The T word may strike fear into some work-based learning providers, but help is at hand to make sense of technology and to find out how it has benefited others, Stan Unwin

Provision of work-based learning (WBL) has some way to go in making the most of what advantages the (appropriate) use of technology can bring.

Some applications, like e-portfolios and virtual learning environments, are well known, but often misunderstood by providers and there is a range of supposed barriers that can affect an organisation’s willingness to explore.

For example, technology can be expensive, but it needn’t be. Money can easily be wasted on the purchase of inappropriate technology.

Technology can also be complicated, requiring technical knowledge, but again, it needn’t be. Lack of preparing staff adequately for what is proposed can be a bigger problem. A little bit of training at the right time works.

And technology may not be suitable for a particular sector, but there is usually an alternative that could work. It’s about knowing what the alternatives are.

What is needed more than anything else is a structured approach and a good measure of ‘joined-up thinking’.

Technology on its own will achieve nothing. It’s how and why the technology is to be introduced that will make the difference — and if the wrong technology is used in an inappropriate way the result may make things even worse.

One big factor that affects the wider take-up of effective technologies in the WBL sector is that this level of development often relies on there being the funding to support it.

Technology on its own will achieve nothing. It’s how and why the technology is to be introduced that will make the difference ”

Which leads nicely on to the opportunities presented by the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc) FE and Skills Development and Resources Programme.

Introduced last year, the programme offered sector providers and agencies the chance to apply existing resources (from Jisc or elsewhere) to their work and adapt them for their needs; and to identify gaps in these resources or current uses for technology leading to the development of additional resources for the sector.

The programme has supported a number of successful projects nationally, some within WBL and two of which feature in our workshop. The success of these projects owes a lot to the early involvement and support of staff from the Jisc Regional Support Centres (RSCs), who were able to advise and guide both on the project aims and the technology to be used.

Both featured projects will provide other organisations in the sector with valuable feedback on what they have achieved and how they did it, the benefits that have been realised and the lessons that have been learned. Both will also demonstrate that a lot can be done within a modest budget.

An important feature of Jisc-funded projects is that resources developed and outcomes are shared within the FE and skills sector, providing useful information to others who may be planning a similar exercise.

Finding out what others have tried, their successes and failures, their costs and return on investment is invaluable to any provider thinking of taking the plunge.

Promotion within the WBL sector of this willingness to share and to work collaboratively is high on the Jisc RSC agenda. Much of the work already carried out within wider FE and skills to develop the use of technology is already benefiting WBL where much can be done to adapt and adopt ideas for application in a vocational/workplace setting

Jisc RSCs exist to support providers in their consideration, planning and implementation of technological development; to provide information and guidance that will assist in identifying what, how and when to use technology.

To be most effective this advice needs to be sought at the outset and that requires organisations to apply their thinking to the’ ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’. If you have an idea of your targets and what you would like to achieve that is the time to involve your Jisc RSC. We can then work with you to develop the most appropriate plan of action and the best use of technology.

Stan Unwin, WBL adviser, Jisc Regional Support Centre East Midlands