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'FE must use cloud technology to survive'

Digitally-speaking, there are still some areas where FE lags behind – one of these is the use of cloud-based learning platforms, says ed-tech expert Simon Pridham

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Digitally-speaking, there are still some areas where FE lags behind – one of these is the use of cloud-based learning platforms, says ed-tech expert Simon Pridham

Further education and skills is a sector that has connectivity at its heart – whether it’s helping learners to understand the connections between training and work, connecting learners with employers, or making connections with other education and training providers.

It’s somewhat surprising then, that the sector has yet to fully embrace digital connectivity.

Though the FE digital landscape is slowly improving, thanks to the work of Feltag, Jisc and some forward-looking practitioners, there are still areas where it lags behind.

One of these is in the adoption of cloud technology. As a concept, cloud-based computing has been around in education for a number of years, but its potential for the FE sector has yet to be fully realised. 

For many FE and skills providers, especially colleges, cloud computing has mainly been used as an admin tool. Too few have been adopting cloud-based learning platforms, but this is where the real opportunities lie.

Using a cloud-based learning platform allows institutions to provide high-quality ICT services to learners at any time and, crucially, on any device.

Platforms like Google for Education and Microsoft in Education can take learning to the next level, replacing outdated textbooks and other obsolete learning resources.

Their flexibility makes them attractive to learners, particularly the type of learner that is served so well by the FE college environment.

'Helping learners to teach themselves'

Like Sugata Mitra's "school in the cloud" concept, cloud-based learning platforms can be used in FE to help learners teach themselves, with the lecturer posting questions or instructions for their learners and leaving them to self-organise, research and learn.

This has the added benefit of giving learners new opportunities to interact and collaborate with each other, both within and outside their own settings.

If the pedagogical arguments aren’t enough to persuade the sector to adopt cloud-based tech, perhaps the financial ones will.

Cloud-based applications can run across a number of platforms, including mobile devices, enabling learners to use their own devices and negating the need for colleges to invest in expensive hardware.

In an age in which every learner has a smartphone, or a tablet, or a laptop, or sometimes all three, that is a huge bonus.

Colleges can also save money on expensive software licences, with cost-effective subscription options and even a number of free learning platforms available.

'An ideal solution'

Jisc even points out that, if applied effectively, cloud services can make a significant contribution to reducing energy consumption, thus helping colleges reach their sustainability goals.

In an age of area reviews, cutbacks, closures and mergers, the FE and skills sector should be looking for innovative ways to save money while still staying true to its roots.

Embracing cloud technology is an ideal solution, allowing institutions to invest in the future and reconnect to their most important asset – their learners.

Simon Pridham is a former headteacher and education director of ed-tech company Aspire 2Be

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