Colleges are facing a time of fundamental change. There’s a push from government to focus on teaching practice, alongside pressure to manage changing funding mechanisms and shrinking budgets.
The area reviews, led by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, are looking at how colleges can work more efficiently, while still delivering for students and providing young people with skills that meet employer needs.
Colleges across England are rationalising the courses that they offer to their students, increasing their use of blended learning (using online/digital technology) and, in some cases, looking to merge with other organisations in their area.
Talking of a blended learning approach, this is also one of the UK-wide requirements laid out in the Feltag (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) report (bit.ly/Feltag), and I believe that this type of approach can actually help providers meet some of the challenges posed by government reforms.
A blended approach can enhance a student’s learning experience. They get face-to-face time alongside easy access to resources and support when it suits them, allowing them to work in a way that most suits their needs. As some learning takes place online, a student’s digital skills are also developed, which can go on to help them in their future employment.
Add to this technology-enabled access to learner analytics – data on students’ learning practices (we are piloting a system to provide this) – that indicate to students if they are on track, and you can see how technology can help to transform the entire learning experience.
The model introduced by the Heart of Worcestershire College (see article, opposite) shows the potential of blended learning. Some teaching is delivered online across the whole of its curriculum. This has allowed it to create a culture where the use of online learning is the norm, and to let the students develop independent and autonomous learning skills that support their employability.
The college can now easily monitor students’ work, which is submitted and assessed online. There is also personal study and technical support provided for students and staff, which allows its team to develop e-learning content through accredited training.
Focusing on employability, EDF Energy’s internship programme with National Star College is a prime example of how a blended learning approach can support work with local employers.
The programme, called Steps Into Work, is designed for adults with a range of disabilities whose goal is to enter long-term employment. Using a blended learning model, it supports the transition from education to employment. Students work alongside EDF Energy employees, with a teacher from National Star embedded into the business to manage the educational elements of the programme.
The high-quality work experience enables the students to build confidence, along with vocational and social skills; formal education sessions run alongside their daily work tasks. Twenty-two students have taken part in the scheme since it started in 2013. Of the 14 that have graduated so far, 10 are now in paid employment, either within EDF Energy or elsewhere – well above the national average for an internship scheme of this nature.
That all sounds fantastic, I hear you say, but how do we embrace this blended approach to learning during a time of change? My response would be to say that we are here to support your college and help you understand what technology can do for you and where it can help.
The importance of technology in supporting the transformation of FE to create a sustainable sector is clear, but for this to happen, your college and business providers need to fully embrace all the opportunities on offer.
Paul Feldman is chief executive of Jisc, the government-funded technology organisation for the FE and higher education sectors.
TES is media partner for the Jisc Digital Festival from 2-3 March at the ICC in Birmingham.
For details, visit bit.ly/JiscDigi