Nothing moves faster than technology. No other sector has seen as much rapid change and development in such a short space of time, and education technology is no exception.

Faster, more powerful computers, cheap and accessible tablet devices and innovative learning resources have opened the door to a world of possibility in learning.

Around the world, students are learning by playing games and watching videos online, textbooks are being published as interactive ebooks and massive, number crunching computers are working out the best way to tailor learning to the individual.

But FE, it seems, is a little late to the party.

It’s clear, though, that emerging technologies are at least on the mind of FE Minister Matthew Hancock, who tweeted in January: “There’s much more to do to take advantage of new technology delivering skills.”

Hopefully the minister, the proud owner of an A-level in IT, can pass his enthusiasm on to the
rest of the sector.

To help you on your way, our resident tech expert, Dan Duke brings you a dummy’s guide to four of the biggest new trends in learning technology.

Big data is the idea that data mining – the automatic processing of large databases to find useful patterns – and analytics can help us develop a better understanding of learners’ behaviour, allowing us to shape education and frameworks around them on a much more personal level.

One suggestion imagines students using online learning systems that deliver bespoke content and assessments at the same time as measuring and collecting data about the learning process, like how quickly they are completing particular tasks or what kind of additional resources they used in study.

At the end the teacher can use the software to create an analysis of the learner’s ability and progress, and from this they can tailor learning materials to suit the ability of the student.

If this process is then carried out with a whole classroom, a whole school or a whole country, the data can be used to get insight into student performance and which learning approaches work best.

Instead of waiting for end-of-year exams, teachers could continually analyse knowledge and performance and understand what methods work for which learners.

Data analysis like this could offer much more detailed and valuable insights than traditional methods.

This one sounds exotic but it’s pretty straightforward really, and it’s certainly not a new trend in education.

In its simplest form gamification means the incorporation of game elements into non-game settings.

In the classroom this can mean anything from using actual game design and development as a method of organising the learning framework, to introducing a simple points system that motivates learners by creating a competitive atmosphere.

Educators have been using interactive, game-based learning for a long time but the huge uptake of console and online gaming in recent years has prompted a rethink of how gamification can help improve learning.

Most modern computer games include an achievement system, a series of goals and tasks that exist outside of the game’s normal structure and narrative. This idea has been brought into the classroom, rewarding learners for achievements outside of the regular grading systems.

Many online learning resources have badge systems, where a learner earns a particular badge for reaching a certain level or completing a set number of tasks around a given topic, motivating the learner and allowing them to easily track their own progress.

This same technique is being introduced in classrooms and training schemes to great effect.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) allow very large-scale, and often free, participation in training via the internet.

MOOCs allow hundreds and even thousands of people all over the world to get access to further and higher education that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

The term MOOC was coined in 2008 but many of the ideas behind the concept have existed since long before the ‘digital age’.

In the late 1800s thousands of people were enrolling in correspondence courses and in the 1920s millions of draftees were being trained for war by watching films created by the US military.

MOOCs gained a lot of publicity last year due to high profile MOOC project founders and contributing institutions, as well as large financial investment in a push to make e-learning much more sustainable and scalable.

Their real feature is the huge student to teacher ratio, especially in comparison to traditional college or school courses.

This ratio would be impossible to recreate in a regular classroom so MOOCs offer a great opportunity to save resources.

Moocs not only overcome physical and geographical boundaries, they also allow many learners, unable to afford traditional pathways, access to specialised education.

Flip teaching is a broad term that refers to any use of technology that supplements classroom learning so that a teacher can spend more time interacting with learners rather than lecturing them.

It’s commonly done using video lessons, produced by the teacher or a resource provider, for students to watch outside of class time.

Originally developed in the 1990s, flip teaching saw the computer as an exciting new tool to help improve the quality of education by allowing learners who studied independently to be coached, instead of lectured.

The learner studies the topic independently, outside of the classroom and then applies that knowledge through problem solving and practical work in class.

This method transforms the traditional role of the teacher – they no longer teach the initial lesson but instead become a tutor, able to guide the student if they are stuck.

Flip teaching allows for more time to do engaging work in class, avoiding long lectures where learners lose interest, and increases interaction time with the teacher.

The students also get to study the video lessons in their own time so it is likely they will choose to do so when they are more alert and ready to take in new information.

And, even if they do miss something, using video lessons lets them rewind and catch up on anything they didn’t understand the first time around.


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    • I think that it’s all about providing learners with engaging and fun online learning that is accessible as possible. Mobile learning is becoming really popular, but learning needs to be delivered in small chunks that can revisited as and when its convenient to the learner. Mobile learning can be the delivery model that really engages the non-engaged.
      I think if a blended delivery model is established from day 1 it is much easier to keep learners engaged, rather than to start expecting learners to access resources out of the classroom once a course has started. The flipped classroom can help because the learner will not be able to join into the face to face session if they haven’t done the virtual part first.

  1. My vision is for what I call ‘convergence’ learning. It’s learner led and gives them the choice of how they want to learn depending on how they feel about the topic and their social intent. For example I’m very comfortable with the topic of digital marketing so I may choose to consume this learning through an e-book but finance I’m a lot less confident about and may like a formal interaction and discussion with other learners led by an expert I can ask questions of.

  2. Thanks for these Dan. The Jisc Regional Support Centres (RSCs) work with more than 2,000 UK learning providers helping them to improve performance and efficiency through the use of technology. If you are interested in new trends in learning technology then check out the blog at This includes recent posts with more info on Flipped Learning and MOOCs.

  3. Great article Dan. I agree that much of FE has been late to the party, however there are a significant number of colleges and training providers who are really embracing learning technologies and particularly mobile learning. I’m involved in the launch of at the Apprenticeship conference in March and I have been really excited about the number of training organisations who have contacted me interested in marketing online courses they presently have or are developing. Technology has opened the door to so many opportunities for the sector, including sustainability and going global!

  4. Big data is also going to play a big role in the future skills & employability training. The SFA and BIS are looking into ways that data can be used to analyse the employability landscape and asses the successful delivery of courses in relation to job outcomes.

    “The key to success will be in gaining a greater understanding of learners; what are their individual barriers to work, the courses or course combinations that successfully tackle these barriers and their job outcomes. When you can see the full picture from big data to micro data, then the true value of courses can be seen and proven.” -blog on the missing link between education & employment

    Some colleges and training providers are already using technology to track and map their learner journey – to deliver more effective and responsive courses.