Blended learning sweeps the country

26th February 2016 at 00:00
How a consortium launched last summer has already signed up one in 10 UK colleges

“Many hands make light work,” the saying goes. While technology has increasingly helped us to make work lighter, it is teamwork with like-minded individuals that will make this lighter still.

With that in mind, and with the ever-increasing influence of technology on our daily lives, Heart of Worcestershire (HoW) College set out to create a blended learning consortium; pooling resources with fellow colleges in order to continually deliver high-quality online provision for our learners.

As winner of the “outstanding use of technology” category at the TES FE Awards last year, the college has externally-recognised expertise in this area.

We are now in the fifth year of delivering a cross-college blended learning curriculum (combining face-to-face and online learning), and have found that fully embracing online components in courses brings great benefits for students and colleges.

One of the main challenges that we have encountered over the past four years has been sourcing good quality learning resources that have specifically been developed for the further education curriculum and learners. Online learning, if crafted correctly, can play a vital role in students’ learning experiences. By giving students the opportunity to learn online, we are giving them the freedom to take control of their own studying, fitting their education around work, home and family life.

Workplace skills

Through the blended learning model, students have continued to improve upon their existing independent learning and research abilities, inevitably helping to tone and shape their employability skills. Colleges, in turn, benefit through being able to maintain a wide range of provision in the challenging funding climate that the sector faces.

So why form a blended learning consortium? The answer is simple: many hands really do make light work. Our own experience, from working on a number of partnership-based projects, is that the most effective way to set up such a scheme is through a co-development process where costs and expertise are shared across partnerships.

In order to facilitate this process, HoW College set up and continues to lead the Blended Learning Consortium.

So far, more than 40 colleges have joined forces, pooling expertise and resources from Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales, working side by side in order to further advance blended learning. This is believed to be the largest consortium of its kind in the sector.

The consortium, founded in August last year, has been created by the sector, for the sector, with the aim of identifying key areas for developing high-quality, interactive online learning resources suitable for the 21st-century learner. It is about pooling together to write, build and share these resources.

All resources built by the consortium work on all mainstream devices and learning platforms and can be further adapted by individual colleges if needed. This arrangement gives access to quality content, creates efficiency savings through shared development costs and provides support and training, if needed, from the experienced information and learning technology team at HoW College.

Following voting by colleges, 16 curriculum areas have been selected for development. These include areas that would be useful across colleges, such as Prevent, employability, English and e-safety, as well as vocational subjects like engineering, business, health and social care, sports and beauty.

The consortium is in its early days, but with 10 per cent of colleges in the UK already members, we believe that by working together we have a greater chance of improving the sustainability and financial health of each of our colleges, while simultaneously maintaining our commitment to delivering high-quality education for our future generations.

Peter Kilcoyne is information and learning technology director at Heart of Worcestershire College

What the colleges say...

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“Years of developmental information and learning technology practice has culminated in sector-leading adoption of blended learning and the formation of the Blended Learning Consortium. I believe that FE students across the UK could really benefit from this latest initiative.”

Richard Brook, head of IT and learning resources at Vision West Nottinghamshire College

“The consortium provides our students with high-quality e-learning materials at a fraction of the cost of developing its own resources in-house. It also feels as though we are involved in a project that is changing the face of learning in the FE sector and I would ask other colleges to get involved so they don’t miss out on this initiative.” David Scott, head of learning centres and financial support at Kirklees College

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