Problem, what problem?

When running a food manufacturing company in an earlier life, a young engineer that I had called in to address a packaging machine problem, asked about the antics going on at a different machine which had operators going to great lengths to ‘keep the production line going.’ I explained that we hadn’t time to shut down for the few days it would take to fix it, as we would be late delivering orders and so would make do until we could find the time to sort it out.

He then delivered a line which has stayed with me throughout the rest of my working life. He said “stop going around the problem”. That in his experience I was allowing bigger problems to pile up including cost in wasted time and material, far greater than the so called delays caused by shutting down and fixing it. He was right, so we shut down, we fixed it, production increased.


“Perhaps there’s another way?”

In subsequent roles, industries, practices, the ‘problem’ has rarely been a malfunctioning machine. Although there have been occasions when I should have thrown a ‘dodgy’ printer or similar device out of the window and bought a new one, the outcome being inevitable anyway. No, the problems I have encountered in the last decade of using technology in FE & Skills, have invariably been people. People with the influence to prevent change, others that seemingly know less than they ought or simply go along with what they are being told, an easily recognisable problem that goes from bottom to top and vice versa.

I’m talking of course about the 75% or more of Learning Providers that have yet to engage in the use of what the other 25% regard as every day technology which has been proven to play a part in making vocational learning quicker, more flexible and cost effective in the delivery of teaching, learning and assessment. But not, it would seem necessary for the vast majority.

The primary decision makers are of course the leadership that agencies of all kinds are still trying to convince, coerce or encourage, which I find bewildering.  But leadership, perhaps understandably may rely on their IT department to make judgement on what technology might be introduced, a department that may well have enough on its plate just to keep everything running on dwindling budgets and staff reductions. Then there are the layers of management that may know a little bit about everything but even if they have a budget, have to clear an idea with the IT department and if they are convinced, make it work with their staff. The tutors, assessors, verifiers, administrators who may or may not know what the benefits are but claim not to have the time (or inclination) for staff development, don’t have the tools for the job (whatever they are) and seemingly can’t access the internet.

Techno-logic_Report png.ashxThis was shown again in the findings of a recent survey conducted by City & Guilds which like so many surveys before have identified some of the perceived advantages of e-learning and ePortfolios etc. and also ‘the drawbacks’, doubtless correct in this context, recording statements made by people questioned but I suggest, may not be in a position to say what might be done about it, assuming that they know.

e.g The drawbacks to using ePortfolio shown in this survey include:

86% said being reliant on the internet connection/network connection.

Comment: In the UK 2014, fixed broadband internet connections were used by 91% of households. 38 million adults – (76%) accessed the internet every day, – 74% of all adults bought goods or services on line and access to the internet using a mobile phone doubled between 2010 and 2014 to 58%. Heaven only knows what the stats for 2015 will be, but presumably more.

51% questioned said having no time for training on how to use it (ePortfolio) effectively was a drawback

Comment: With a specific few ePortfolios, training on its software is available pretty much 24/7 and free, whilst operating off-line as well as on-line (dispelling another drawback).  But as staff training goes beyond using the eP software, it is essential that appropriate CPD should be embedded in any strategy to implement this type of change and there are many examples showing how. Time for staff development also depends on how and when it is delivered or made available.

So what’s the problem?

wifi_4Internet access: No excuse whatsoever, the vast majority of those questioned can and probably do, access the internet from the device in their pocket, the TV at home, the pub, a café, a train, at a London Underground station, on an aircraft, a cross channel ferry or as in most cities a double decker bus. Yet 86% of those surveyed said it was a problem. The question for the management perhaps is why?

Staff Development:  There are dozens of examples of best practice of organisations opting for ePortfolios and appropriate staff development and have been over several years. Such as the independent Learning provider, coincidentally engaged in engineering courses that introduced an ePortfolio which included adapting the curriculum timetable, to enable them to ‘shut down’ for a total of six weeks for staff development. Pretty dramatic, but what they proved to their executive was that they had to ‘stop going around the problem’ if they were to overcome the ‘drawbacks’ and achieve an Ofsted rating that enabled them to stay in business. They were rated Good-2 and are on the way to Outstanding.

From these findings, it suggests that many learning providers accept that internet access is still a major cause for not using ePortfolio or eLearning, when the evidence proves otherwise and that there are insurmountable issues for staff development, when others have found ways to make it feasible. It also suggests to me that Leadership and Management appear to believe that carrying on as they are will not have short and medium term repercussions which of course flies in the face of what ought to be blindingly obvious.

A survey is very helpful when considering the use of technology for your own organisation and if there are similar findings to the aforementioned, I strongly recommend you ‘stop going around the problems’ and ask for impartial advice, if only from other Learning Providers to ask how it is that their production line is working so much better than others, when there are apparently so many drawbacks to deal with. After which drop us a line for a free scoping talk, perhaps we can address your problems.

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Consultant 



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