Talking Points from FELTAG
Recently FELTAG, the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group brought together leaders from UK educational institutions, the Department for Education, and Technology providers at an event in London to discuss Embracing Digital Technology in Further Education. It was a great opportunity to review the challenges that Further Education (FE) faces and much was said about the central role technology needs to play in propelling the sector forward.
FE, like the rest of the education sector, can capitalise on digital learning solutions to help it address some of its challenges. Technology in education keeps it relevant in today’s modern world; it helps institutions attract students, particularly those who benefit most from online-based learning, such as part-time workers and learners with childcare commitments who need flexibility around where and when they learn.
In recognition of the advantages technology can bring to education and learning, there was much discussion around the adoption of virtual learning environments (VLEs) and how they need to be easy to use, but for me, that’s just the starting point. Adoption and ease of use is a check box; a given; a must-have. We need to move the discussion on, beyond the adoption of technology to get underneath how it can help FE meet the three formidable challenges it faces, namely:
- Retaining students
- Attaining credits
- Stakeholder satisfaction
To do this, a VLE needs to be flexible and smart as well as easy and provide personalisation at scale, accessibility and analytics. Here’s why:
Personalisation at scale
FE students are a diverse community with different needs. They may work and have families and other commitments that they need to fit study around; they may speak a variety of primary languages and approach their studies with different starting levels of knowledge. Learning content and delivery that adopts a ‘one size fits all’ approach can’t hope to meet these needs, whereas flexible and adaptable technology-based courses can strive to deliver a ‘one size fits me’ experience. VLEs need to support personalisation at scale, with learning paths created on a per student basis. Content delivery needs to adapt according to each student’s progress and their particular needs. This allows students to move at their own pace, creating a more rewarding learning experience and one that is more likely to see them succeed.
VLEs must meet the needs of students with accessibility requirements through features that include screen readers, speech-to-text and text-to-speech. With these tools, students can concentrate on their studies without needing to manage adjustments themselves.
Analytics provide a bedrock of insight that is needed to keep students and institutions on track to achieve performance measures and to catch at-risk students before they become dropout statistics. By providing detailed reports, digital learning platforms enable tutors to see clearly how students are performing, how much time and effort they’re putting into study, where their knowledge gaps exist and how they’re progressing in relation to required learning outcomes. From this information, it’s clear if a student is falling behind and tutors can take action to help get them back on track.
Technology is evolving all the time. There is an opportunity for it to help education plug the skills gaps faced by many industries. To do this will take innovations in digital learning and these need to go beyond making VLEs easy to use; they need to get to the root of the issues facing students and educators today and address them through flexible and smart platforms; platforms that are accessible, that provide personalisation at scale and that deliver insight through analytics that support institutions and learners in achieving their goals and completing study programmes.