Exploring the Practise and Development of Generic Skills through Web-Based Learning

Article excerpt

This article reports on a project that explored the incidental learning achieved through the implementation of a Web-based learning setting. In particular, the study explored the capacity of the environment to develop the generic skills of the students using the skills framework proposed by Bennett, Cane, and Dunne (1999). The results showed that the learning environment provided many opportunities for students to practise a broad range of generic skills and that the students perceived this practice to contribute in significant ways to their skills development. The article concludes with a discussion of the outcomes and a description of future planned research.

There is a growing awareness among educators today that effective university teaching and learning extends far beyond the development of skills and knowledge in specific subject domains (Dearing Report, 1997). A holistic view of education suggests other forms of skills and knowledge that many argue are important outcomes of a university education. For example, Candy, Crebert, and O'Leary (1994) argued that some forms of holistic lifelong learning skills should form the core of every undergraduate degree with some emphasis evident in every unit of the degree. The competencies and knowledge, which form the basis of these lifelong learning skills, are often referred to as generic skills. Generic skills are the skills that students need to become successful learners and successful practitioners in their fields of study and work and in other aspects of their life and are an important outcome of university education (Havard, Hughes, & Clark, 1998).

The use of technology as a component of daily living has been an influencing factor in the emergence of generic skills development as an important outcome of formal education. Many of the generic skills relate to students' abilities to make meaningful use of technology. The need for technological skills coupled with emerging opportunities for students learning with technology appear to create a powerful synergy for generic skills development. The use of technology in teaching and learning already has been shown to provide many opportunities to teachers and learners (Oliver, Oman, & Herrington, 1998). These opportunities include among other things, increased access to learning, increased flexibility for learners, and enhanced learning outcomes in domain specific knowledge outcomes. If it can be shown that particular forms of technology use can also provide opportunities for learners' generic skills development, teachers and institutions can be guided by these findings into modifications and changes to their t echnology-based learning environments to provide even greater returns on their investments and efforts.

DEFINING GENERIC SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES

Defining the full range of generic and transferable skills that are useful (or essential) for university students is an exhaustive process. It is as almost as exhaustive as finding agreement in the terms that might best be used to describe the set. In the context of this article the term generic skills is used to describe the generic and transferable skills that are considered to be essential life skills for people both in and out of the workforce.

There has been interest in generic skills as outcomes of education for many years now. It was perhaps the Finn Report (1991) which introduced this concept into Australia. The Finn Report used the term key competencies to describe "certain essential things that all young people need to learn in their preparation for employment." The subsequent Mayer Committee (1992), further clarified the concept of employment-related key competencies in compulsory education and training. The key competencies proposed by the Mayer Committee were:

* collecting, analysing, and organising ideas and information;

* expressing ideas and information;

* planning and organising activities;

* working with others and in teams;

* using mathematical ideas and techniques;

* solving problems; and

* using technology. …