Harnessing the power of technology to support more diverse learners

As student populations become increasingly diverse, providers must respond with new, innovative ways to deliver more personalised educational experiences and relevant curriculum.

The issue

Widening participation in further and higher education is a national priority. Digital inclusion is at the centre of GOV.UK education, economic and social policies because everyone will need new skills to thrive in an increasingly digital world.

Across the post-16 sector, students from a growing variety of less traditional backgrounds are encouraged to participate. They expect the same high-quality education. They too deserve to be successful.

This includes:

  • Students from ethnic minorities
  • Schools in financially disadvantaged areas and under-represented communities
  • Those who have experienced care or are carers
  • Those who have ongoing physical and mental health challenges
  • Students with disabilities or additional needs
  • International students or those with literacy or language differences
  • Those who are the first in their family to enter tertiary education

Providers should expect to evidence the impact of their access plans and outreach projects and to demonstrate how they will address learning differences and attainment gaps.

The need to deliver more personalised student experiences

There are now multiple routes into post-16 education.

With an increased focus on life-long learning and reskilling the workforce, older students - some with families and caring or work responsibilities to prioritise - will make up an ever-larger percentage of the potential student population.

Their learning needs will be as diverse as they are. They will want to study in more flexible ways - when, where and however works best for them. 

Learning will have to fit their lifestyle, work pattern, employment aspirations, wider responsibilities and immediate need for digital skills.

Whether it’s a bite size video or professionally accredited online course module, technology will have a key role to play in delivering these more personalised student experiences successfully and making equality of opportunity happen.

While being inclusive is an important part of a fair and just society, it also makes sound business sense for education providers to be ready to participate in developing the diverse digital workforce of the future.

What you can do

There are growing business opportunities in exploiting the power of technology to support more diverse learners.

Digital technologies can:

  • Help encourage a wider demographic of students to apply to your institution
  • Support teaching delivery that will reach out into new communities
  • Provide personalised learning experiences that keep students engaged and support their individual success
  • Enable adaptable, customised ‘career pathways’ and ‘just-in-time’ interventions

Take a strategic approach to embedding inclusive digital capability and developing an accessible organisation that will welcome all learners.

Building the bridge to post-16 education and beyond

Being aware of student expectation in the digital environment can help ensure your course is attractive and relevant to prospective students. They expect to use technology for learning and to acquire digital skills for employment.

Jisc's digital experience insights service and digital capability discovery tool combined helps create a digitally enabled organisation and inclusive digital learning environments which will meet expectations and encourage wider participation.

Developing your students’ employability through technology can also help encourage lifelong learning as well as enhancing digital literacy and graduate attributes.

Enabling through technology

Technology can be used to attract and retain the widest range of students.

Online delivery can:

  • Remove physical and cultural barriers, for learners in remote, dispersed or under-represented communities
  • Encourage collaboration and build confidence in those returning to study
  • Enable greater access for those with ill health, or unsocial working hours
  • Support increased independence for learners with disabilities

Our accessible organisations blog provides guidance on inclusive practice for staff across the organisation, from marketing to teaching.

Create a supportive learning environment

This is essential for attracting and retaining students. Websites, course information and the application process must be usable and welcoming to everyone.

Virtual learning environments (VLEs) can be adapted to make them accessible to all learners including those with disabilities. Used well, they are one of the greatest tools for engaging teaching that will enhance the student experience and overcomes barriers.

Encourage personal devices - they can be customised to support time management, productivity and study skills. They promote independence for all students, not just those with disabilities.

Social media plays an increasingly important part in the learner journey, both for teaching, learning and ongoing engagement. It has a role in attracting and communicating with individuals and communities that would otherwise be hard to reach.

How are you doing so far?

Web accessibility legislation in 2018 placed specific requirements on public sector bodies.

Our accessibility and inclusion subject specialists can help you assess how accessible and inclusive your institution is to students, whatever their background or needs.

Find out more and join the community.

Looking ahead

Meeting student expectations around digital learning will help attract students from a diverse range of backgrounds.

The digital experience insights case studies show how the use of digital technologies can contribute to successful student recruitment and improve the experience for many learners who might have assumed higher education was not for them.

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).