The new academic year brings new pressures and priorities — and learning technology must remain foremost among these, says Bob Harrison.
The last Becta (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) research in 2010/11 suggested that only 30 per cent of FE providers were using technology effectively for teaching/learning/assessment and management.
The 2012 Association of Colleges (AoC) survey suggested this figure was still accurate two years later despite millions of pounds being spent by the last year of Becta and two years of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service.
In fact, the AoC study concluded that government policy aims for FE and skills were in danger of being undeliverable because of the lack of technological capability and capacity.
Then we had former Skills Minister Matthew Hancock and the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (Feltag) and its 35-plus recommendations.
They covered leadership/vision, infrastructure, regulation, workforce development, learner engagement and employer relationships.
There is a critical role for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in ensuring coherence and maintaining momentum
It is encouraging that the use of technology to improve learning in FE and skills is likely to be on every governing body agenda and the Feltag ‘nudges’ are already having an impact.
Virtual learning, blended learning and online learning are now part of the vocabulary of FE providers.
But there is a critical role for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in ensuring coherence and maintaining momentum. There are many sceptics who falsely believe Feltag was a ‘flash in the pan’ from Mr Hancock.
They are sadly mistaken and if that view prevails, the future of FE is in danger. The challenges outlined in the Feltag report are common across all sectors. That is why the Education Technology Action Group (Etag) was established.
Of all the challenges, leadership/vision and workforce skills are the biggest and the efforts of a plethora of agencies, quangos, charities, trusts and the private sector need to be coordinated and coherent to avoid unnecessary duplication and waste of public resources.
There is also an enormous opportunity for an increase in effectiveness to create more and better learning opportunities for more learners who have improved access, more engagement, enhanced learning and tutor support, more relevant assessment and feedback and improved progression and employment opportunities.
But how will we know? Who will monitor progress? What data do we have and will we need?
That is the BIS challenge. Who will pull all this together? What data will we need to monitor progress? How will we bring some coherence to the potential free for all and overlap and duplication?
If Jisc is funding a major development, how will the Education and Training Foundation know? If UfI trust is funding a multi-million pound online/blended CPD programme for FE teachers to improve their use of technology for learning who else will know? Will all of these initiatives feed into the leadership and governance programmes of AoC?
Changes in digital technology, provision in schools and changes to the computing national curriculum, and most importantly the digital expectations of learners and employers mean the current funding and predominantly face to face deliver paradigm is simply unsustainable.
The FE system needs to realign its assets from a system designed to meet the needs of the first industrial revolution to one which meets the needs of the second revolution in an increasingly digital and global world.
The successful FE providers of the future will embrace the spirit of Feltag and not be sidetracked by 10 per cent or 50 per cent or wait for BIS to issue more clarification on how to implement Feltag as it will be a long wait.
FE providers should grasp the opportunity to sell off some of their empty glass palaces and invest in more teachers, learning design and a technological infrastructure that will allow them to engage, motivate, inspire, support, teach, assess and progress learners.
The FE providers who do not grasp this opportunity are in danger of becoming museum pieces of our industrial heritage.
After spending most of my life working in FE and adult education I am not prepared to let that happen.