From education to employment

Customer focused approach needed to take advantage of new digital technologies

Most people working in the education and training sector believe that we have not yet maximised the potential benefits of the developments in digital technologies. There are many reasons for this but for me it is because our sector is too driven by government contracts that make training providers too reactive and focused on short-term issues. So it is with some hope and expectation that many of us look to the recommendations of, and responses to, the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) and ELTAG groups that form the basis of the drive to increase the usage of digital technologies in our sector.

However despite the positive tone of the government, there is a danger that the recommendations will emphasise the transactional and operational issues rather than longer term, cultural change that we need in our sector. Most of the investment made in learning technologies has been on financial, audit and training management systems rather than the communications and learning delivery systems that could transform the current delivery models. Many training providers have tried to improve their current delivery models based on regular visits to the workplace and classrooms rather than rethink their approach and make some fundamental changes to the current systems.

Fifteen years ago I helped to set up a small e-learning business backed by several training providers where we planned to produce an online platform that combined finance, admin, e-portfolio and e-learning systems together in an integrated platform. We didn’t manage it then and I am not sure anyone is close today.

So in the list of recommendations set out by the government to change the way we do business, the ones which many providers will focus on will be the requirement to include 10% of online delivery as part of every programme. In fact the government has now released their first guidelines on this requirement and it is quite clear that this will be very difficult to apply sensibly.

In AELP’s view it will be counterproductive to focus on these transactional requirements which are meant to encourage online delivery but will do just the opposite. If all training providers just focus on meeting new funding rules, we will not get the step-change we know we need.

Instead we need to consider how the new digital technologies affect the way training providers interact with employer, recruit their learners and deliver their programmes in order to meet the personalised approach that we know will be needed in the future. Organisations such as BIS and the ETF are doing what they can to build capacity in the sector but we need new approaches. If I was running an event on the follow-up to FELTAG, should it be ‘Transforming Delivery through Digital Technologies’ or ‘How to Comply with the SFA Funding Rules to Meet the 10% Requirement’? I know which event we need but I can guess which one will get the biggest attendance.

The developments in programmes such as Work Programme, Traineeships and Apprenticeships will mean that training providers will have to be competitive and cost effective in the way they respond to the changes. The only way of doing that is to maximise the potential of social media and using digital technologies to transform the way we deliver training and support to employers and learners.

Personalised education and training delivered when and where customers need it is the change of culture that we need. This will take a change in culture from short to long term investment and a customer focused rather than contract driven approach. AELP is not calling for a series of committees to discuss how providers take this forward. Instead we need to use the technologies to share ideas and views, so we will be setting up a discussion group on Linkedin where we hope providers and others will join us and to share their views.

Stewart Segal is chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers

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