Technology is fundamental to success of Government’s vision for lifelong learning
Last week, the Department for Education (DfE) announced the details of its response to the consultation on the design of the new Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE), due to come into effect in 2025.
If the LLE’s flexible funding system properly underpins tertiary education’s shift to modular and blended learning, it will offer routes to retraining, reskilling and upskilling that are more adaptable, inclusive and progressive.
It can also incentivise education and, especially with the inclusion of higher technical qualifications, help to close the technical skills gap – aspirations that Jisc fully supports.
In our response (pdf) to the Government consultation on LLE, we pointed out the key role technology, data and digital infrastructure should play in its development.
For example, digital technology can create a seamless way for individuals to search for information about courses, providers and careers, and keep track of their LLE spending.
Micro-credentials can build into a lifelong digital record that transfers from institution to institution with the learner.
Meanwhile, technology and automation could be used to support assessments in both vocational and academic subjects, removing the reliance on end-of-year exams, as the Government has acknowledged.
At the moment, data on learners, providers, courses, qualifications and examinations is largely disparate.
The use of the unique learner number (ULN) is inconsistent. Hardening this process for all learners across tertiary education would allow modules, whole courses and assessments to be tracked across regions, domestic and international borders.
Ensuring the design and implementation of the LLE is underpinned by a robust understanding of data, its security and its potential uses could help employers and learners to navigate an increasingly complex labour market and skills system.
A portable, verified student identifier could prove a critical piece of the LLE puzzle. It can ensure access to learning modules is managed in a safe, secure manner and that funding is tracked over time by linking assured identities with institutional credentials.
The UK Access Management Federation (UKAMF) already provides a single solution to accessing online resources and services for education and research institutions and is endorsed by Jisc. If delivered with learner experience and organisational trust at its core, a similarly high standard solution could be transformational for lifelong learning.
I think broader workplace trends mean any Government aiming to widen access and modernise assessment must put at its core flexible learning and teaching enabled by digital approaches.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has stated that technology (alongside maths, economics, engineering and science) “are the backbone of the fourth industrial revolution” and that lifelong learners need to develop ‘digital fluency’ to thrive in the future workplace.
The pressure to produce technically skilled employees coupled with the impact of the pandemic means colleges and universities have worked hard – and continue to do so – to support learners in developing online learning and other digital skills. Meanwhile, the Government has increased resources for digital skills bootcamps.
Developing the LLE with a technology-first approach and widening access to technical courses will help keep the focus on the digital capabilities of new and returning learners.
I would like to urge the Government to look again at the decision to exclude distance learners from the opportunity to access maintenance loans.
On one hand, the LLE promotes a move to a flexible, learn-while-working education system that opens opportunities for almost all the workforce (up to the age of 60). But the loans decision seems to be based on a traditional model of a student living close to their institution, which is becoming more outdated by the year.
It is not inclusive or equitable to exclude distance learners: what about people who cannot afford to relocate, don't have access to transport, or who are trying to fit in learning around caring or working responsibilities?
The quality of remote learning has come a long way since the pandemic and the Government should be taking advantage of this new-found knowledge on behalf of people who can’t always join classes on campus.
Technologies have a proven role to play in enabling education, streamlining processes and managing a personalised journey for learners and they need to be fully embraced as part of lifelong learning.
Jisc would welcome an opportunity to bring our expertise in digital technical infrastructure and single digital identities to future discussions about how to best develop the LLE.
About the author
I joined Jisc as chief executive officer in September 2021. My key priority is to ensure Jisc stays innovative and focused on the needs of students, educators and researchers in what will be a turbulent but, I am sure, productive time ahead.