Learner Analysis: Pre-Arrival Adult Immigrants to Canada Whose First Language is not English
My Role Within the Learner Group
The members of my learner group are pre-arrival adult immigrants to Manitoba, Canada, whose first language is not English. They have been pre-approved for permanent residency but currently reside in their home countries. This report will provide details of the needs and characteristics of the group, based on my experience working with similar groups.
I work for a subsidized non-profit organization, and all the services are free to eligible learners. I oversee the Learner Services department and the development of the learner support system in an online self-directed learning environment. I am also actively engaged in the learning design and facilitation of learning options, reflected in the chart below.
Client intake is ongoing, and currently we have approximately 600 learners registered, 10% of whom are pre-arrivals; the whole group is supported by two eFacilitators.
Since my task here is a speculative analysis, I decided to employ the personas technique, which helped me create a group of fictitious learners (see Appendix) to represent my learners. The group, consisting of three women, two men and one couple, is heterogeneous in professional and educational backgrounds, language abilities, motivation to immigrate, personal goals, computer skills, strengths and possible obstacles to their success in Canada. The three commonalities I established are maturity, the goal of immigrating to Canada, and isolation from the destination culture. I will discuss the learners’ characteristics and needs in three categories: online learning environment, metacognition, and survival.
- Online Learning Environment
My learners access the services from locations spread across the globe. In a synchronous workshop I may facilitate individuals from six time zones. This presents me with scheduling challenges and requires repeats on different days at different times to provide access for all. Further, a full spectrum of computer skills can be seen, ranging from first-time users to avid online game players. Self-access tutorials are available, but even then for learners unfamiliar with computers, following instructions from a screen capture constitutes a learning barrier. Some persevere and contact eFacilitators for help; some drop out. Moreover, computer access is inconsistent for the learners, from library access, to the variety in operating systems and device sizes; this creates compatibility issues. Since our live workshops are planned for virtual classroom environments and incorporate chats, document sharing, watching videos, and browsing websites, mobile users are disadvantaged. Nonetheless, developing mobile-friendly versions is considered a lower priority as funding restrictions and the majority needs dictate the delivery outputs.
Given that they are mature learners, they most likely grew up in a traditional face-to-face educational model, and so for many learning online is a first-time experience. Learners entering our online self-directed learning environment are expected to take ownership of their learning, i.e. to formulate goals, select learning options matching their availability and needs, and reflect, monitor, and self-assess their own progress. In reality the group displays a spiky profile in terms of metacognitive skills and attitudes towards self-directed learning; some learners expect the eFacilitator to direct their learning, while others expect access to content anytime to engage in activities independently. This clash of expectations presents an emotional rollercoaster of stretching comfort zones for all involved. With varied autonomy levels, there is a strong need for study materials to raise awareness of metacognition involved in learning online. Additionally, the learning options must be diversified to address different interaction preferences shown in the chart above. It is a challenge to meet all learners’ expectations and needs, and occasionally learners drop out from the program. I have recently discovered instances where proficient language learners have chosen to not contact an eFacilitator because they are not used to taking the initiative to seek assistance for their learning. This could be a personal choice, or a cultural factor, such as high power distance. What frustrates me is that frequently I do not know why a learner drops out as they rarely notify me of their departure.
As future residents of Canada, learners need information about local services to address their family needs, such as applying for jobs, finding housing, or bringing pets. They also need familiarity with the particulars of the Canadian culture, or soft skills. One such soft skill is the ability to communicate in one of the official languages of Canada. Consequently, learners need opportunities to improve their language skills. The better they communicate on arrival, the higher their chances are of finding a job. One of the learners speaks English at a native level; however her accent might be perceived negatively and pose a challenge in her successfully landing a job.
One of the common denominators for pre-arrival immigrants is their isolation from the destination culture. Learners may be engaged with our services for three years prior to landing in Canada. In that case, the transfer of skills learned through engagement with the learning options in the chart above is delayed, while focus on the retention of skills prevails. Learners cannot contact employers to apply their interview skills as employers are disinterested in talking to a person with an unspecified arrival date. However, I encourage learners to use this time to build community networks with fellow immigrants living in Canada. Once the learners arrive in Manitoba, these new acquaintances will serve as a support system to help them with culture shock and nostalgia. To enable those connections I moderate a forum and virtual coffee chats where clients can exchange experiences and contact information.
The need for information and language practice juxtaposed with varied dates of arrival constitutes a learning design challenge. Learners arriving in a month needs quick access to information, while others arriving in two years’ time have the luxury of time to gather facts about their future home. I find myself constantly questioning and modifying the current learner support system and its effectiveness to satisfy the learners’ needs.
The learners I have described are highly diverse in their individual needs. Funding restrictions create a learning design challenge to offer inclusive services that will address the wide range of individual needs. As a teacher, ideally I want to see that every individual goal is achieved; as a learning designer I need to generate scalable and sustainable solutions to accommodate the majority and provide access for all. I feel that a self-directed learning environment is one that can best fulfill the needs of the group, but such an environment requires a considerable amount of time and resources to develop wide-ranging options to meet varied metacognitive, technical, and survival needs.
Appendix with personas can be viewed here.