From education to employment

Moving learning from analogue to digital

The debate about the potential benefits and impact of moving towards more online learning for our students continues. The FE sector as a whole is being encouraged to embrace a more digital approach to engaging students’ interests and developing their employability skills. The main drivers for this shift include:

  • The recommendations and targets of the FELTAG report
  • Our students’ confidence and ease with which technology forms such an important part of their everyday lives
  • The need to become more financially efficient through alternative, innovative ways of curriculum delivery
  • The pace of the technological revolution and society’s increased expectation of access to 24/7 online consumer and leisure services

Despite these key drivers for change, there is still a long way to go to really embrace a digital mindset with learning being placed in the hands of students through anytime, anywhere, any device technology.

Many students do not have easy access to ‘seamless learning’ where they can pick up their learning where they left off whether it be on their way to college, at home, with their friends; on their smart phone, tablet, smart TV or laptop. Too many learning opportunities across the sector exist in a shared virtual learning environment set apart from our students’ own space. In addition, many methods of summative assessment are still too traditional, relying on paper based formative test/examinations taken on a particular day, at a particular time, in a particular venue.

So the key question is what needs to change before our students can truly experience the benefits of personalised, seamless learning in their space?

  • As a sector we need to embrace technological change. Despite recognising the importance of attributes such as bravery, curiosity and entrepreneurship for our students and their future employability; too often we in the sector are unwilling to experiment and take a risk.
  • We should take time to look beyond the traditional virtual learning environments to other possibilities; keeping an open mind that there might be, and indeed are other options. Too often we hold on to safe, tried and tested technology sometimes unwilling to even consider other more personalised, student centered options.
  • Assessment practice also needs to keep pace with the technological revolution. Formative and summative assessment methods should reflect the changing landscape of learning being available, anytime, anywhere, any device. Methods of assessment too need to recognise there are a wealth of different ways in which our students’ skills, competencies and knowledge can be measured and assessed.
  • Many of our students’ digital skills and knowledge are often far more advanced than our own. We should view this as a positive and learn from our students, letting them lead the way on developing our skills and expertise.
  • The recognition that digital skills and literacies are as important as English and maths skills for their progression into the world of work.

As an FE sector, if we do not embrace the technological revolution which is happening all around us, we run the risk of tying ourselves to a point in time when we might well become irrelevant. It is clear we need to be brave and welcome the wealth of new learning opportunities technology can provide for our students.

Explore these issues and more at our teaching and learning conference #ReadTL15, taking place at Reading College on Saturday 27 June. Find out more and book your free place now.

Cheryl Pennington is assistant principal at Reading College, part of Activate Learning

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