When is an IT strategy, not an IT strategy?

In the context of using technology in the FE & Skills sector, all too often it’s when there isn’t an up to date strategy in the first place, other than in the minds of the executive and or the IT department. Many strategies were produced/written when Becta or LSIS had money to give to colleges for technology enhancements which required an IT strategy. Not many have been updated since.

Even allowing for some truly remarkable exceptions, it is my experience that many Learning Providers in the FE & Skills sector, do not have a comprehensive vision for using and or introducing technology in a cohesive manner and often no formal strategy or action plan to make appropriate use of departmental purchases of hardware or software, let alone make it part of a strategic objective. We know this because?

Strategy 1Over several years with a previous organisation, myself and colleagues conducted e-Progress Reviews of Learning Providers, mainly FE and 6th Form Colleges and occasionally Independent Providers. The process was to take a ‘snap shot’ of what technology was being used across the organisation, conducted through interviews with every level of management, staff and learners, followed by presenting a report of our findings and recommendations.

The questions fell into seven categories, the very first being ‘Vision and Strategic Planning’ and in more than 80% of reviews, our feedback went along the lines of the following:

‘There is no cohesive vision for the use of technology going forward and though the majority of staff recognises the value of ILT in provision of a good service to learners. Without a strategic vision there is no formal mechanism to measure the impact of technology on the delivery of teaching and learning, or the business processes around this.”

Actually to be fair, most organisations had a vision of sorts, but rarely was it communicated beyond senior management, rarely was there a strategy to support or apply it and hardly ever in writing. There, I’ve said it. But it also goes some way to explaining why so many one-off acquisitions, large or small, tend to ‘wither away.’ Devices acquired through a sudden rush of money end up in cupboards for the sake of some appropriate staff development -and unused software licences waiting to be expanded ‘once the pilot scheme is completed.’ Yeah right – and did the pilot scheme have an action plan and did that line up with the strategic plans?

Clip art plus speech bubbleOr, as with a number of organisations, a learner management system is acquired and developed by one department, a different brand purchased by another department and not surprisingly, neither connected with the network. So that the primary benefits of the software are lost as they each run a unique, albeit efficient system in parallel (duplication) to the network system and the departments didn’t want to give up what they each used so they ran both. Having boxed themselves into a corner, they asked for advice. Go figure!

Is it any wonder that on inspection, there are invariably reports of ‘pockets of best practice’, which nowadays is more likely to be regarded as demonstrating failure elsewhere.

As previously stated, there are some truly remarkable exceptions across the sector and the dynamic use of technology is evident for all to see should those less ‘remarkably exceptional’ organisations care to look. But the achievers are clearly in the minority, as expressed in these pages and in the wider community, where like me, there is bewilderment at the lack of technological engagement. It really isn’t that difficult and quite frankly will not be sustainable during fiercely challenging times for the sector. Standing still just won’t work!

The Learning Providers that have made the leap into the 21st century have usually begun with recognising the needs and expectation of their learners by actually asking them and doing something about it and it isn’t just about issuing tablets or providing WiFi. They can get that in any café. Learners that we spoke to during reviews are generally dismissive about the efforts of their learning provider to use so called technology, which may or not work, which the staff may or not understand, whilst handing them reams of paper to read or complete which cannot be accessed outside of the learning centre. Right.

Clip art planningAs we know, there is a strategy to suit every objective and if needed, many examples of how to structure one. It is inevitable that we will be publishing further articles on this subject and you may of course put forward questions through the contact page.

But until then I will leave you with this thought taken from a series of articles entitled ‘Making a Business Case For’ and for those that may feel it might be of interest read on, for the ‘remarkable exceptions’ please ignore.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

  • Does your current use of technology meet the needs of the Learner, the Employer or even your own organisation?
  • Would your current methods of delivery meet the expectations of Ofsted?
  • Would your current resources meet the requirements of FELTAG?
  • How would the quality or efficiency of your business practice compare with institutions that are already engaged in new and emerging technologies
  • Do you have a business model and is it working?
  • Is your business model really fit for the 21st Century?
  • Do you have an IT Strategy that is fit for purpose and the vision?

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Consultant


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