In common with previous studies, our research shows that learners’ digital experiences are strongly influenced by the confidence and capabilities of their teachers. This makes focused and flexible continuous professional development (CPD) for staff a key priority.
Staff operate in an increasingly pressured environment where time is scarce and schedules make it difficult to identify the optimal time to deliver staff training. Adult and community learning service providers tend to employ quite large numbers of part-time and casual staff which can cause logistical issues when planning CPD.
Staff working for training providers may be experiencing changes in role or priorities as the new apprenticeship frameworks come into operation and the introduction of end-point assessments signal a reduced focus on assessing and an increased emphasis on tutoring and mentoring.
Developing a model of CPD that makes a difference to learners and is effective in helping staff to embed digital technologies within their practice is obligatory given the potential benefits. Ensuring it is both affordable and sustainable is possible if you harness the general willingness and commitment of staff and combine this with proven and successful CPD strategies.
“Flexibility is key. Tutors receive support wherever, whenever and for whatever they want to do – it is important that tutors feel in control of own learning.”
Ruth Mable, senior manager of Derby Adult Learning Service
Making CPD count: peer learning and partnership
There are many peer learning models that have successfully been used to maximise the efficacy, reach and impact of CPD initiatives. These include mentoring, coaching, communities of practice, collaboration and networking with subject specific groups or neighbouring providers addressing similar problems. Communities of practice vary in size and range from large scale and open networks to small groups. Some use specific strategies such as teaching squares as a means of learning from each other or focused team and action learning projects that draw individuals together and that operate within a clear, structured framework.
Less sustainable, although often found, are enthusiastic individuals who create pockets of effective practice. While these enthusiasts, or champions, may have some influence on immediate colleagues, unless the roles are formally recognised, supported, resourced and deployed in a strategic manner they are likely to struggle to reach and have an impact on significant numbers of people, irrespective of how valuable their practice is.
Our work with students as agents of change through our change agents’ network shows how powerful partnerships between learners and staff can be. Learners are often willing to support staff who lack digital expertise. See our guide to developing successful student-staff partnerships. After all, collaborative learning is a strategy we encourage our learners to embrace – the advantages just as easily transfer to staff and mixed groupings of staff and learners.
Peer learning is an overarching model that can support each of the following suggested CPD strategies.
Making reasonable adjustments to ensure learning is accessible is a legal requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act (2005). Ensuring all staff who directly teach, train, assess or support learners are aware of the benefits and potential of assistive technologies will help your organisation to meet these legal obligations. It will also remove unnecessary barriers that prevent learners and staff from achieving their full potential. See our quick guide to getting started with accessibility and inclusion and the section entitled deliver an inclusive digital student experience within our guide on enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach.
Learning how to use, and support use of, an assistive technology can be a practical CPD activity. If different staff members choose to select differing technologies and share their knowledge and practice, then the organisational capacity to provide accessible and inclusive learning is significantly enhanced.
Support the use of virtual learning environments (VLEs)
Feedback from our study indicates that CPD initiatives aimed at increasing effective use of virtual learning environments (VLEs) are an important area of teaching practice. Using VLEs as the platform for CPD activity can further embed their use and develop staff capabilities. Providing guidance or set standards that stipulate minimum content can help staff. As can offering structured templates designed to help staff meet these standards.
Sharing examples of effective practice, interactive approaches to learning, learning resources and creative ways of engaging learners can inspire staff. All of these activities will contribute towards improving quality and performance.
Prepare for 'bring your own devices' (BYOD)
If you decide to promote use of ‘bring your own devices’ (BYOD) to learners it is important to factor in corresponding support for staff so that they too can become proficient in accessing learning facilities independently. With encouragement, they will naturally cascade and share their knowledge and expertise with learners.
Provide incentives for staff
Support and incentivise staff to develop digital capabilities. For many staff, the desire to improve their practice is intrinsically motivated, but reward and recognition are always appreciated and need not be costly.
Leadership led initiatives such as the Welsh government and Qualification Wales’ decision to replace ICT functional skills with a digital literacy qualification can fast-track digital capabilities. As part of the change management process, Welsh government and Qualifications Wales developed and funded a mandatory train-the-trainer programme for staff. This has started to transform practice as Wales now has a growing body of digitally literate tutors, trainers, assessors and verifiers who are able to support their learners to develop their own digital capabilities as they work towards the qualification.
The under-used potential of coaching and mentoring
“Despite the existence of pockets of excellent mentoring and coaching, it is clear from our research evidence and that provided by earlier studies that – across the FE and skills sector in England – most institutions are failing to realise the potential of mentoring and coaching for supporting the personal learning development and wellbeing of their teachers, and they (and the sector and society as a whole) are thus missing out on the associated resultant benefits of such support, notably for teacher retention and student learning"
Wang and Odell, 2002; Hobson et al., 2009a1
Case study: Derby Adult Learning Service
Case study: Leeds City College
Case study: Network Training Services Ltd
Network Training Services Ltd are creating interactive learning resources distributed to learners via their online learning platform, providing quality assured and engaging resources. The staff responsible for creating the learning resources work closely with delivery teams and learners, consulting, co-creating and piloting resources prior to full release.
The tailored approach and opportunity to play an active role in the developing process is building staff confidence and encouraging new styles of delivery. Read the case study in full.
Case study: Leicestershire Adult Learning Service
Leicestershire Adult Learning Service invite staff to attend three tutor briefings throughout the year including a one-day conference held on a Saturday. The focus is on providing inspirational, high quality and engaging CPD that is directly relevant to teaching practice.
The tutor briefings include external speakers and feature collaborative project work with ongoing support from a team of coaches. Heads of service actively support and monitor progress of the projects known as supported experiments. Moodle is also used to monitor the projects, provide ongoing support and showcase the outcomes. Read the case study in full.
Case study: Blackburn College
Staff at Blackburn College created learning wheels – a simple graphic device that links the college’s blended learning strategy to practical guidance on using different technologies. The wheels highlight examples of digital technologies and their potential use.
Staff are encouraged to develop and share wheels relevant to their own curriculum with colleagues both within the college and further afield. Read the case study in full.
- Encourage and support staff to develop their digital capabilities. See our building digital capability project page and our guide to enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach which includes a section entitled support students and staff to work successfully with digital technologies.
- Explore opportunities to make learning more accessible and inclusive. Our guides to getting started with accessibility and inclusion and using assistive and accessible technology in teaching and learning offer advice, guidance and links to further resources.
- You may already use peer learning strategies as part of your approach to CPD. How extensive is this? Could you do more? Are there further opportunities for staff and learners to work collaboratively to develop their skills, ability and confidence in using technology to enhance learning?
- Small steps can be very powerful and make a big difference. Are there opportunities to engage staff in the design and experimentation processes of digital initiatives? Activities such as creating subject resources or investigating specific technologies will engage staff in active learning and pedagogic discussions as well as secure buy-in.
- How best can you convey to staff the importance of them developing their digital capabilities? Are support options clearly signposted and easily accessible? If you use an online learning platform do you have an area devoted to the development of staff digital capabilities with links to freely available independent-study options? (see further resources for developing staff digital capabilities)
- 1 Hobson et al (February 2015). Mentoring and coaching for teachers in the further education and skills sector in England. Commissioned by The Gatsby Charitable Foundation and published by Education Research Centre, University of Brighton and Centre for Education and Inclusion Research, Sheffield Hallam University. Accessed on 29 August 2016.