Change is inevitable. And preparing for it and adapting to it could lead FE to a bright future despite predictions of government funding cuts and evermore specialised training needs, explains Shaun Hughes.
Of all the educational sectors, FE is widely recognised as having to change the most and evolve the fastest.
So what are the tools that can best help colleges adapt to those changes, not just now but in the future?
As the new product manager for the FE market at Tribal, my job is to manage change. But my entire career has been spent adapting to change.
I graduated in Australia as an astrophysicist, taking up various posts around the world, first in the USA and then the UK, using the biggest and most advanced telescopes to explore how the universe changes on cosmic timescales.
Funding cuts in astrophysics triggered my decision to move into IT, creating software for schools.
But even within IT, my role changed within and across different industries, from analysing systems and business needs in the telecoms sector, to now adapting the UK’s leading management information system (MIS), and to
the evolving needs of learner administration
in FE colleges.
If we are positive about change, and better, if we plan for change, we can then identify the opportunities that it presents and turn change into an advantage.
Year on year the FE sector changes in response to new regulations, funding models and the fluctuating demands of learners.
Although many of these changes have been difficult, the colleges that have adapted positively to the altered circumstances are the ones that do best.
To take advantage of new opportunities, these colleges analyse their information about learners, their curriculum choices and the fees that are charged and funded to identify the
optimum combination that results in maximum value.
To do this quickly and efficiently they need good tools, particularly an MIS that not only stores and tracks this information, but allows it to be efficiently shared and analysed.
Colleges that use these tools are those
which become most effective in this changing environment.
But how do these tools need to change in order to continue to give colleges the advantage?
Three notable trends predict the FE tools of the future.
Over the next 20 years the number of people in retirement will grow almost twice as fast as the number in employment, so funding
of public services, including education, will face continuous cuts.
Jobs will become ever more specialised and diverse, creating more niche educational needs, so the curriculum will continue to grow.
So, the only way to offer a wider curriculum with fewer resources will be to rely on Virtual Learning Environments (VLE).
How this can be done while still maintaining high quality educational outcomes will be the biggest challenge FE has ever faced.
So what are the most useful tools in a future VLE world?
While VLE content needs to be relevant and stimulating, learning is more than just digesting curriculum content.
A key skill that’s currently missing from VLE platforms is the teacher’s ability to instantly monitor student engagement and to adapt their style and pace to maximise that engagement.
Hybrid e-learning is producing similar outcomes to traditional methods because it retains the involvement of the teacher in monitoring student engagement and success.
Colleges will need tools that integrate with VLEs and automatically monitor learner engagement and even predict the learning outcomes of individuals, making this information available to teachers, learners, their parents and employers wherever they may be, and using it to adapt the learners’ Individual Learner Plans.
These tools and mobile interfaces, when integrated and working together via the MIS, will allow the teacher to work in concert with learners to focus scarce resources where they’re most needed.
The best colleges and MIS providers are already preparing for this change, and they are the ones that will turn that challenge to their advantage.
Shaun Hughes, global product manager, Tribal