People from all backgrounds take further education (FE) courses. According to the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group, ‘an essential characteristic of learners in the FE sector is their diversity.’

This makes sense when you consider the range of opportunities FE offers and how it attracts people of all ages, education history, academic ability and life stages.

A 2017-2018 study by the Association of Colleges found that 81 percent of those enrolled in college studied part-time.

Indeed, a lot of FE students are juggling work and family commitments and may be returning to education after an extended break.

Many don’t necessarily attend a traditional college campus or teaching institution because FE learning can take place in a range of environments — including the workplace as part of apprenticeships.

The range of students and institutions taking part in FE makes delivering a quality FE learning experience to each person enormously challenging for institutions and tutors.

However, digital technology can be used to help provide a quality education regardless of scale or circumstances.

Personalisation at scale: one size fits me

No ‘one size fits all’ approach to course delivery can hope to meet the diverse needs of the FE student population. Flexibility and adaptability are required, and in this, technology-based courses are well-placed to give students a ‘one size fits me’ experience.

A virtual learning environment (VLE) programme supports personalisation at scale, enabling learning paths to be created on a per-student basis. This level of personalisation means content delivery can adapt according to each student’s progress and their individual needs.

Course materials can be made available, or ‘unlocked’, when a student has reached the standard required to be at that stage or when they have demonstrated they need additional assistance to master the material.

In this way, more independent learning paths are automatically created so that every student accesses the right content at the right time to best support their progress.

Another form of personalisation, and one that is often overlooked in VLE’s, is meeting the needs of students who need greater accessibility.

These accessibility requirements can be met through features that include speech-to-text and text-to-speech. With these tools, tutors are able to create pedagogically sound courses so that students can concentrate on their studies without needing to manage adjustments themselves.

High-quality feedback from tutors, given quickly, gives students the best chance of making whatever changes they need to make to progress, but providing in-depth feedback is a time-consuming process, whether it’s in-person or written.

With a modern digital learning platform, tutors can give audio feedback as they work through an assessment. This is incredibly time-saving for them and it also means that students can get more detailed guidance as they work through their tasks.

In addition, tutors can automate giving feedback using rules. For example, messages can be sent to students that haven’t yet done their work for the week that includes links to the activities yet to be completed and reinforcement of the purpose of the activity towards a learning goal.

Data analytics and insight

Another benefit of a digitised learning platform is real-time analytics on student’s work. Using the insight gained through analytics supports the learning process to help improve student achievement, retention and graduation rates.

It gives tutors and course administrators the data they need to make effective decisions around course design, student feedback/coaching and general course efficiency improvements.

Indeed, they can see patterns of use and learning that indicates the platforms and types of interactions that are more useful for each student. Through detailed reports, tutors gain an expanded view of learning and teaching progress while real-time data gives them the insight they need to pinpoint students who are at risk of falling behind so that they can intervene to get those students back on track.

This level of insight is key in helping make effective changes to curriculum, learning paths and individual reach-out that improves the learning experience.

Analytics make sense of the data to shine a light on student progress. Key measurements used to build up this picture could include comparisons of student performance, student interactions with the learning platform, time spent studying, revealed knowledge gaps and progress in relation to learning outcomes.

Students also benefit from this data on their progress. Predictive analytics can be used to forecast outcomes such as end grades, to help learners determine what they need to do in the present to achieve the future result they want.

A VLE, and general digitisation of learning programmes in the near future, can help meet the diverse needs of FE students through learning personalisation. It’s evident that for the FE sphere to take its next steps in progress, the future is digital.

Elliot Gowans, senior VP International, D2L

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