Our research shows that learner expectations of the digital environment are relatively modest. Their top digital priorities are access to reliable internet and wireless networks (wifi) that always work along with sufficiently powerful laptops or devices loaded with current industry-standard software and accessible printers.
Of course, it isn’t quite that simple – there are legal requirements and other considerations to take into account. While this can seem overwhelming you don’t have to tackle everything at once and can adapt the advice below to your needs and your situation as part of the development of your digital vision and strategy.
“You can provide the best kit in the world but if you can’t get a high speed connection there is a problem.”
Gail Rochelle, business operations director, Eat That Frog community interest company
Fundamental considerations for building your digital environment
Connectivity is key – learners and staff need to be able to access wifi in learning centres, community centres and workplace settings. Where premises are owned by other organisations, or where wifi is provided by another party, there need to be clear agreements that address issues such as responsive support in case of failures in broadband and filters that restrict access to learning content. Reliable connectivity opens up a broad range of digital opportunities and solutions including the use of cloud-based systems and apps that, for example, do away with the need to transport and set up heavy equipment like data projectors.
Virtual learning environments (VLEs)
Our study revealed that VLEs and other online learning platforms are often underused or not used effectively. VLEs can provide access to quality assured resources, extend opportunities for learning and assessment, as well as enable learners and staff to share, collaborate and communicate with peers and those who are supporting them in their learning. See our guide to technology and tools for online learning which includes a section on virtual learning environments.
Information should be kept up-to-date, and be presented in an accessible manner. Responsive engagement and support strategies are also essential. Staff may require training and support to assist them to make the most effective use of online platforms. See our guide to creating blended learning content. Some providers are collaborating with other skills providers to reduce costs by sharing one platform and co-developing resources and approaches.
E-portfolios are growing in use and popularity. Some skills providers have commissioned bespoke solutions. Where e-portfolios are used effectively providers are reporting greater learner engagement and an increased sense of learners taking ownership of their own learning. Efficiencies in terms of how staff are using their time to provide more tailored support and improved quality assurance and progression monitoring are also being reported. See our quick guide on getting started with e-portfolios or our detailed e-portfolios guide.
Access to technologies
Not all learners have personal or work-based access to the hardware and software they are likely to encounter in the workplace. Learners need time to reinforce their learning and to practice independently so wherever possible, access to appropriate technologies should be provided beyond more formal learning sessions. Where the cost of specialist hardware and software is prohibitive providers should look to develop partnerships with appropriate employers.
Overcoming estates restrictions
There are some work place environments where access to technology and digital devices has traditionally been considered unsafe, for example, workshop environments where staff feel that health and safety may be compromised by introducing digital devices or environments where the devices may be considered as at risk of being damaged.
These perceived limitations can be overcome with care, creativity and the introduction of appropriate working protocols. Benefits include learners being able to problem solve independently and move forward in their learning without waiting for staff intervention. Consideration also needs to be given to where devices will be used, stored and how and where they will be powered and recharged.
Bring your own device (BYOD)
One potential solution to the cost of providing equipment is to encourage learners to use their own technologies (often referred to as BYO or BYOD – bring your own devices). This has the advantage of learners using devices they have chosen that meet their particular needs. Issues such as equality of access and the extent that staff can be expected to support users working on a variety of devices may need to be addressed along with the provision of secure storage places and recharging stations.
Providers are urged to consider developing BYO policies if they haven’t already done so. See our section entitled develop coherent bring your own policies within our guide enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach.
Many learners own mobile devices and these offer great versatility in terms of providing personal access to a wide variety of functions as well as the ability to record and submit evidence. If you are encouraging use of own devices or using mobile technologies as part of your provision you will need to ensure your content is mobile compliant, displays well on a range of devices and meets accessibility requirements. See our comprehensive guide on mobile learning.
Case study: PETA Training and Consultancy Services
Level 2 and 3 engineering apprentices at PETA Training and Consultancy Services are accessing videos and interactive activities created by staff using hotspots in workshop areas. The apprentices are gaining real-world experience and are able to access training materials on-demand and move forward safely without having to wait for an instructor.
Read the project report in full and access the resources created during the project (staff training and learner focused).
Case study: Nova Training
Nova Training are using a bespoke e-portfolio system to help learners progress and take ownership of their learning. Learners found it difficult to understand the standards they were working towards and to identify key things like percentage progression and planned end dates.
The e-portfolio system has provided apprentices with direct access to relevant information, enhanced communication between apprentices and assessors and has improved quality and monitoring processes. Read the case study in full.
Case study: Eat That Frog
Eat That Frog is tackling several issues through the development of a digital strategy. Some of the challenges they are working on include ensuring each of the learning locations they operate from provides reliable access to wifi and secure data systems, team collaboration and use of online presentation software as well as the ability to use of mobile devices and access mobile-friendly content.
Moving forward in terms of developing the robustness of the digital environment is one aspect of developing your digital vision and a corresponding digital strategy. Questions you may ask include:
- How reliable is your connectivity?
- What technologies do you already have and what technologies do you need to support curriculum delivery and assessment?
- What do your learners and staff need and want to be able to do?
Look to the future – stay informed and keep abreast of new technologies and innovative practice by visiting our news section which includes advice on how to join mailing lists that match your interests, follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcasts. Our blog is a good way of reading informed articles and accessing resources.
You may like to consider doing a SWOT analysis to draw out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats relating to the digital environment you currently offer before browsing some of our guides on suggested topics in further resources for building a robust digital environment.