Technology offers learners different methods for coming to the same outcome. But no one is saying that it’s easy to find the right formula, says Carolyn Lewis

What encourages trainers to use technology to support learning and assessment? It could be the number of statistics that are published on technology use, such as how many hours a day learners spend on social networking, or it could be the increasing numbers of employers demanding flexibility and less time away from the workplace, instructions from Ofsted inspectors to embrace more technology or a drive to become more commercially sustainable.

All these reasons are valid, but there is another important consideration: what learners want.

So how do we take on board the objectives of those in charge of the finances without losing sight of learners needing to be at the centre of what we do?

Often trainers do not use technology because, they say, “my learners need constant support” or “my learners need their programme of learning spoon-fed to them”. But surely we need to be developing their independence and organisational skills if we are to prepare them for the world of work.

Many young adults know more about taking charge of their lives than we give them credit for. How often have you seen a teenager feed their curiosity by turning to their mobile phone to find something out, or to organise a night out with friends on Facebook?

Technology can make learning more varied, interesting, fun and well supported”

Watch a teenager on their smartphone and consider the skills that they are using; research, communication, organising, comprehending and, in some cases, analysis, synthesis and evaluation — even if they are in simplistic forms. They are comfortable using these skills and probably don’t equate them to other areas of their lives.

Technology allows us to harness these skills, to offer learners different methods for coming to the same outcome. No one is saying that it’s easy; neither do they have perfect formula for engaging the non-engaged. But applying the skills that come naturally through the use of technology to learning gives us the best possible chance of achieving it.

It would be easy simply to find a great e-tool and then think “what can I use this for and what learners am I going to try it out on?”

Don’t do this.  The technology should be identified for a need and benefit. For instance, how can you improve things for learners who are not great at communicating? The answer might be mobile Skype or Whatsapp, but your choice is likely to take into account any barriers that your learners might face to using technology.

A protected online learning environment offers safeguarding and support, and gives you the ability to integrate different resource types — video, audio, text and games —to meet different learning styles. The flipped classroom model can improve engagement as it encourages online learning as the outcomes are visible when put into the practical face-to-face environment that follows.

Technology does offer learners the freedom of independent learning, but skills need to be developed first.  Most of all, technology can make learning more varied, interesting, fun and well supported, but if learners haven’t experienced it, how can they express it as their preferred style?

In an ideal world, learning using technology should be delivered by staff who are comfortable using it with learners who say it is their preferred way of learning.  However, lack of skills, and lack of awareness of how technology can be used often becomes a barrier that needs to be challenged.

Carolyn Lewis, managing director Vocational Innovation