Most providers have very clear organisational aims and objectives but these do not always include use of digital technologies as an integral element or as a strategic enabler.
In their response to the report of the independent panel on technical education (April 2006), the post-16 skills plan (July 2016) published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education recognises the importance of digital skills, stronger links to the world of work and the need to ensure all paths are open to learners “regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, sexual identity or any other factor beyond their control” as important contributors in growing the economy, raising productivity and ensuring prosperity and security for individuals.
Meeting these ambitions of keeping pace with technological change, developing the digital capacity of providers along with digital capabilities of staff and learners and using technology to overcome barriers requires vision and leadership.
“Digital isn’t just nice to have. It’s a necessity in the modern world. A digital strategy that unifies effective use of technology to enhance teaching, learning and assessment, and makes processes more effective and efficient, is a must for providers to deliver for learners and stay competitive”
Allen Crawford-Thomas and Mark Ayton, Jisc subject specialists (strategy and business process)
Vision and leadership
Clear and committed leadership is essential to address the range, complexity and inter-relationship of challenges providers face when developing or extending the use of digital technologies. A traditional IT strategy may address the purchase and maintenance of equipment but perhaps may not fully anticipate how, when and where the equipment will be used for learning, thus inadvertently limiting or creating barriers to more empowering use.
A digital strategy that focuses on use of technology to enhance learning and build organisational capacity requires vision, leadership and drive along with robust and ongoing communication to promote the purpose and anticipated benefits.
What is the digital advantage?
The cost of purchasing and implementing technology along with associated staff training requirements is often cited as a barrier and yet, there are some significant benefits that digital interventions are uniquely placed to support. When integrated effectively, technology can:
Enhance learning and support digital inclusion
Interactive learning resources, catch-up or revision activities, extending learning, supporting differentiated and self-paced learning, engaging and connecting remote learners, using technology to overcome disabilities that may otherwise hinder learning are just some of the learning gains that technology can offer.
Improve learners’ employability prospects by providing authentic learning experiences using industry standard hardware and software
Not all learners have their own equipment or access to the digital tools and resources they need. At one end of the scale, learners may simply need access to the internet or skills development to use the internet to complete a job search or to create a CV using standard business software. At the other end of the scale, there will be learners for whom employment, or progression in employment, is dependent on gaining expertise and experience of specialised technologies.
Digital technology is enmeshed in so many aspects of our social and working lives that learners and their employability prospects are disadvantaged without access, support and training. Our quick guide on how to develop your students’ employability skills through technology suggests five key ways you can use technology to support employability.
Improve quality assurance processes
Online and cloud-based systems can provide access to quality assured resources for learners and staff. E-Portfolio systems can reduce paperwork, make more effective use of tutor/assessor time with learners and improve the transparency of the assessment process. See our guide to getting started with e-portfolios.
Access to live retention and achievement data means that managers are better able to monitor and manage the progress and completion targets of individuals and groups.
Build organisational capacity and streamline business processes
With many providers operating from multiple centres or supporting learners in a variety of locations, good communication is essential. Reliable access to the internet saves time and money and ensures staff can access standard documents, policies and guidance. Reports can be filed online and data updated.
Data is secure and readily available, minimising loss and delays as well as providing a clear audit trail. Web conferencing software facilitates new, cost-effective opportunities to connect geographically dispersed individuals for training, meetings and collaborative working practices.
Case study: Eat that Frog
Eat That Frog is a community interest company that operates from five centres in the south-west of England. With support from Jisc and external consultants the company is developing a digital strategy to ensure technology is used effectively to support the business functions and improve the overall learner experience.
The strategy will include provision for reliable access to wifi and secure data systems for all their operational centres and learning spaces, use of technology to communicate effectively and the development of staff digital capabilities. Read the case study in full.
Case study: Didac Ltd
Didac Ltd is a specialist training provider that delivers bespoke training and support programmes to industry. Much of the training is delivered in the workplace. Use of digital technology enables the company to provide a modern friendly way of delivering specialist underpinning knowledge, enabling learners to progress at their own pace.
The company uses a bespoke learning platform and e-portfolio system to record and monitor learner progress, freeing up time for other support interventions at the monthly tutor visits. Clients acknowledge the benefits of more tailored support for learners with less time off site. Read the case study in full.
Does your digital strategy meet your current and future needs?
In their blog post, questions you need to ask when developing a digital strategy, Jisc subject specialists Allen Crawford-Thomas and Mark Ayton offer their advice and guidance. The blog also includes links to a variety of useful tools to help you develop a strategy appropriate for your organisation.
If you anticipate any programme or curriculum changes such as the reforms to apprenticeship frameworks it would be prudent to consider the impact of these in regular reviews of your digital strategy.
Who should contribute to the strategy?
The simple answer is that all stakeholders should be involved in developing the strategy – senior managers, learners, staff, employers, partner agencies and any others appropriate to your situation. The resources used to conduct learner focus groups for our 2015-16 skills digital student study are available for others to use and adapt. Our guide to developing successful student-staff partnerships provides more extensive guidance.