TNU courses are designed around two key learning strategies namely collaborative learning and competence based learning. Within this framework ICT is utilised to promote innovation in education.
Collaborative learning programmes are not based on individualised reading and a single final examination but rather on multiple interactions leading towards common and negotiated understandings based on differences in ideas, knowledge and attitudes amongst the participants and the coaches. At TNU we believe that the educational experience should be process and not just product oriented. In order to achieve this we promote active learning. In other words we expect our participants to ask his/herself: 'What do I need to know to solve the problem at hand and how do I gain access to this information', rather than 'what is it that you are going to tell me today?'.
The collaborative learning experience is structured primarily through the assignments. In an online environment students are asked to work together in order to answer the assignments at hand. In a normal course, participants are asked to submit 2 - 3 assignments per week. In the assignments students are required to constantly query, challenge and/or seeking justification for what they are hearing, reading or discussing. Assignments can take the form of debates, simulations, games online presentations as well as written papers or other research oriented questions.
Competence based learning
Recent research1 has estimated that the current shelf life of professional knowledge lies between 5 and 6 years. In our view, this should have direct consequences on the learning experience. When the direct applicability of professional knowledge has a shelf life that fails to reach the double digits it would imply that the ability of a student to select, judge and imbibe new information is of equal value to the quantity of knowledge originally held. This awareness in the importance of combining a strong content oriented approach with a focus on competences lies at the heart of TNU.
Competence based learning places concrete emphasis on the acquisition of competences during the learning process by matching competences to assignments. A competence can be broadly defined as: "the ability to apply knowledge, skills and values to relevant workplace/study-place environments based on the standards/success criteria required by that environment". In other words, a competence is always a marriage between knowledge and skill. Core competences are those that are relevant to a number of different settings. These empower learners to be able to adapt and transfer their learning from one setting to another. TNU has identified 5 key areas relating to core academic competences. These are analytical skills; the ability to combine and organize information; the ability to articulate ideas and arguments appropriate to the context; the ability to think self-critically and profession specific skills.
1 See for example report done by the Dutch author Brandsma, J. (ed) 1998 on the (Im)Possibilities and Perspectives for Life Long Learning.
"New knowledge frontiers: the didactic scaffolding of The Network University"