Technology in industry has continued to advance, yet I often feel the education sector has largely remained in a digital rut when it comes to embedding technologies in day-to-day working as well as business function and process.
As an educator at one of the top FE colleges in the UK, I believe several issues present barriers to IT adoption. Both the infrastructure/business organisational perspective and the context of teaching and learning must be part of a digital transformation strategy.
Here are four barriers to consider and solutions to them:
1. Organisational digital leadership
Does leadership understand digital transformation? Are we looking at how technology is harnessed within industry before we consider our own strategies? We should prepare learners for work or higher levels of study, yet we know technology will advance by the time our learners reach employment. We can develop transferable skills in our learners through how we use technology (sharing, collaborating, etc.) as well as subject related specialist skills (e.g. computer science, creative media).
SOLUTION: Our approach to developing organisational digital capabilities needs to empower our staff and learners to be resilient and adaptable to changes and advances in how we use technology in our day-to-day life and work. Colleges should have dedicated digital leadership to develop the use of technology and make a solid strategy.
2. Pace of change (or not?)
As a sector, we can focus too heavily on a paint-by-numbers approach for technology in an effort to easily weigh and measure its presence as part of a learner’s programme of study. Often these approaches will include a list of requirements such as VLE standards/awards and practices that encourage tokenistic use of edtech tools without fully considering the impact or value this has for the learner and/or learning.
SOLUTION: Instead of looking at technology/IT as ‘one-size-fits-all’, adopt digital approaches as an integrated part of learning and working where it offers genuine impact or benefit. Simply introducing new tools and applications for ‘technology-sake’ can create both barriers and resistance for many practitioners who perceive new technologies as ‘another thing to learn’ rather than an opportunity to do more, be more effective and have more impact. Instead, consider how technology can be embedded throughout a learner’s experience alongside the development of wider skills, such as teamwork, problem solving, creativity and digital etiquette. Consider also how technology can widen participation and provide a digitally inclusive learning experience. What are we doing to ensure all learners have immediacy of interaction with their learning resources through accessible formats and awareness of accessibility tools? Truly embedded digital practice is end-to-end and transformational for staff and learners.
3. Previous government responses to technology in learning
My personal view is that the government response to the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) report set back a true integration of technology in learning. A proportional recommendation for “online learning” (the controversial 10% figure) was at best seen as a means to reinforce the tick-box approach and at worst seen as a direct threat by academic staff to teaching hours. “Will online learning put my job at risk?“ was a question that was often asked.
SOLUTION: Government should look at the wider technology strategies of industry and consider how the sector prepares learners for this digital landscape. An underpinning drive for skills should be the focus, without dictates on how technology must be used within FE curriculum which often reinforces a one-size-fits-all response. A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a place where we see our growth of wholly (or mostly) online provision where the learners may never visit the physical spaces of the College. Designing and delivering a structured online course with an emphasis on student experience is key. Aside from the VLE, we should empower learners to use technology in a variety of ways to create, collaborate and share without assuming they have mastered these skills by the time they reach FE.
4. The ‘time factor’
Time is one of the top barriers when it comes to staff development and technology. My view is that this possibly relates the perception of what technology in learning means in the FE sector. If it means creating and maintaining an online course, creating modules, creating resources, managing forums and social media then it simply looks like a lot of extra work for a practitioner who already has a very long list.
SOLUTION: If we can change this perception to focus on transforming practices to be more efficient, resource creation to be more collaborative and communication to be more seamless, staff quickly see the benefits these technologies can have toward creating more time. More time to focus on the learner and more time for better outcomes.
Government, employers, and FE providers need to work together on a joined up strategy for technology in education. If our leadership culture looks for quick wins over genuine transformation, my view is that there will be little progress.
We must take differentiated approaches that are responsive to and reflective of the industries we are preparing students for. If we do, we’ll get to the real issue which is digital capabilities and confidence to transform our ways of working and learning with the use of technology.
Assistant Director of Technology, Learning Resources and Skills, Weston College (England)