of their sector). This was difficult to provide within the scope of this project. Both partners additionally needed to be fluent in English (which was not a native language for the participants). Both the product (Educational Kit) and the evaluation instrumentation to accompany the Kit were modified due to the testing of the contents / processes in the training programme. Specifically, the testing of the course with participants from diverse cultural environments lead the project to decide on the appropriateness of the contents and on the method of delivery. In terms of the process, while the pilot course relied entirely on participants interactions, it became apparent that participants need the support of the tutor / moderator far more than originally envisioned. In language tandem learning, the tandems ideally proceed at their own pace, in their own manner with a high degree of flexibility in consideration of time commitments, frequency, and topics of interest. As long as the partners are satisfied with their progress there is no external need to move forward at an artificial pace. During the pilot phase of the course however, there was a need to progress in order to evaluate the pilot for the end of the project. Although lack of activity among some tandem pairs was noted in interim monitoring, formal intervention was not made to speed up progress. It seems that a stricter framework, and a higher level of expectations and commitment could have been engendered by more formal monitoring of participants. Guidelines for such facilitation would have to be developed by a second pilot focused on the aspects of how best to support the tandems. Both this challenge and the challenge of proper tandem matching however relate to the time-frame of the project and therefore should be easily surmountable in further use of the learning kit in a less limited time-perspective. [2] Identifying the tutor's role was a challenge due to the aspects of tandem that require learners to take responsibility. The proper amount of tutor intervention and feedback needs to be carefully decided. Increasing learning community interaction in the discussion forum is also something future course facilitators would need to work at enhancing. Finally, the use of ICT tools to complete the course was noted by participants as a positive aspect and “easy, fast and cheap (moodle platform, forum, Skype, email)” which might show that these tools are in fact not as wellknown and used (even by well-educated adults) as thought previously. III. CONCLUSIONS The tandem learning approach and the learning platform developed by the project partners is not limited to the original topic area of the project (initiating transnational projects). This innovative approach is transferable to all learning initiatives that either include some kind of partner work or are enriched by partner work

on local, regional, national, or transnational levels. Furthermore, the tandem learning approach encourages cross-sector partnerships as tandem learners from different sectors or working backgrounds complement each other in their mutual learning. This transfer not only contributes to the range of methods used to improve project management skills but it also provides a basis for the tandem method to be applied in other fields. Participants in the final conference and via the Keylinks European project management training network were enthusiastic about the 3xC concept and expressed interest in exploiting the final product. In Poland, at the partner institution university level there is also great interest in embedding the course content and platform modules in several places in the curriculum. In Germany the project partner Deutsche Angestellten-Akademie (the German College of Employees) operates 200 training centers and is also positively receptive to using the course in its internal training. In Greece, two large Chambers of Commerce including one highly active in the European Enterprise Network, have shown a great deal of interest in using the final results as well. As methodological, technological and content developers the project partners have a keen interest in encouraging and seeing how others use the tool. Users may either access the existing Moodle environment or transfer the course to their own platform, having registered so that they can be contacted for feedback and so that this partnership can follow whatever updates/changes others may choose to make to the platform. In this manner, non-language based adaptations of tandem learning ,which make excellent use of today’s ICT tools, will continue to progress. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The Author thanks all members of the 3xC team, in particular Dr. Maciej Piotrowski of the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland; Dr. Kathy Kikis-Papadakis of the Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas – Institute of Applied and Computational Mathematics, FORTH-IACM in Greece; Mr. Michał Górzyński formerly of Case-Doradcy Ltd. in Warsaw, Poland; Ms. Justyna Gać of CaseDoradcy Ltd.; Mr. Thomas Deharde of the Deutsche Angestellten-Akademie, Germany; and Mr. Jörg Jurkeit formerly of the Deutsche Angestellten-Akademie, Germany. REFERENCES [1]

[2]

Jorg Jurkeit, “Adoption of the Tandem Learning concept to the needs of SMEs in the context of trans-national cooperation,” http://3xc.ig.wsiz.pl , March 2009. FORTH-IACM, “Review and Preliminary Reflections on the Design of the 3xC workshops version 0.0e,” http://3xc.ig.wsiz.pl, April 2009.

AUTHOR Catherine Lockhead-Strępka, M.B.A. is with the Institute of Economics at the University of Information Technology and Management, ul. Sucharskiego 2, Rzeszow, 35-225 Poland (e-mail: cstrzepka@wsiz.rzeszow.pl).


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