Tail Wags Dog?

Having been away from ‘the front line’ of the sector until recently, I was pleased to attend an event put on by a learning provider to share with other providers, their experience in developing a range of dynamic learning materials in a major project. During the course of the day the guest providers were also invited to share their own progress for introducing technology into the mainstream of teaching and learning. I was a little surprised with the answers.

All attendees were ‘champions’ and their organisations well established in the use of learning technologies, or so I had assumed. But not when they were asked how far along the technological journey they were as they described the same challenges to change that have been around for a long time.           For example:

  • Willingness by staff, but the infrastructure doesn’t always cope with the demands
  • Teachers are put off using or developing blended learning when the WiFi doesn’t work.  (in some examples but clearly not all, cost of increased bandwidth is an issue)
  • Some had management that weren’t ‘on board’ and with others it was the staff resisting change.
  • Another said that the majority of staff aren’t on board referring to them as ‘Luddites’
  • A further example was that the college have a blended learning model which although working well in 75% of departments, there was a hard core which refuse to change.

But my favourite was:

Its just a gimmick!

Despite all the good work to date, a newly appointed curriculum lead regards learning technology as no more than a gimmick with a mindset saying hands on use of tools is more important – despite a high turnover of staff that presumably disagree and learners asking about virtual reality  and such.

And so on, and so on.

As I was only there to listen and learn, the only question I asked on the day was ‘why is this still happening despite millions in public money channeled through numerous agencies over the past decade and the evidence about the benefits to and expectation of the learners, blatantly obvious to see‘.

Our main presenter said ‘good question Colin if only there were as good an answer’.

So there is clearly much to be done but not without a struggle if those ‘champions’ that are handed the task of change are not also given the authority to do so when gentle persuasion or the blooming obvious doesn’t work – or if leadership is ‘on board’ but doesn’t have a strategy linked to the organisations vision for the use of every day technology.

As to the so called ‘Luddites’ what is it about some colleges that appear to allow the tail to wag the dog, seemingly on the basis of their greater knowledge of a subject and regardless of their role or position. If their decision is contrary to what the leadership requires for the best interest of the learner, employer and the organisation, why is it tolerated? Out in the real world that individual would need to justify their decision or moved on. But such a challenge can only come from the top.

Meanwhile, I read a report on a recently inspected college which crashed from being ‘outstanding’ to ‘Requires Improvement’ and with the onus on Leadership and Management, my interest was the section related to the large apprenticeship provision, as reading between the lines the use of appropriate technology appeared to be missing or not used and some of what I had learned elsewhere seemed to apply. Such as:

Inaccuracy of data, over optimistic reporting to management about progression, a small minority of assessors plan learning and monitor progress using the college’s online portfolio and tracking system, the majority do not – and on and on.

A damning report and sadly not an isolated case and whatever else has to be done the actions now required has little to do with funding or resources and a lot to do with leadership allowing personnel to run their departments ‘the way they always have’ or taking back control of ‘the business’.

In my opinion, there really is no excuse for leadership in this example or elsewhere to be unaware of learner management systems that provide data on their learner’s progression in real time or providing learners with dynamic learning material in the classroom or online which is crucial for any learning provider in 2017.  But whilst there has been tremendous progress across the FE & Skills sector, in some cases it has been hard won and even then, there is still some way to go.

On my social media profile, I say that I considered changing my title from ‘Learning Technology Consultant’ to ‘Trouble-shooter’, but too few recognise that they might be ‘in trouble’ at least until the inspectors arrive. By which time it may be too late.

So if any learning provider believes they might benefit from an impartial and brutally honest conversation about the current use of technology in its provision then as always I invite that leader, manager or champion to call. An initial conversation will as always cost absolutely nothing, the services of a trouble-shooter if required may be a different matter.

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Consultant


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