'I am enabled and empowered to use technology and online resources': Ofsted asks learners, yes or no?

The government’s response to the recommendations from the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group have been published and make interesting reading. Matthew Hancock, Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, says that technology not only has the potential to improve the learning experience, but also to meet the ever-changing needs of employers. I would say that there are many providers who have already realised the potential and whose learners are benefitting from innovative programmes of learning. Certainly there are many employers whose own use of technology is driving their business forward and they have an expectation that providers will be harnessing the power of technology to deliver learning. It was a number of years ago that the Towards Maturity survey found that over 70% of employers said they were likely to select a training provider who used technology in their delivery.

To realise the power of technology to transform education the government aims to remove the barriers which are impeding providers from taking advantage of it. Mr Hancock points out that they are already encouraged by the fact that many providers are starting to plan a blended approach to delivery. It is rather disappointing that he hasn’t identified that many providers are not just starting to plan these models of provision, but are successfully implementing them.

Through the BCS Digital Skills campaign, the workshops I have been delivering to teachers around the country on digital employability skills and my support of providers development of their blended models of delivery I have reinforced my view that all teachers need to up-skill in broader digital skills than word processing, spreadsheets, email and the internet. Technology offers us so much more opportunity for developing exciting, engaging and cost efficient learning, but teachers don’t just bump into these opportunities or miraculously have the knowledge and skills to take them forward. It’s a step in the right direction that in this report government has said that they are working to develop programmes to improve digital skills, but will funding allow for the time and cost of providers to up-skill their staff?

Having read the report the points that stood out to me which will have most impact are the following:

  1. The funding regime will more effectively support the delivery of online programmes
  2. From 2014/15 there will be an online only funding rate
  3. The government is exploring how new providers that offer innovative approaches to learning  could be brought into the system
  4. They are also exploring how existing providers can be encouraged to offer the facility to learn anytime, anywhere
  5. In 2014/15 providers will record in the ILR how much online and blended delivery they are involved in, which will inform an online funding rate for 2015/16
  6. Guided learning hours will be revised to encourage providers to deliver high quality online learning
  7. Providers will be  encouraged to demonstrate that they have researched and considered all modes of delivery, including online and blended learning before new buildings are considered
  8. Inspectors will be given guidance and training in the area of learning technology
  9. The Education and Training Foundation is developing a learning technologies CPD offer to the FE and Skills workforce
  10. The government anticipate an increased use of digital technologies in the delivery and assessment of apprenticeships
  11. It is expected that on-line assessment and the use of e-portfolios will be part of the approach for the assessment of apprenticeships
  12. The statement ‘I am enabled and empowered to use technology and online resources to support my learning’ will be added to Ofsted’s Learner View survey from September 2014
  13. Ofsted already evaluates the quality and effectiveness of technologies deployed by providers so there is no need for an additional judgement around this to be added to the CIF
  14. Ofsted inspectors will be provided with clearer guidance on how to judge and report on the effective use of technology to enhance learning
  15. Providers are encouraged to consider how to incorporate education technology into its capital investment decision making process
  16. Senior management teams will be encouraged to provide enough time for training and to embed the use of learning technology into their teaching and learning strategy
  17. A variety of projects are underway to create learning packages to develop the skills of the FE workforce.

So it certainly seems that Matthew Hancock and his department at BIS are serious about more use of technology in the funded FE and Skills sector, but with quality sitting at the heart of the proposed developments. Providers who have so far avoided the move to become more innovative will be in a position that if they don’t embrace technology they will find funding, inspection and employer engagement a lot tougher in the future.

Having read the report I can’t help feeling that it sounds as if we’re starting something new, whereas in fact JISC has been around for more than a decade supporting providers with technology, I as the manager of the JISC national work based learning remit and now consultant, and many others have been working with providers to up-skill staff and develop blended learning. So it’s definitely not new, and we must recognise that some providers are doing fantastic things with learning technologies.

If you’d like to discuss your development of blended learning or how technology can bring enhancements and cost efficiencies to your delivery please do get in touch with me, Carolyn Lewis, MD of Elearning Marketplace and Vocational Innovation Ltd.

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