We must embrace new modes of delivery for our under-pressure learners

We must embrace the power of edtech to avoid pressures on learners having a negative impacts on social mobility and productivity

We must embrace the power of edtech to avoid pressures on learners having a negative impacts on social mobility and productivity

26 Mar 2024, 5:00

There has been a significant shift in learner attitudes in recent years with short-term priorities, including the shadow of rising living costs, increasingly taking precedence over long-term career and educational goals.

However, forward-thinking colleges and training providers are remedying this by implementing innovative technology which allows learners to continue their studies and progress their careers, despite challenging circumstances. The impact of this has the potential to reach far beyond the individual student, once again putting further education and workplace learning at the forefront of social change.

A recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Groups of Students and Further Education and Lifelong Learning shows that many further education students are responding to financial pressures by taking on more paid work in order to support themselves and their families which can have a significant impact on their studies.

Research by the Association of Colleges has found that many students now consider bursaries and hardship funds to be an essential household income stream, but this money is being diverted to cover domestic costs such as food and energy bills, rather than costs associated with their education. This means that they remain unable to afford the necessary travel, childcare or equipment needed in order to succeed on their course.

And financial challenges are only the start of the story. Time deprivation due to extra shifts, multiple jobs or ‘side hustles’ necessary to make ends meet means that learners are missing classes, falling behind and ultimately dropping out when they feel unable to catch up.

There are also social factors driven by increasing prices. For example, the high cost of formal childcare in the UK (which is among the highest in the world) remains a particular barrier to work and education, and one that disproportionately affects women, who are statistically more likely to be primary child carers.

Learners are feeling the pinch from all angles

Workplace learning is also suffering. Business investment in areas such as employee training is lower in the UK than any other country in the G7. Where staff can access workplace training, they too are coming up against the same challenges as other learners – the need to fit their studies into increasingly busy lives.

With learners feeling the pinch from all angles, there’s a real risk that the current economic climate will have a long-term negative impact on productivity, equality and social mobility.

However, there is hope shining through from the world of adult education and skills. The flourishing UK edtech sector offers an array of opportunities for colleges and employers to offer more flexible, accessible training.

Colleges and employers who have already embraced this technology have found it to be transformational, allowing learners to continue their training despite challenging economic and social factors.

At the forefront of this is the integration of technology into traditional delivery. If learning can be done at a time and place convenient for the student, with online resources designed specifically for this purpose, they will have the freedom to study on their terms. Suddenly, a last minute shift change at work no longer means falling behind at college – it simply means swapping study days. It also reduces transport, childcare and equipment costs, lessening the financial barriers to education.

It is here that the benefits of apprenticeships can also be seen – both as a cost-effective option for the employer looking to upskill their team, and a financially attractive choice for the learner who can study and work at the same time. As well as flexible or blended online delivery, technology also allows employers to deliver and manage the apprenticeship process by reducing administrative burdens, automating progress tracking and reporting, and enabling flexibility around work patterns.

During difficult times, it can often be hard to see beyond looming challenges, but this is where the ‘Cinderella sector’ is so essential. Colleges and training providers enjoy the unique privilege of witnessing key turning points in learners’ lives and careers, and more than ever are compelled to forge ahead with new methods of delivery.

The potential of technology in education has been touted for many years, and with a pressing need to meet learners’ needs in a challenging new normal, now is the time to turn that potential into power.

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