‘Hello’ anyone noticed it’s 2016?

Learning Technology for the 16 year old 21st Century

Its now 16 years since the turn of the century during which time, Post-16 education has had the opportunity to embrace so called ‘21st century technology’ which to be fair has moved at an astonishing rate from the the introduction of Wikipedia in 2001 to what you can’t do with digital devices today, is nobody’s business and so much in between.

But despite a decade of agencies funded to raise awareness of the technological benefits to education, it doesn’t appear to have made a great deal of impact on a significant number of Learning Providers that seem not to have noticed that the technology we take for granted in everyday life can can be used so effectively in every day teaching, learning and assessment.  

Not a great return on investment and still the talk is of 21st century technology when so many learning providers are using processes introduced in the 1980’s and 90’s and of course I refer to the tools which enable teaching to be more appropriate to the 21st century, not technology with which to replace teachers.

With something  new emerging daily, few can even guess at what another year, let alone beyond, may bring. So with countless examples of good practice and plenty of incentives for the FE & Skills sector to do better, I can only guess at what changes Post-16 educators will make during 2016. Well for some, I fear not much, for others,  it could an exciting time.

So in my opinion, the colleges and independent learning providers that have already embraced learning technology will capitalize on their experience, not only to meet the needs of its learners, employers, funders and inspectors but also for the growth and stability of its own organisation. There really are some exceptional examples of the best use of learning technology, already setting the benchmark high and hopefully reaping the rewards.

Photo by Nan Palmero

Photo by Nan Palmero

There are  also learning providers that use technology but not necessarily to the extent that it could be used, as we discover when conducting learning technology reviews beginning with the absence of a coherent IT strategy, often buying in technology ‘piecemeal’ as and when it could be afforded. Hopefully during the coming year, such organisations will learn from others that the investment of embedding new technology in a strategic way is usually cost effective and the ‘barriers’ to change can be overcome quite easily.

Then there are what I believe to be, the significant minority of learning providers that will continue to pay lip service to using what we refer to as ‘learning technology’ to the detriment of their learners, staff and ultimately its own organisation. For example ‘we bought iPads but they didn’t work‘ (actual quote), ‘we have Moodle’ (but it’s so clunky, students and staff don’t engage with it), ‘We have Interactive white boards’ (but rarely used interactively). ‘We have an ePortfolio’ (but only in two departments as the others don’t like it) and so on. Along the lines of ‘I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order’ (with acknowledgement to M & W) the audience or in this case, learners, employers, inspectorate etc. will eventually take their business elsewhere.

Exaggeration? possibly but it’s 2016 already and there are many examples of learning providers of similar size, funding and demographics that are poles apart in applying 2016 technology.

Thinking back to 2004 I recall when my line manager forwarded me an invitation from the Centre of Excellence for Leadership (CEL) to attend a free workshop on the benefits of using ICT in education. As a WBL Coordinator in an FE college, I was a long way down the pecking order that CEL had in mind which was actually Principals and Leaders but precious few turned up. But clearly the invitation had been passed around a good deal until it ended up on my desk with the comment ‘you like computing Colin, so best you go.’ Such was the attitude then, sadly there are similar examples around now.

Moving back to present day, I recently contributed to an FE Week supplement titled ‘Learning Technology: A shared future’, in which I was asked my opinion on a number of questions including:

Q: What do you see as the greatest threats and opportunities, tech-wise, for the sector?

A: “Threats continue to be the unnecessary barriers created by some PEOPLE,

  • Senior management who, through ignorance of the subject see no reason for change.
  • Middle management that are no longer practitioners, working within limitations of reduced staff and budgets, justifying reasons not to change – no time to learn, too expensive, the staff won’t like it. None of which really stack up against the evidence.
  • Practitioners who see no reason to mend something that to them, isn’t broken.

ColinFENewsThese are of course the vast exception to the rule and even within the least engaged organisation, are people that think the opposite, but can only work within pockets of excellence of their own making doing the best for their learners, their department and hoping it will catch on.

Opportunities are frankly endless. As fast as any organisation puts into practice some of the existing technology, something else comes along the next day which doubles the scope of what is being delivered. Smart technology, greater bandwidth, online learning, resources for blended learning, cloud storage, global resources enabling greater accessibility etc”.

But as other learning providers have proven, embedding technology requires an IT Strategy that fits in with the vision and long term plan of the organisation, supported and driven by senior management that identifies and encourages innovation. Standing still is not an option, especially as the learners will always be way ahead.

The FE Week journalist that put the questions to me said that ‘Because of the word limit I may well have edited out some of the eyebrow-raising comments.’  Eyebrow raising me? Excellent, I will do another article in the near future, putting all the notes in the right order in the hope of raising a few eyebrows.

Happy New Year

To the pioneers forging ahead, do continue to share your experience.
To the providers that are ready and willing but suspect it could be better – ask!
To the minority that presumably aren’t aware of a problem – good luck.

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Adviser


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