The Ofsted education inspection framework (EIF), introduced this month to the further education (FE) and training sector, expresses the shift and refocus of the Ofsted inspection process to review the overall “quality of education” that providers are offering. In particular, it will review how teachers and trainers are implementing “knowledge scaffolding” – the incremental process of helping learners to make connections between the new and what has already been learned – and look for evidence of how much learners have remembered and applied.
The EIF is being welcomed by the FE sector with its wider perspective on quality of education and learners’ progress. There is no specific mention of the role of educational technologies (edtech) in the new framework, yet they can provide powerful ways of supporting knowledge scaffolding and allowing learners to share and apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills.
Ofsted framework: What the new Ofsted inspection framework will look like in FE
How edtech can help learning
With use of edtech becoming ever more significant for the development of pedagogy to deliver quality education and prepare learners for the world of work, it will be important to reflect this in the inspection process.
There is a variety of ways in which edtech can provide support to teachers and trainers in knowledge sequencing, layering and scaffolding including “spaced learning” – the process of repeating intensive bursts of learning with breaks in between.
In the Ofsted presentation Working towards the EIF 2019: Ofsted’s approach – further education and skills, reference is made to cognitive load theory, in which learning is defined as “an alteration in long-term memory. If nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.” Ofsted has referenced four key steps to achieving an alteration in long-term memory and, therefore, learning:
- Deciding what content needs to be deeply embedded in long-term memory.
- Considering what learners pay attention to.
- Avoiding overloading the working memory.
- Providing spaced repetition for 'overlearning'.
Advances in communication and information technologies now offer an empowering set of personalised tools to revisit, interact with and repeat content. Learners can continue to engage in learning activities outside of the scheduled sessions, extending opportunities for learning. If the learning interactions in scheduled sessions are captured, by video for example, they can easily be revisited at the learner’s pace, reflected upon and better retained. These powerful facilitating tools can avoid overloading the working memory by providing spaced repetition for “overlearning”.
I remember a health and beauty lecturer expressing how much progress her students had made since she had started to capture massage practices on video. During the class demonstration, she immediately uploaded the video into the virtual learning environment for the students to revisit. She said that her students had never reached such a high skill level and understanding so quickly in previous academic years, and was very pleased with the impact her newly adopted approach had on their progress.
Ofsted and the power of edtech
Digital technologies offer an arsenal of tools that can be harnessed for spaced learning, using a series of small learning bites with space gaps in between. The repetition is what reinforces the learning. During a session, formative assessment tools, used with mobiles, clickers and voting devices, help to check that learning has taken place and contribute to the consolidation of key information.
New pedagogic approaches, such as the flipped classroom model, harness the facilities offered by technologies to enable instructional material and knowledge sharing to take place outside of the classroom, ahead of lessons. Instead, face-to-face time can then be used for higher-order active learning activities or practice.
Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) can help to intensify the learning experience, creating memorable experiences in professional, specialised and geographic spaces that might otherwise be hard to reach. Simulation and role play in a safe environment help to form mental models through repetition and practice.
VR can also be seen to be more effective when teaching abstract or complex subject matter. As part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA National Technical Programme, Myerscough College trialled the use of VR technology to enhance students’ practical skills in preparation for employment and work experience. They developed scenario-based learning packages, focused on the equine, agriculture and sports turf industries, in partnership with educational and industry leaders.
Online games-based learning is another example of an immersive environment enabled by technology which can stimulate practice and improve performance. Learners can develop spontaneous problem-solving, kinetic and skills behaviours through repetitions in this simulated environment.
Conditional formative assessment and constructive and rewarding automated feedback are also areas where technologies can help to promote active learning outcomes, promoting differentiation and personalisation of learning far more efficiently than would normally be possible with a group of learners in a face-to-face activity. In this way students can build awareness of their own learning progress, giving them more ownership and providing just-in-time access to learning along with personalised support. Alongside techniques such as gamification of learning, this can be very effective in motivating learners.
Then there are the possibilities afforded by technologies for communication channels and collaborative digital learning spaces, together with multimedia capturing tools. These functions can empower learners with personalised accessibility features, whilst also enabling them to express themselves across a range of modes: voice, sound, text, video, screencast, animations, visual and doodle. They also provide a channel for collaboration, for example through webinars, discussion forums, chat rooms and online applications offering synchronous and asynchronous collaboration opportunities, or as multimedia-capturing, interactive and creating tools.
There is no silver bullet for improving learner outcomes, but pedagogic innovation using new technologies can help to make lessons more memorable and relevant. This facilitates spaced learning, personalised learning, and independent as well as collaborative learning, all of which can help to achieve the aims of the EIF.
In conclusion, we welcome the new Ofsted EIF and its revised focus on the quality of education. New pedagogic approaches offered by technologies are undoubtedly playing an ever-more-important role in helping educators to deliver quality education, the kind of education that will equip learners for future jobs underpinned by technology. David Kelly said: “If you want to predict how technology will change the way people learn, follow how technology is changing the way people live.” In FE we are preparing learners for jobs that do not yet exist, so we need to develop learners’ digital skills to equip them to adapt. It is therefore important for all of us as educators to broaden our awareness and understanding of how to harness technologies and proactively explore, adopt and take a lead on using new technologies to better aid student learning.
The new EIF gives a fresh opportunity to review how pedagogic approaches have been redefined in light of new technologies to enhance the learning experience and make knowledge and skills “stick”.
Vikki Liogier is head of learning technologies at the Education and Training Foundation