What does the future hold for education?
The pace of change in education makes it hard to imagine what life will be like in our schools and colleges five years from now, in 2020. Yet that was the purpose of The Horizon Report 2014 where the views of 850 international experts coalesced into the following conclusions:
• Integration of online, hybrid and collaborative learning will be the fastest growing trend in education
• There will be a sharp and significant rise of data-driven learning, (what many are calling educational data mining)
• One major challenge will be addressing the low level of digital fluency of staff (and some students)
• Another challenge will be keeping education relevant to the world of employment in the 21st century where a chasm is likely to open between what students can do with digital technology and what employers expect from them
• Flipped classrooms will be a major driving force for change since it utilises online learning, encourages creativity, can improve attainment and provides learner analytics.
In a BECTA report in 2010 (Understanding the Impact of Technology) it concluded “learners’ investment in their own learning is critical to academic success but this is enhanced by schools and colleges exhibiting maturity on a range of measures including “e-maturity”. Mature schools provide a more personalised learning experience that is supported by embedded technology to achieve above average learning outcomes.”
The importance of “e-maturity” in any vision
This “maturity” surely arises out of a strategic vision driven by a coherent understanding of students’ learning preferences and expectations. Mature institutions put their learners’ needs first; not the staff’s needs, nor OFSTED’s or anyone else’s. The argument over whether digital learning technology should be part of the student’s experience is null and void; “learners will use technology to support their learning regardless of the specific requirements of the task and tutor, and that the ways in which they use technology are becoming an aspect of personal learning style.” (Jisc, 2014b).
Therefore mature institutions recognise digital technology is part of their students’ lifestyles and build on that premise by giving their learners a range of choices in how they learn.
So, why aren’t FE colleges across the country summoning a strategic focus on embedding learning technology across the whole of their institution? The FELTAG Report in 2013 stated, “The principal findings (of the staff survey) demonstrate that while there is a trend towards more teachers innovating with digital technology, this is on their individual initiative and support comes only from peers within their organisation.” A more damning conclusion added, “teaching practitioners increasingly regard themselves as independent professionals who explore their own use of digital technology, with few indicating that they expect guidance or direction from others.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests this hasn’t changed, where is the strategy? The vision of senior managers appears to lack focus, doesn’t it? Their attention isn’t on the needs of their learners in five years’ time and it’s ignoring those staff eager to innovate, my experiences echo this conclusion. Frustration is common and leads to innovation getting stifled.
The barriers to e-maturity
So what are the barriers to developing a strategic vision?
The Association for Learning Technology’s survey of effective use in July 2014 provided the answers, the top 3 were:
• Lack of resource to provide release and support for staff to enable them to incorporate technology in their practices.
• Reliance on individuals to champion innovation and exploitation of their willingness to support colleagues.
• Lack of direction at a strategic level resulting in fragmentation of practice across provider curriculum areas and levels of work.
There’s no strategic vision is there?
Whereas “mature” institutions know:
• Learner engagement improves, you don’t need to be physically in the classroom to learn; confidence increases because of the structured support online provision offers.
• Attainment increases when elearning courses, coordinated by Learning Management Systems, gather and sort data to provide highly detailed personal profiles that offer diagnostic solutions to a student’s barriers to learning.
• Technology offers a more imaginative range of teaching and learning methodologies that make learning relevant. This supports learner engagement but can prepare young people for employment in the 21st century too.
• Online learning is highly cost-effective, a crucial factor in these days of austerity.
I could list more but you see my point. These factors are focused on the learner’s experience, it considers their world, their priorities. Where maturity doesn’t exist managers focus on short-term goals, as explained in the Reveel Final Report: How compelling is the evidence for the effectiveness of elearning in the post-16 sector? “Learning in technology-rich environments… occurs in multiple contexts both within and beyond the institution. Institutions, however, need to move away from the use of simple KPI outcome measures and begin to focus on quality improvement.’
The message would appear to be loud and simple: senior managers’ vision needs to be 20/20, strategically focused on the future needs of their learners.
And the future is distinctly digital.
Phil Parker, Education and Learning Development, Nimble, & ex-Deputy Headteacher