The imperative to increase use of technology and improve the digital skills capability of the workforce is a common thread running through recent government and sector reports.
In Digital Skills for the UK Economy, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Department for Culture, Media and Sport made links between effective use of technology and market competitiveness; while the challenge of providing support to fulfil current and future job requirements and service evolving markets was identified by both BIS and the Department for Education in the Post-16 Skills Plan and independent report on technical education, as well as CBI and Pearson in their report: the right combination.
Meeting the challenge
But these demands must be considered alongside concerns over funding, the costs of meeting these expectations and a healthy realism. Jisc’s study on the digital experiences of learners in the skills sector revealed several challenges specific to the skills sector including:
- A lack of reliable access to the internet, Wi-Fi, online and industry resources
- Insufficient use of available digital technologies to enhance curriculum and assessment practices and to make learning inclusive
- Difficulties in providing cost-effective continuous professional development (CPD), particularly where large numbers of staff work on a part-time or fractional basis
So, how are skills providers meeting these challenges and using digital technologies to enhance the learning experience?
Conversations with providers for a new Jisc guide, enhancing the digital experience for skills learners, show that those who do this most effectively are:
1. Thinking strategically
Successful providers are taking a holistic view rather than focusing on individual or disjointed initiatives. They consider how digital technologies can benefit learners and their learning experience as an integral aspect of planning and future vision activities.
Their processes are sufficiently agile to allow providers to respond to changing circumstances, new curriculum requirements, new opportunities and the emergence of new technologies.
Finally, they consider the skills, practices and technologies that enhance employability prospects, contribute to quality and efficiency improvements and build reputation and capacity.
2. Taking action
Active monitoring and development of the digital environment by providers ensures that it is robust and reliable. Connectivity is key: good Wi-Fi that is always on is a fundamental expectation from learners – a digital entitlement.
They give learners access to the information, services and resources they need to support their learning wherever and whenever they choose including via mobile devices, as well as access to appropriate hardware and software including specialist, industry-standard resources. Learners can submit and store assessment evidence electronically and share this with potential employers to showcase their skills and achievements.
Those who make the best use of available technologies and scan the horizon for new ones are able to offer innovative solutions, provide responsive support and engaging learning.
3. Creating digitally-capable staff and learners
Previous research shows that learners’ digital experiences and confidence are strongly influenced by the capabilities of their teachers, and that even when learners appear to be proficient users of technology they may not be fully aware of how their skills can be applied to a learning situation.
Staff here receive purposeful, flexible and relevant continuous professional development (CPD). Cost-effective and sustainable models of CPD are also considered and used, for example, collaborative projects involving staff and students.
4. Embedding technology in curriculum design
Embedding technology throughout all areas of the curriculum engages learners, provides authentic experiences, and offers a platform to support timely and supportive feedback and flexible assessment opportunities.
Digital technologies are used by these providers to create differentiated learning experiences, support non-traditional models of delivery and to overcome barriers to learning. For example, using web conferencing to bring people who may find it difficult to meet face-to-face together, or video and audio recordings to provide reliable evidence of achievement that is easy to share.
Curriculum changes, whether routine or in response to external drivers such as apprenticeship reforms, are viewed as opportunities to explore the use of technology to deliver high quality and effective learning. Indeed, Jisc is working with the sector on a co-design challenge to explore what fully digital apprenticeships might look like.
5. Making students partners
Our research shows that learners are more than willing to participate in meaningful discussion and partnership activities but may lack opportunities to do so.
Empower learners by going beyond traditional approaches to feedback, and actively engage and involve them in the planning and implementation of digital technology throughout their learning experience.
Find out more
The guide considers these five areas in greater detail and includes ten new case studies, as well as links to many other Jisc guides, tools and resources.
In addition, while skills providers face different challenges to further and higher education, they may find some of the Jisc guidance on curriculum design, inclusive practice and assessment and feedback helpful, as well as on developing successful student-staff partnerships and the change agents’ network project.
Jisc also recognises that the skills sector can offer unique learning experiences that others may find hard to deliver, and are keen to hear more examples from providers who are delivering apprenticeships, traineeships and adult community learning. Contact Sarah Knight to contribute.