All of the learners that took part in our study welcomed the opportunity to engage in discussions about how improved use of digital technologies could enhance their learning experience.
They were keen to share their views, some commenting that they hadn’t previously had this opportunity. Some felt that even when their views on technology are sought their concerns are not always valued. In terms of partnership working, learners in the skills sector remain a largely untapped resource and there is more that providers can do to increase active engagement.
Our work in supporting learners and staff in other sectors through our change agents’ network has shown that there are many opportunities for learners to contribute when it comes to using digital technologies to support learning. These include interventions such as learners:
- Highlighting areas where they feel technology can provide a solution to a particular problem they are experiencing
- Working with staff to co-create resources
- Sharing their digital expertise
- Actively becoming involved in the planning and implementation of new initiatives
- Participating in quality assurance processes
We also found that learners need support and guidance to actively and effectively engage in partnership activities, but that with carefully chosen engagement strategies, they quickly add value to initiatives, grow in confidence and develop key employability skills.
“We trialled the resources we created with 30 students. The vast majority of learners liked them. They said that the resources meant that they could access guidance on-demand without having to wait for an assessor to visit them.”
Philippa Wood, cydlynydd DP/CPD coordinator, Network Training Services Ltd
Moving from feedback to active learner engagement
Asking learners for feedback at the end of units, modules or the end of a course is standard practice but response rates can be low and the instruments used to gather the data may limit the depth, richness, value and usefulness of that feedback.
Promote and support the development of students’ digital literacy skills
One of the most significant ways of making sure your learners are in the best position to use digital tools effectively to support their learning and to actively participate in dialogue about their use, is to promote and support the development of students’ digital literacy skills. This should include guiding learners to ensure they know how to stay safe while working online, can develop a personal digital profile, recognise their current skills and make plans to develop these to meet their personal and employment needs.
While many learners appear to be able to use technology with ease and confidence it should not be assumed that they will naturally know how to apply this to a learning or work-related situation. See our quick guide to developing students’ digital literacy for guidance on how to help learners thrive in a digital age.
Speak to learners about their digital experiences
This is a key step to empowering learners to make changes. Ask them about their experiences and expectations and tell them how technology will feature in their learning with you, explaining the purpose and contextual relevance. It is not unrealistic that today’s learners will have a concept of a digital entitlement and expect digital experiences to be routinely included within their learning programme, particularly those that they are likely to encounter in the workplace.
When developing procedures for identifying learners’ digital skills and expectations it is crucial that providers listen to what learners say and take their contributions fully into account. The processes must be trustworthy and give learners confidence that their contributions are valued.
Maintain communication after consultation and make sure you let learners know what action has been taken in response to their feedback. Where it is not possible to accommodate expectations let them know why something is not possible and work with them to find alternative solutions.
Strategies such as focus groups, collaborative projects and student representation on interview panels are some of the successful approaches used by other providers. See our case studies on students as agents of change for further inspiration. Investigate options for online engagement where learners and staff find it difficult to meet face-to-face and read our report on what makes a successful online learner.
Throughout the summer of 2016 we encouraged digital learners to tell their stories and describe their learning journeys with technology. Similarly, in our ongoing work to investigate students expectations of the digital environment we are asking online learners to tell us their digital story – visit the project blog to follow progress on these two pieces of research.
Get learners involved in the process
Learners from earlier studies report that participating in learner engagement activities has a positive impact on their confidence, their skills development and their employability prospects. Find out more about the benefits of student-staff partnerships and learn more about our work on the role of technology in supporting the development and communication of students’ employability skills.
Reward students by recognising and promoting their successes
The most useful recognition for learners is a tangible record that can be used to showcase their achievements to potential employers. Some providers have created their own awards schemes and certificates to formally credit achievement over and above learners’ main qualifications. Others are looking at how open badges can provide a portable and electronic record of achievement. Vouchers and bursaries have been a traditional way of demonstrating appreciation for active engagement and contribution.
Other ways of recognising and promoting learner success, while at the same time, developing and showcasing their employability skills, include inviting learners to co-present at events both within and outside of your organisation.
Case study: Nova Training
Nova Training formed a working group to inform the implementation of an e-portfolio system. Learners were consulted to identify problem areas and to get feedback as the initiative progressed. Learners reported that they did not always understand the standards they were working towards, were unsure of how they were progressing, wanted more responsive feedback than traditional approaches allowed and felt that technology was generally under-used throughout their learning journeys.
The e-portfolio system has addressed these issues and also created opportunities for enhanced communication between apprentices, assessors and Nova Training. Read the case study in full.
Case study: Network Training Services Ltd
Network Training Services Ltd worked closely with learners and delivery teams when creating interactive learning resources that are made available to learners via their online learning platform.
Piloting the resources with learners prior to full release has been an important aspect of the quality assurance process. Read the case study in full.
Case study: Key Training
Key Training is a national training organisation, providing apprenticeships in business admin, customer service, sales, recruitment, IT, team leading, management and employment-related services for approximately 1,200 apprentices. A virtual learning environment/e-portfolio system is used to support learners wherever they study and the provider is keen to increase the online elements of its courses.
Key Training used our student digital experience tracker to gather evidence about learners’ digital experiences and to inform the development of their digital environment and new blended learning provision. The new apprenticeship standards and changes in the way that training providers work have added impetus to these developments. Read the case study in full.
Effective practice: Summer of Student Innovation
Our Summer of Student Innovation project is one of the ways that Jisc works directly with students, focusing on student ideas about how technology can provide solutions to real problems. With funding, mentoring and practical support the project aims to improve students’ creative design, research, entrepreneurial and project management skills.
How effectively do you capture and develop learner feedback? Why not try some of the tools and resources designed to open up dialogue that are available from the digital student project blog. Posters and card sort activities generate a lot of rich discussion and insight into learner views while our student digital experience tracker offers a comprehensive online data capture option.
What digital capabilities do your learners need to thrive in the workplace and in their personal and community lives? Are there unexplored opportunities to promote and develop students’ digital literacy skills within the learning experience you offer your learners? See our section on embedding technology within inclusive curriculum and assessment practices.