Featured Voices

Lee Nicholls is Deputy CEO of Activate Learning

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

What do we know now that we didn’t know then?

With a few weeks breathing room since the end of term I’ve found myself reflecting on all the work that has gone on across my organisation over the past several months.

If you told me a year ago all of the things that would have happened around the world and the impact it would have had on the education sector here in the UK, I would have rightly gone into the events of the past several months with enormous trepidation.

Yes, we had invested in a digital learning platform for the delivery of remote learning to students, and yes we have a highly capable digital education team that produce fantastic content to deliver online learning.

But the greatest barrier to true online delivery adoption has always been our own behaviours and the fact that until COVID, we – as a FE college group – haven’t ever been in a position where we’ve had to solely rely on online learning for the delivery of classes, with our bricks and mortar campuses in the heart of our communities. 

Then the unthinkable happened.

Life as we knew it got knocked sideways, and as an education provider we had to adapt quickly and went through a great deal of work in the weeks prior to lockdown to prime teaching staff and students for the shift to online learning.

And I was blown away by the way in which our students and teachers adapted!

Almost 1,400 live conferences were delivered and nearly 2,000 assignments set through our digital platform within the first two weeks alone.

Fast forward to the end of the academic year and I am incredibly proud of what we’ve managed to achieve at Activate Learning.

Our teachers have managed to set a staggering 17,000 online assignments, across 12,000 online sessions delivered to more than 7,000 students. Remarkable!

Lessons learned from COVID

So what do we take from this period? Because for all the negatives there are undeniably positives.

My first observation is perhaps an obvious one. Online teaching and learning is here to stay.

We’ve seen such terrific uptake from both staff and students it would be a retrograde step to simply go back to classroom-based delivery in the pre-COVID sense of that phrase.

However, it has to be done in the right way.

As we went into this crisis I was glad that we had invested in Activate Learning Online, our online delivery platform, and with hindsight I think we made a sound decision to drive everything we did through this platform.

By doing this it’s allowed us to plug in all our performance measuring tools and management information systems to give teachers a ‘ready-made’ class set up and data to track and improve our learners’ educational experiences.

Brick and click are equally important

The other thing that I think we’ve learnt is that online delivery alone isn’t enough.

While it’s fantastic at meeting the knowledge acquisition aspect of what we do as a FE college group, it doesn’t yet allow us to work with our students on the less tangible elements that we place great value on at Activate Learning.

Face-to-face learning and classroom environments are really important for teaching skills, behaviours and attributes. I’ve long said that the qualifications that we provide our learners with, will be what gets them an interview. But it’s the behaviours and attributes that we teach that will get them the job.

This is why we took the decision early to start the new academic year with a blended model, whereby students will alternate between onsite and online learning, or “brick and click” as I’ve heard it referred to.

This flip-flop model will allow us to combine the best of both, while also giving us agility around managing the safety and wellbeing should we need to go into further lockdown.

We also recognise that for our online delivery to be as good as possible, we need to provide both synchronous and asynchronous learning for students.

By that I mean live streamed teaching in online classrooms (synchronous learning) and developing a suite of materials for students to work through at a time that suits them best (asynchronous).

This will allow for more flexibility in the student’s learning experience and enable them to use their time differently, and because we are able to report out of the platform we use to deliver it we get great insights into learning behaviours over time.

When September comes

So as we sit here several weeks out from the start of the new term, I have a quiet optimism for the year ahead. Yes, there will inevitably be challenges and things to test our resolve, but we’ve laid the groundwork and clearly set out our stall with our learners.

We know we will need to take things much more gently at the start of the new term to settle people (back) into life at college, hence why we are dedicating the first three weeks to just that task.

Over the summer, our newly recruited students – again using our online platform – have been gaining familiarity with our colleges and with the teaching teams they will meet in the autumn, and we have used the platform to deliver their summer project. This should mean they come ready and more able to access learning online as a complementary component to the time they spend in college on practical work and applied learning.

COVID has taught the education sector many lessons, if you’ll forgive the pun, but the most important ones that we all need to realise is that online learning is here to stay and those who embrace it will be the ones who flourish.

Lee Nicholls is Deputy CEO of Activate Learning and is responsible for curriculum, curriculum planning; teaching and learning; and quality improvement and standards. He is also the founding CEO of the Activate Learning Education Trust (ALET) and co-chair of the ALET Trust Board.

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page