From education to employment

MoLeNET has taught us the benefits of technology-enabled learning, but what lessons have been learnt?

The recent publication of the Modernising education and training – mobilising technology for learning report adds to the already significant body of evidence about the benefits of using mobile technologies for learning. The report summarises a year in the life of Europe’s largest mobile learning project (the Mobile Learning Network or ‘MoLeNET’), which has engaged over 150 colleges and schools, 20,000 students and 4,000 teaching staff.

The report makes overwhelmingly positive reading for those with an interest in improving student attainment, with over 96% of participating students claiming that mobile technologies helped them learn and 98% claiming the technologies made learning more interesting*.

The benefits of mobile technology to flexible learning are equally clear, with students reporting that the technology enables them to learn in a wider range of places (90%) and at a wider range of times (89%) than they would otherwise be able to.

It might be expected that FE students will say positive things about using handheld computers in class, but evidence from teachers is equally clear: 93% who participated in MoLeNET 2 projects believe that mobile technology helps with learning; 94% say it helps them to personalise lessons and 100% found that the technology improved students’ engagement, interest, motivation and enjoyment of learning. This is in addition to positive impacts we tracked on student retention and success rates, and the benefits for learners with learning difficulties and / or disabilities.

But this isn’t new. If we go back 12 months, the original MoLeNET report built upon early research into the benefits of mobile technology for learning, and painted a similar picture to this year’s report. The evidence has been published, the best practice is freely available and some colleges have ‘caught-on’ and are now reaping the benefits – but they very much remain the minority.

Why has FE been so slow to respond?

To answer this question is to consider the environment in which colleges are operating today. Having already braced themselves for funding cuts, under the new coalition government colleges are now expecting these to be more severe than originally expected, with the full extent still unknown. In his June budget speech, the Chancellor announced an average 25% cut across Government over the next four years; but with some departments being ring-fenced and HE likely to continue to receive priority, some colleges fear that the cuts could come down more heavily on FE. Add to this the freezing of child benefit, a reduction in the threshold for family tax credits and the anticipated scrapping of the EMA in the October spending review, and we could see a lot of young people leaving post-16 education because it is simply no longer affordable. Needless to say, this is likely to hit FE colleges hardest as they take the bulk of those learners from lower income backgrounds. Against this background, it is unsurprising that many colleges have been slow to invest in new mobile technologies, despite the growing body of evidence demonstrating their positive impact on learning.

However, it is often when faced with such uncertainty that forward-looking colleges will make a strategic decision to invest in the technology solutions that will position them as an institution of choice in the coming years. To make up for the expected shortfall in public funds, colleges will increasingly have to leverage money from individuals and employers. In a competitive marketplace the benefits of mobile learning (student engagement, interest, motivation, enjoyment, retention, achievement, and flexibility) are no longer nice to haves, but have become business critical to a college’s income stream and long-term sustainability. Mobile learning is one of the differentiators that help colleges increase student intake and ensure the full complement of funding for each and every student.

As colleges forge a path to cutting costs while maintaining standards, technology must be part of that journey. A few months ago I argued in this column that FE needed to look to technology and embrace online CPD as a means of improving teaching standards whilst managing costs. What is true for college staff also holds true for their students and, without re-evaluating the predominance of expensive, traditional face-to-face teaching methods, it is difficult to see how colleges will come close to offering comparable outcomes for so much less.

Sectors such as manufacturing, retail and the creative industries have used new technologies to increase efficiency, provide new delivery channels and develop an entirely new method of design. It is the FE sector that trains these industries and helps drive innovation yet, ironically, the use of technology in college is still patchy with traditional methods still predominating.

All in all we are now presented with an opportunity for those in FE leadership to drive a technology revolution, embracing improved working methods, learner outcomes and efficiency, while also taking into account the complexities of differing learners and courses.

Interestingly, a news release from BIS a couple of weeks ago announced “a new generation of wireless services and improved mobile broadband coverage under new Government plans to revolutionise the country’s digital infrastructure”. It also quoted Communications Minister Ed Vaizey as saying “the past 20 years has seen a revolution in mobile technologies and devices that have transformed the way we communicate, learn and do business”. So government is making it clear where its priorities lie and, whilst FE may not automatically be up there at the top of the list, mobile technology for learning is.

LSN will continue to play its part, supporting colleges in integrating technology into their teaching and learning, via consultancy, training, technology systems and bespoke solutions.
Visit the website to find out more, and register to attend the Mobile Learning Conference taking place on 28 September.

Click here to download your free copy of Modernising education and training – mobilising technology for learning.

John Stone is chief executive of LSN, the not-for-profit organisation focused on making learning work for further and higher education, local authorities and schools, public services, work-based learning and international organisations

Read other FE News articles by John Stone:

Getting your options right

‘Technology revolution’ is the way for education to withstand cuts

Can efficiency savings in the sector deliver significantly ‘more for less’?

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