According to the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2022, an impact of the Covid-19 lockdown has been the importance of digital skills being thrown into sharp focus and a greater-than-expected jump forward in digital use. Looking back at predictions based on 2020 data, we are now at the level of digital engagement predicted for 2025, with 99% of the UK having been online in the last three months.
That progress should not be taken for granted though; neither technology nor individuals’ capability to utilise it are static. Digital skills are like language skills; they must be applied regularly if they are not to become rusty or, worse still, obsolete. According to the Index, “Overall, 6% (of people) have reduced their digital capabilities in the last year”.
The rising cost of living is one factor creating a barrier to digital access. According to the Index, by May of 2022 circa 18.7 million people (35%) had acknowledged that the rising cost of living was impacting their ability to go online. Furthermore, it points out, around another 14 million people still have low digital capability. New analysis suggests that amongst those with ‘very low’ capability, more than two-thirds of those who were in this segment in 2019 remain there, signalling a lack of ability or motivation to change.
The Further Education and Training sector has a major role to play in narrowing the UK digital skills divide and offering effective and tailored digital learning opportunities to serve its communities. According to UNEVOC-UNESCO “In technical and vocational education and training (TVET), the development of students’ digital skills and competence play a key role in preparing them for effective functioning in the digital economy and society.”
How can we encourage people to embrace digital lifelong learning?
Education providers’ governing bodies must reflect on the organisation’s mission, vision and values, and contribute to their development, asking themselves whether digital is a golden thread running through them and whether they need to make hard and/or soft changes to allow digital to fulfil its potential as a vital enabler.
In 2020, the College of the Future Report argued that “The college of the future will empower people throughout their lives with the skills they need to get on in life, support better productivity and innovation of businesses, and strengthen every community’s sense of place.” If that vision is to be realised, governing bodies must be prepared to positively challenge leadership to ensure that digital is woven across curriculum design.
So, the question is, how do we ensure board members are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and understanding to fulfil their ‘digital learning’ responsibilities and provide effective support and challenge to senior leaders and the wider organisation?
There are some tell-tale signs that enable a board to gauge the digital temperature of an organisation: whether digital is visible across different stakeholder groups; whether the digital strategy that aligns teaching, learning and assessment and digital is in place; and whether there is a clearly differentiated digital capability CPD plan that empowers staff.
New support designed to help boards fulfil their responsibilities in scrutinising their institution’s progress in embedding and developing its digital capabilities will be coming soon, in the shape of a new module that is being added to the Education and Training Foundation’s Governance Development programme. The module aims both to develop board skills and understanding in digital teaching, learning and assessment and to help it review the digital aspects of study programmes.
It will offer context, with an overview of the fourth industrial revolution and the impact changes in technologies are likely to have on work and life in the future; examine what good digital teaching, learning and assessment look like; consider how governors should be making investment decision around technologies; and review learner access and equality.
Our intention is that, by the end of the module, governors will understand the key principles to positively challenge their organisation to effectively embrace digital in its vision and mission, while setting up indicators to assist in measuring the impact of its contribution to meeting digital skills needs. With every board that acquires those skills, we will be a step closer to fulfilling the sector’s role as an anchor for developing effective learners and citizens and its mission to transform lives.
By Vikki Liogier, National Head of EdTech and Digital Skills, Education and Training Foundation