From education to employment

The education and training issues that we all share

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

On Tuesday 10 November I had the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Commons Select Committee for their digital economy inquiry. ALT had already submitted written evidence representing our members, and this opportunity to speak to MPs about skills and professional development in a digital economy was a rare chance to have our voice heard.

One of the key points that struck me was how many of the issues that businesses, in particular small businesses, and education and training providers face are shared. While it can be difficult to look at the education and training sector as an industry, and a single college or university as a business where the learners are the customers, the comparison is much more useful when looking at the support for staff and the leadership for the organisation. From the evidence we heard it was clear that the factors that cause problems for businesses are the same in education. For example, the pace of innovation and technological advancement. Or the need to keep iterating security, data protection, hardware and operations to be efficient and effective. Or the broad variances between organisations from infrastructure to reporting – a lack of digital skills or literacy at all levels that is nearly universal.

One of the key questions we didn’t have time to explore in more detail is what skills or approaches are needed to make the difference between success and failure, between profit and loss, between learner success and failing to achieve learner potential?

If there had been time, this is what I would have added. First, we can do a lot more in ensuring that basic digital skills and information literacy are built at all levels, for everyone.

Secondly, in education as in business more expertise is needed for those with responsibility for implementation and design of technology. Those individuals need to be able to assess services provided by specialist suppliers, as well as understand the requirements of their own organisations.

We may call these individuals Learning Technologists in some cases, but whatever their role, the skills they require cannot be kept relevant in a vacuum. They need to be able to share information with peers, compare experiences and discuss common issues. Only together can they effectively keep pace with the evolution of technology.

Thirdly, senior decision makers need to have a strategic understanding of technology and ensure that its use is included in frameworks and policies across all areas. Their support is needed to ensure that funding, infrastructure, legislation and other governing principles adequately reflect not only the potential but also the challenges that technology and its use brings with it.

To me, the House of Commons, where the evidence session took place, is a remarkable representation of the power of its time, an expression of global dominance from a different epoch in history. Its creators were at the height of their skills in architecture, art, construction and politics. My hope is that with sufficient investment and support at all levels – which this inquiry can help secure – we can reach similar levels of achievement in the digital age.

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity

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