Changing Lives: The Transformative Possibilities of Blended Learning: Initial Findings from a National Programme in Ireland
Emer Ring, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick (Ireland)
Fintan Breen, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick (Ireland)
A compelling association between high quality early years’ education and a range of immediate and long-term benefits for children’s development, families and society continues to be highlighted internationally (Heckman, 2006; Melhuish, 2015). In relation to children with additional needs in the early years, the benefits are even more pronounced. Globally education systems continue to struggle with the challenges of Inclusion, which are inextricably linked to distinctive political, economic, cultural and social factors at macro-level and practitioners’ understanding, knowledge and skills in including children with additional need at micro-level. Focusing on the need to adequately support practitioners, a new model of Government-funded supports aimed at enabling children with additional needs to participate fully in early years’ education alongside their peers was recently launched in Ireland. The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), is based on national and international research evidence, and was developed following extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including the parents of children with additional needs. The AIM acknowledges that including children with additional needs is a societal and professional responsibility, requiring a complex-skill set for practitioners combined with an associated ongoing investment by government. An element of this model, is the Leadership for INClusion in the early years’ (LINC) programme, a blended-learning programme, designed to develop 900 early years’ educators’ competencies to enable them to lead inclusion in their workplaces. The author is a member of the Consortium awarded 5.4 million euro to design and deliver this programme nationally over a four-year period to a total of 3,600 participants. Initial findings suggest that the programme has the potential to be transformative in its impact on promoting inclusive attitudes; pedagogy and practice in early years’ education while simultaneously contributing to participants’ professionalisation and self-concepts as life-long learners.
Keywords: Blended Learning; E-learning; Inclusion; Life-long Learning