A Skills Funding Agency (SFA) decision not to introduce a reduced funding rate for online learning has been welcomed by the sector.

The SFA had been looking into online learning following the publication of the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (Feltag) report in March 2014.

But speaking as a member of the audience during a talk at the Bett education technology show in London on January 20, Stephen Nichols, policy implementation manager at the SFA, said that online learning was not “the cheap option”.

“We’ve taken a lot of feedback on online funding rates,” said Mr Nichols.

“The Skills Funding Agency isn’t going to implement a cheap rate for online learning. I think we all appreciate that it’s not the cheap option,” he added.

Paul Rolfe, director of technology and innovation at Highbury College, Portsmouth, was part of the Feltag group. He said Mr Nichols’ announcement was “very much welcomed”.

He said: “Developing high quality online courses with interactive and engaging resources is incredibly time consuming and therefore expensive.”

The SFA’s acknowledgement of this “will enable innovative providers such as Highbury College to continue to invest in new delivery models which will respond to the changing needs of learners and employers,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Association of Colleges said the SFA was “right” that “developing and delivering high-quality online courses is not cheaper” than face-to-face learning.

“Colleges, and other providers, which choose to provide both types of course should receive funding that is accurate and commensurate with the type of content and means of delivery for specific courses,” she said.

Feltag also recommended that all publicly-funded learning programmes should have a minimum of 10 per cent online content from 2015/16.

In its Feltag progress report in February last year, the government said it had reviewed this recommendation “in the light of concerns raised about setting a target without first testing the impact”.

As a result, it said, the SFA would be undertaking “information gathering” to “baseline current activity”, as well as running a number of pilots and asking the sector to complete a “temperature check” survey.

Another Feltag member, learning technology adviser Bob Harrison, said: “What’s really encouraging, from an FE point of view, is that they are now actively looking to remove the barriers in the funding mechanism, which will allow teachers and FE providers to use technology in an innovative way.”

A spokesperson for the SFA said that the evidence they had seen showed that “there are a wide range of variables involved” in setting an online funding rate.

“Final recommendations on an online funding rate will be made when our online learning report is published in due course,” she said.

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8 Comments

  1. If the courses have to be continually updated due to its nature like IT then there’s an argument for it but only a small one. The reach that online courses have are not in the same magnitude as face to face classes so fee should reflect this.
    The market place will tell as competition online will come from a global aspect not a small area and knowledge itself is not a tangible product that can be held back, hoarded or require physical transportation. Knowledge ultimately may become free but the experience of training like seminars will be where the money lies.

  2. Michael Farmer

    How well does Ofsted regulate on-line learning? I saw an Ofsted report recently where the provider claimed over 8000 students country-wide but there was little evidence in the report about how Ofsted had inspected this provision.

  3. Might be the nail in the coffin of what could have been the kick up the backside that so many in the FE sector needed to lift teaching, learning and assessment out of the dark ages. It also lets off the hook, those in the FE & Skills sector that choose not to see the benefits of technology citing cost, not complacency as the cause. Neither will there be any rush as the SFA undertakes “information gathering” to “baseline current activity” (what activity? Those that believe do, the vast majority that choose not to, don’t). Oh yes and ask the sector to complete a “temperature check survey”. Is that yet another survey which is completed by the same senior management that chooses not to see the benefits of embedding technology?
    The funding argument is not helped by statements such as “Developing high quality online courses with interactive and engaging resources is incredibly time consuming and therefore expensive.” from Paul Rolfe as though a fact without question. Transforming teaching materials into interactive, engaging resources, needn’t be time consuming or expensive, as demonstrated by agencies including my own over several years, predating Feltag and right up to date by many learning providers. and is the cost of what should already be part of a modern classroom using blended learning, mobile devices, flipped classroom etc.being added to the cost of the Feltag recommendations? and if so why?

    To quote Bob Harrison from way back “Those FE providers who embrace and embed Feltag spirit will not only survive but thrive….those that don’t, wont”
    How expensive is that?

    • Judy Bloxham

      The lack of progress over the years in the teaching profession is unbelievable. Around a year ago I co-authored a blog post on five reasons to do digital for Jisc. There are greater imperatives for this now.
      Area reviews need the FE sector to collaborate, one way this can happen especially for geographically dispersed organisations, is through the use of technology.
      The continued cut backs in funding means the requirement to do ever more with ever less.
      The new Ofsted CIF, although not explicit in its requirements for the inclusion of technology in teaching, does require it when you read between the lines.

  4. One snag is that if the SFA wants to encourage online learning then there needs to be a worthwhile gap between cost and funding. Otherwise why would anyone bother? This is probably the correct call if the SFA wants to encourage online learning – then when it is better established funding can be reduced if necessary.