'Pupils who wouldn’t even stay in lessons become engaged,' says researcher  

Efforts to improve the country’s mastery of ICT, English and maths have been given a boost by a research report published by the University of Sunderland. 

The report, ‘The positive effects of using e-learning resources on the success rates and progression of learners in functional skills’, reveals that students struggling with ‘functional skills’ show a 9 per cent improvement when they use e-learning resources for 15 hours over an eight-month period. 

Commissioned by ForSkills, the UK’s leading provider of diagnostics and e-learning resources for English, Maths and ICT, it was conducted by Sunderland University social science graduate Katie Martin. Two hundred learners were compared at the beginning and end of their courses – 114 who hadn’t used e-learning resources and 63 who had. 

Using data collected from seven different further education colleges and private training companies she noticed a direct correlation between the number of hours using these resources and level of improvement. 

handIn terms of the learners’ success rate - passing the exams at the level they were entered for - the research shows that taking the median e-learning use of 15 hours, the research also shows the more hours exposed to these resources, the greater the success rate. For example 20 hours of use resulted in a 98 per cent success rate - a 15 per cent increase. Even after as little as five hours the pass rate increased by some 6 per cent among users.  

And for rate of progression, the figures were also encouraging. Eighty per cent of the cohort surveyed improved the level they were working at compared to only 47.2 per cent of those with no access to e-learning resources. This, says the report’s author, proves that there is a clear link between the use of e-learning and both progression and success rates. Furthermore, that e-learning provides a flexible approach and, for those learners who engage and embrace e-learning, a measureable and positive impact on outcomes.

“I have a particular interest in e-learning due to the potential it holds to level the playing field between higher and lower ability learners” says Katie Martin, a former secondary school teaching assistant at a school in Hartlepool. ‘While there, I witnessed pupils who wouldn’t even stay in lessons become engaged by e-learning resources. 

“This helped them realise that you don’t have to be academic to succeed. I believe that everyone has something they are good at and deserves a chance in life, and I have seen that e-learning has the potential to help with this. I also feel that technology has taken off in education and to get the best out of it, we need to understand it and make sure it’s being used in a way that genuinely improves student results.”

The research, the first of its kind, does not make any claims that the findings are cast in stone - they are the results of a survey of just under 200 learners. A bigger group, 1,000 or more, would be ideal to sift out anomalies, but it does nevertheless demonstrate statistically significant evidence for the success of using e-learning resources and can be built upon by further research.

About functional skills  

Functional Skills are the essential skills needed for English, maths and ICT, which allow young people and adults to participate in life, learning and work, addressing employers' concerns that young people and adults are not achieving a firm enough grounding in the basics.  
In 2013/14 more than 1 million functional skills awards were made, making them the most popular qualification in the UK after GCSEs.   
Functional skills feature in most educational and training choices. They are an essential, compulsory element in two main qualification routes for 14-24-year olds - apprenticeships and the foundation learning tier - as well as being standalone qualifications at Entry Level, Level 1 and Level 2.
Functional Skills are typically taken by learners on apprenticeships programmes, adults and post-16 learners who either haven’t achieved or have little chance of achieving grade C or above at GCSE.