A host of new learning technology projects have been funded to the total tune of £750k. Rebecca Garrod-Waters explains some of the projects and what she hopes they might achieve.

In a bold move to help stimulate the take-up of digital learning in vocational education, Ufi Charitable Trust has funded 16 demonstrator stage projects — any one of which could catch the imagination of tomorrow’s teachers and learners.

And this month saw the launch of the new projects funded with £750k from the Ufi Trust’s Vocational Learning Tech Fund.

We want this model of a Ufi ‘family’ of projects to underpin future funding

All are at an early stage, and each has received up to £50k funding for the next 12 months to help develop their product or service.

We are really excited about funding this cohort — we want Ufi funding to be about more than the grant, where projects get benefit from each other and from the association with Ufi.

Tight budgets mean that people are unwilling to take a risk on something unproven.

This presents difficulties for innovators who have great ideas but need help to get a project to a stage where they are ready to go to market or attract further investment.

What Ufi, as a charitable trust, is able to do is to de-risk this developmental stage and help products and services reach a marketable point.

This includes looking at technologies that had initially been developed for a different market, but where building them to concentrate on vocational technology could have real benefits.

Our driving goal is to catalyse change — achieving an increase in the scale of people who can gain and develop vocational skills.

The 16 projects cover a wide range of technologies and services — including hardware, apps, e-learning and supporting services.

This was a deliberate decision — we don’t believe there is a single solution for FE and training, and the blending of a range of tools woven into more traditional teaching methods will be key to the successful growth of workforce training. Together the projects form a cohort, supported by the trust and benefiting from the opportunity to work with each other.

We hope there will be synergies and connections formed — and we want this model of a Ufi ‘family’ of projects to underpin future funding.

The projects include Target, a full commercial trial of wearable technology (the HoloLens and Epson Movario smart glasses) in a manufacturing environment. When switched off the glasses form a standard pair of safety glasses, but when switched on will deliver interactive content directly to an individual as they look at a specific machine.

There is also NanoSimbox, currently used in schools to teach chemistry by visualising how molecules work. This is being developed to refocus on vocational learning for those who need a better understanding of chemistry to enter the workplace.

Meanwhile, two of the projects are developing new ways of using simulations. One is combining audio analytics with situational skills practice, to provide objective insights into performance when rehearsing skills which would otherwise be difficult, expensive or risky to practise in real life. The other is developing a digital platform that will use virtual reality to create multi-agency emergency scenarios. Learners will include emergency response incident commanders within the West Midlands Fire Service and other fire and rescue services who work within the emergency services.

In addition, Ufi Trust looked to fund projects that bring e-learning to new, sometimes hard to reach audiences, and cover non-traditional subjects. Myerscough College is developing videos on horticulture, Cuppa is a project to bring bite-sized learning to care workers, and GivebackUK is producing a library of video resources for the charity sector.

It is clear that ways of accessing and gaining vocational skills need to be brought in line with the way people live their lives. We live in an increasingly fast-paced digital world and we have expectations about how we learn — we must make sure that vocational teaching and learning is at the forefront of new ways of skills delivery.