From education to employment

Digital Practitioners creating “artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences”

Nigel Ecclesfield, Co-Author of Digital Learning: Architectures of Participation

Our book called Digital Learning Architectures of Participation was published by IGI Global in July 2020, and we have 20 years’ experience each working in FE colleges and adult and community education and 10 years working at the national level with Jisc and Becta and other bodies on various FE related technology and learning / teaching projects.

This involved working with Government, consultants, researchers, and commissioning projects.

Thus, we have a great deal of relevant experience concerning what a future FE Pedagogy might look like.

Fred leads World Heutagogy Day on 23rd September every year promoting creative Pedagogies of learning and Nigel was an inspector with ALI before it was absorbed by Ofsted and he continues to contribute to a range of different activities and to monitor research on post-compulsory education.

We are both continually reviewing learning, pedagogies and technology use and working with national and international projects and practitioners.

The title of our book has three elements to it.

  1. Digital refers to our Digital Practitioner project looking at “technology in action” in FE colleges
  2. Learning refers to our overall concern with “Modelling learning” or learning theory
  3. Architectures of Participation developed from the E-Maturity Framework for Further Education project that ran for 18 months, trying to define the e-mature or “e-learning ready” provider in post-compulsory education.

We have a blog to support the book called Learn Teach 21 as we see learning as a co-creation process between learner and teacher. When Fred taught in a London FE college he developed a technique he called “brokering” as he believed everyone in FE wants to learn, but perhaps not in the structured and exam-oriented way it is presented to them in formal education.

Brokering means identifying a pathway between students’ interests and motivations and the formal assessment requirements of a course. He “front-loaded” the delivery of any course to help develop learning skills which enabled students to produce individually designed work to meet the course requirements.

Nigel has a background in counselling, student services, teaching, inspection and teacher education, dating from 1985 in Cambridge, London, Liverpool and Devon and through his experiences in staff development and inspection, sees FE as the adaptive layer in education, taking up Government policies to deal with issues arising in both the compulsory sector and higher education and in these processes, potentially becoming responsive to and leading Government policy, changing learner needs/interests and employer needs.

What we discovered in the revelatory Digital Practitioner Research was that FE lecturers were using personal technologies such as smart phones and apps and were collaboratively developing fresh learning paths. The curiosity of the individual Digital Practitioner was producing new modes of learning using everyday technology devices. Geoff Rebbeck produced a 7-level framing of these new skills that could be used to re-invent the staff development of FE staff, moving away from computer skills training to developing the craft professionalism of teachers.

In developing these ideas into a book, we looked at the work of others and a wide range of issues concerning learning in all sectors and contexts. One key idea particularly stood out for us, Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow identifies that we have two modes of thinking. Fast thinking is immediately responsive and gives answers quickly almost without thinking. Slow thinking considers questions more reflectively and is concerned with both framing the answer and providing an answer. Fred’s front-loaded “brokering” technique is concerned with first taking his learners through a slow-thinking reflective phase before enabling them to get productive and complete their courses using fast thinking

If we want to develop a Future FE Pedagogy perhaps it could be built around combining these elements, with Digital Practitioners who are creating “artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences” that are designed to stimulate both slow thinking “how do we frame the problem?” and fast thinking “how do we solve the problem” so co-creating learning with their students, helping to build provision that is more closely responsive to context and helping to frame policy, when top-down policy over the last ten years such as college mergers, have failed to make any impact on provision. In developing new pedagogies. For example, Popov D and Cattoretti G (2019) “The impact of college mergers in Further Education, Department for Education, London, states,

“We find no strong statistical evidence of college mergers leading to an improvement or deterioration of college performance on average. That is, we find that on average the effect of merging is statistically indistinguishable from zero. This finding is robust to the different model specifications we have explored and applies to all financial and nonfinancial outcomes we have examined.” (p 42)

We need to be aware of the affordances of digital technologies and their potential contribution to learning and teaching, especially in post-compulsory education. Our book was written to set out our theoretical models e.g. “The Emergent Learning Model”, developed from our research and experience (Part 1), while illustrating these ideas (Part 2) through examples of projects and practice drawn from the UK and other parts of the world and then by pointing to ideas and resources, which we will add to in the Learn Teach 21 and Architecture of Participation Blogs as a growing resource for the future.

In January the DfE produced a White Paper “Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth”, which sets out the Government’s direction for the further education and skills sector, which intends, over the period between now and 2030 to reinforce employer control and influence over sector providers and the post-compulsory curriculum outside universities, while creating higher level vocational qualifications, reforming teacher education and extending the reach of “online” and “remote” learning, ostensibly drawing on the experience of colleges during the Covid pandemic.

We believe that the White Paper raises many questions we have already addressed in the book and that the book is pertinent to the discussions initiated by the White Paper.

To pick up the debate we are producing a comprehensive review of the White Paper in our blog Architecture of Participation and both engaging with and encouraging discussion on the White Paper as the policy and its implementation are carried forward.

Nigel Ecclesfield and Fred Garnett, Co-Authors of Digital Learning: Architectures of Participation

Future FE Pedagogies – Vol 1

The Future FE Pedagogies journal was categorically not intended to be a ‘how to improve your e-learning skills’ guide – there are professional associations, websites and online materials fulfilling this function already. 

Rather, we aimed to provide for time poor colleagues a series of think pieces: nuanced analyses of the potentialities and challenges of TEL for our practice.

Future FE Pedagogies – Vol 1 Preface

David Hughes


Future Pedagogies – The Context

Bob Harrison


Rethinking the improvement of teaching and learning in a virtual environment through unseen observation

Matt O’Leary


Free, easy and fit for purpose TEL: lessons learned the hard way by a non IT whizz

Martin Compton


Research from the front: A Developing Digital Project

Matt Gordon &

Jan Calvert



Pedagogy at the centre – getting the blend right

Eddie Playfair


Ways of Engaging: some approaches to developing learning skills

Ian Duckett


The Proverbs of TEL

Howard Scott


Digital Practitioners creating “artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences”

Nigel Ecclesfield & Fred Garnett


Moving a class online

Dave Cheseldine


The Reality of FE TEL Post-Covid-19: Thoughts from the bike by an FE Teacher Educator

Jamie Heywood


An open letter to the Secretary of State for Education: preparing FES teachers and trainers to ‘teach well’ in a digital world

David Powell



Vikki Liogier


Related Articles